Robert Schimmel's act was too explicit for mainstream network TV… (Ken Sax / HBO ©2000…)
Robert Schimmel, a critically acclaimed comedian who made audiences squirm and then laugh with X-rated explorations of sexuality and vulnerability usually drawn from his own life, has died. He was 60.
Schimmel died Friday at a Phoenix hospice from injuries sustained in an Aug. 26 car accident, said his brother, Jeff Schimmel. He had suffered serious head and internal injuries whose treatment was complicated by liver disease. The Scottsdale resident was waiting for a liver transplant at the time of his death, his brother said.
FOR THE RECORD:
Robert Schimmel obituary: The obituary of stand-up comic Robert Schimmel in the Sept. 5 California section misspelled comedian Jimmie Walker's first name as Jimmy. —
Schimmel made regular appearances on Howard Stern's radio show and was a frequent guest on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." He starred in comedy specials for Showtime and HBO, shot a sitcom pilot for Fox and made several well-received comedy CDs. But his frank, sexually explicit routines were too provocative for the mainstream network audiences of David Letterman and Jay Leno.
Instead, Schimmel forged a 30-year career touring the nation's top comedy clubs and establishing himself as an heir to three of his idols, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Richard Pryor, controversial comedians whose raunchy humor probed the vagaries of life. Schimmel's own sex life was the frequent butt of his jokes, which charted such territory as oral sex, masturbation and other adult fare complete with explicit anatomical references.
But after suffering a heart attack in 1998, losing an 11-year-old son to cancer, being diagnosed with non- Hodgkin's lymphoma — and writing a memoir about it, "Cancer on $5 a Day" — Schimmel addressed those topics too.
In a 1989 Times review of his club act, writer Duncan Strauss described Schimmel as a "sharp" writer:
"You get the feeling that Schimmel charges into this territory, at full speed, precisely because so many of us consider it off limits and he's interested in what that says about us. Moreover, with a lot of these topics, he seems more interested in the ego and emotional workings behind the behavior — not so much the sex, but the sexual politics."
Said his personal manager, Lee Kernis of Brillstein Entertainment: "Most of his act came from his life, and his life was pretty tumultuous and interesting. … Humor is what gets you through everything, and it got him through everything."
Robert Schimmel was born Jan. 16, 1950, in New York City. His parents, Otto and Betty Schimmel, were Holocaust survivors.
Schimmel graduated from Spring Valley High School in 1967 and was considered the class clown. He served in the Air Force, and his practical joking frequently got him in trouble with his superiors, his brother said. He moved to Scottsdale in the mid-1970s, worked as a stereo salesman and started doing stand-up on a dare from his sister, Sandy.
He sold jokes to comedians Jimmy Walker and Yakov Smirnoff, wrote for Fox's "In Living Color" and appeared on HBO comedy showcases hosted by Rodney Dangerfield.
Schimmel contracted hepatitis C while in the military, possibly from a blood transfusion or inoculation, his brother said. He had stopped touring about five months ago. Ten days ago, he was a passenger in a car driven by his daughter Aliyah, 19, who swerved to avoid an accident on a Phoenix highway; the vehicle rolled over.
His daughter remains in stable condition in a Phoenix hospital. Schimmel's son Jacob, 11, who was in the back seat, was released from the hospital the next day.
Besides Aliyah and Jacob, Schimmel is survived by daughter Jessica, 32; sons Sam, 7, and Max, 5; and his father, brother and sister. He divorced his first wife, Vicki, several years ago and was in the process of divorcing his second wife, Melissa.
Services are pending.