There is some absolutely tragic news out of Los Angeles: comedy giant Orson Bean is dead at the age of 91.
Orson Bean, the witty actor and comedian who enlivened the game show “To Tell the Truth” and played a crotchety merchant on “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman,” was hit and killed by a car in Los Angeles, authorities said. He was 91.
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office confirmed Bean’s Friday night death, saying it was being investigated as a “traffic-related” fatality. The coroner’s office provided the location where Bean was found, which matched reports from police.
A man was crossing the road outside of a crosswalk in the Venice neighborhood when he was clipped by a vehicle and fell, Los Angeles Police Department Officer Drake Madison said. A second driver then struck him in what police say was the fatal collision. Both drivers remained on the scene, neither was impaired and Bean’s death was being treated as an accident, Madison said.
Bean’s comedic bona fides date back to when comedy clubs were far more vaudevillian, which then led to him becoming a staple on television for a very long time:
In a 1983 New York Times interview, he recalled his early career in small clubs where the show consisted of “me — master of ceremonies, comedian and magician — maybe a dog act, and a stripper.” It was a piano player in one such club, he said, who suggested replacing Dallas Burrows with some funny name like “Roger Duck” — or Orson Bean.
Bean’s quick wit and warm personality made him a favorite panelist for six years on “To Tell the Truth.” The game required the panelists to quiz three contestants to figure out which one was a real notable and which two were impostors. The dramatic outcome inspired a national catchphrase as the host turned to the three and said: “Will the real (notable’s name) please stand up?”
Bean’s style appealed to both Jack Paar and Johnny Carson, and he appeared on “The Tonight Show” more than 200 times.
For conservatives — especially those of us who were activists during the Tea Party era — Bean’s legacy extends far beyond comedy. He was Andrew Breitbart’s father-in-law, and in his book Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World, Andrew credits Bean with beginning his conversion to conservatism by getting him to listen to Rush Limbaugh.
I am old enough to remember seeing Bean on television a lot when I was a kid and, as a comedian, I was probably more interested in the fact that he was Andrew’s father-in-law than most. The times I spoke to Andrew about him I remember his eyes lighting up. He seemed to be really in awe of the guy.
Bean brought the house down at Andrew’s funeral with a joke far-too salacious for me to repeat here. I mention it just because I remembered how in awe I then was watching him. There were hundreds of people at the funeral and, because it was Andrew who was being memorialized, most of the eulogists had funny stories to share.
Orson Bean began his comments by mentioning that he had already sought and gotten approval from the rabbi to tell the joke. It was a joke that Bean said Andrew used to say was “existential” because the punchline was a bit non-linear. Whenever Breitbart brought his friends around to Bean’s house, he would cajole him until he told the joke.
The setup was dirty and the punchline was filthy. While it may seem inappropriate to phrase it like this in the context of a funeral, it’s the way my people talk: in comedic terms, the joke killed.
I remember thinking at the time that only a comedian of prodigious talent could pull that joke off in that setting.
Bean lived a full, successful life, yes, but it was still a very active life so — even at 91 — this could be viewed as an untimely passing.
RIP Funny Man.
Here’s a couple of minutes of Bean and Johnny Carson. Enjoy.
PJ Media Associate Editor Stephen Kruiser is the author of “Don’t Let the Hippies Shower” and “Straight Outta Feelings: Political Zen in the Age of Outrage,” both of which address serious subjects in a humorous way. Monday through Friday he edits PJ Media’s “Morning Briefing.”