Irving Benson, one of the last surviving performers to have played the vaudeville and burlesque circuits, died May 19 in Port Jefferson, NY. He was 102.
He was the subject of a 2010 documentary titled The Last First Comic.
For many years, beginning in 1946, he teamed up with Jack Mann as the comedy duo Benson and Mann, with Mann playing the straight man. The team played all the famous vaudeville houses, including New York’s fabled Palace Theater. They were also frequent guests on the Tonight show with Johnny Carson. Mr. Benson’s comic shtick involved a hangdog expression and a flat way of speaking.
Mr. Benson achieved perhaps his greatest fame as a foil to TV funnyman Milton Berle. Berle hired him to play a character named Sidney Spritzer, who would heckle Berle in deadpan, reasonable tones from the a theater box on Berle’s various television variety shows in the 1960s.
He was born Irving Wishnefsky on Jan. 31, 1914, in Brooklyn. His parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. He first appeared in talent shows at the age of nine.
His wife Lillian, whom he married in 1936, died in March. 11, just weeks before Benson.
In addition to Vicki, survivors also include daughter Cookie.
Here is the trailer for The Last First Comic: