TODAY   |  April 04, 2014

David Steinberg: Comedians are ‘the new doctors’

Legendary comedian David Steinberg chats with TODAY’s Matt Lauer about interviewing his famous funny friends in the Showtime series “Inside Comedy,” and weighs in on how comedy has changed over the years.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the "new york times" has called david steinberg a comic institution. i would agree. now the comedian/writer/director is interviewing his famous friends for a document series called inside comedy. here's what bette midler had to say about a tough gig when she opened for david fry .

>> i was dressing in the pantry. i was dressing amidst the tomato cans. the cans of tomato. i had a mirror this big, and i was -- and there was a puddle of water on the floor. so the first night, i was so panic stricken because i couldn't see myself. he was on, so i went into the star dressing room to check my make-up. well, he heard about it. and when i came off, he said if i ever catch you in my dressing room looking in the mirror again, i'll kill you.

>> all right. that didn't go well. david steinberg , good morning.

>> good morning.

>> i was reading, this is one of the favorite things you've done in your career. you love interviewing other funny people.

>> i do. it's incredible. the show has a uniqueness to it because no two people are together. so bette midler -- surprisingly is with richard belser.

>> i've interviewed a lot of comedians on the show. seems when the red light goes on, they feel they have to be on, in their act, be funny. in a lot of ways, you want them to kind of lay the act aside.

>> i do. i like them to not be switched on like you have to be as a comedian and see sort of that natural dna humor they have. and that seems to be working. and people who like this show love the show. first compliment i got on the show, i was on " morning joe " promoting it, al roker grabbed me by the lapel, i love it.

>> that's a ringing endorsement. you interview some older comedians and up and coming comedians.

>> yeah.

>> with your perspective, have you seen comedy change over the years?

>> totally. totally. when i started out, i was a comedian in my 20s. if i dated a girl and she brought me home to her mother and said he's a comedian, the mother would say, oh, this is a disaster. now nowadays, comedians -- in beverly hills , you can't walk down a street -- a parent coming to me saying my child's a great comedian, can you put them on " curb your enthusiasm ."

>> it's awkward when somebody does that. you returned to stand-up.

>> i did.

>> after 25 years away from the stage.

>> yeah.

>> was it like riding a bike?

>> yeah. it was like riding a bike, but, you know, you're a little sore afterwards.

>> exactly like riding a bike.

>> yeah.

>> did you miss it? is that why you got back?

>> i did miss it. it's the oddest profession because the only way you get better at stand-up, at any time in your career, even as a writer, i've done it for years and years and stopped, but you think there would be something residual. you have to go in front of an audience and fail until the work becomes right. that's -- that's ridiculous, but that's comedians do.

>> you were on the " tonight show " with johnny carson more than 140 times. you were one of his favorite guests ever. we just got news yesterday that david letterman is going to call it quits in the coming year.

>> yeah.

>> giving up his show. what was your reaction to that?

>> i wouldn't like to meet him four months after he's been off the air.

>> you think he's going to miss it?

>> he's going to miss it. because that's all he knows how to do. it's all we know how to do and we're comedians. great thing about letterman is, you always knew when he was angry. most hosts don't let you know that. if he was pissed at something, you saw it on his face, he couldn't stand it. and that was amazing about him. and yet, his other great talent is if it was something serious happening in the country and he had to deal with it, he dealt with it more intelligently than almost anyone else on television.

>> i agree with you there. this looks like a lot of fun, i'm going to start tuning in. al will convince me to watch your show. david steinberg , great to see you.

>> thank you, matt.