Alan King

From Academic Kids

Alan King (December 26, 1927May 9, 2004), born Irwin Alan Kniberg, was an American comedian known for his biting wit and often angry humorous rants. King became well-known as a Jewish comedian and satirist. He appeared in a number of movies and television shows. King wrote several books, produced films, and appeared in plays. In later years, he helped many philanthropic causes. He died of lung cancer.



King was born Irwin Alan Kniberg. The youngest of several children, King spent his first years on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Later, King's family moved to Brooklyn. King used humor to survive in the tough neighborhoods. As a child, King performed impersonations on street corners for pennies.

When he was fourteen, King performed "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime" on the radio program Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour. He lost first prize, but was invited to join a nationwide tour.

At fifteen, King dropped out of high school to perform comedy at the Hotel Gradus in the Catskill Mountains. After one joke that made fun of the hotel's owner, King was fired. He worked in Canada in a burlesque house while also fighting as a professional boxer. He won twenty straight fights before losing. Nursing a broken nose, King decided to quit boxing and focus on his comedy career. King began working as a doorman at the popular nightclub Leon and Eddie's while performing comedy under the last name of the boxer who beat him, "King."


King started out with the usual routines of one-liners about mother-in-laws and Jews. King's style of comedy changed when he saw Danny Thomas performing in the early 1950s. King realized that Thomas was talking to his audience, not at them, and was getting a better response. King changed his own style from one-liners to a more conversational style that used everyday life for humor. His comedy inspired other comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal.

King married Jeanette Sprung in 1947. He had three children, Andrew, Robert, and Elaine Ray. His wife persuaded him to move to Forest Hills, Queens for their children. There, he developed comedy revolving around life in suburbia. The focus of his routines became life in the suburbs. With America moving to suburbs, King's humor took off.

King began opening for many celebrities including Judy Garland, Patti Page, Nat King Cole, Billy Eckstine, Lena Horne and Tony Martin. When Martin was cast in the movie Hit the Deck, he suggested King for a part, which gave King his first movie role. King played small roles in movies in the 1950s, but disliked playing stereotypical roles that he described as "always the sergeant from Brooklyn named Kowalski." [1] ( King eventually expanded his range and made a name for himself playing gangsters in five movies, including Cats Eye and The Anderson Tapes.

Like many other Jewish comics, King worked the Catskill circuit known as the Borscht Belt. His career took off after appearances on the Ed Sullivan, Perry Como, and Garry Moore Shows. King also became a popular television host. He became a regular guest host for the Tonight Show, hosted the Oscars in 1972, and was the MC for President John F. Kennedy's inauguration in 1961. King was also the long-standing host of the New York Friar's Club celebrity roasts.

Personal life

In the 1960s, King's performances in Las Vegas led him to face up to a gambling addiction that made him limit his performances in Las Vegas. In the 1970s, King discovered one son was addicted to drugs and turned him in to police. King realized he had neglected his family and began spending more time at home.

Throughout his life, King was deeply involved in charity work. He founded the Alan King Medical Center in Jerusalem, raised funds for the Nassau Center for Emotionally Disturbed Children (near his home in Great Neck, New York), and established a chair in dramatic arts at Brandeis University. He also created the Laugh Well program, which sends comedians to hospitals to perform for patients. In the 1970s, King turned his passion for tennis into a pro tournament in Las Vegas called the Alan King Tennis Classic. He also started the Toyota Comedy Festival.

A life-long cigar smoker, King was forced to quit smoking in 1992 after cancer led to the removal of half his jaw. The cancer eventually returned. King died at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan on May 9th, 2004, after succumbing to lung cancer. He was 76.


"Why is everybody carrying on about Woolworth's? Have you ever eaten at the counter at Woolworth's? If you wanted to sit in the Colony Club, I could understand." -King on lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960s

"The banks have a new image. Now you have 'a friend,' your friendly bank. If the banks are so friendly, how come they chain down the pens?" -King on banks

"My brother is the youngest member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. And I wouldn't let him cut my nails." -King on doctors

"Because no one could make the announcement 'Miss Garland will not appear tonight' better than I could." -King on why he opened for Judy Garland

"Modesty is not one of my virtues." - King on his ego

Queen Elizabeth II: "How do you do, Mr. King?" Alan King: "How do you do, Mrs. Queen?" -King on royalty

"It even cleared out your nostrils, your sinuses, and the wax in your ears." -King on his mother's enemas

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex. Except for salami and eggs. Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced." -King on sex and food

"There's gotta be a better way for a nice Jewish boy to make a living." -King on boxing

"The world is full of little dictators trying to run your life." -King on people with no actual authority who insist on trying to give you orders

"Did you hear the one about the elderly Jew on his deathbed who sent for a priest, after declaring to his astonished relatives that 'I want to convert.' Asked why he would become a Catholic, after living all his life as a Jew, he answered: 'Better one of them should die than one of us.'" -King on religion

"You only live once, except for Shirley MacLaine." -King on life




  • Anyone Who Owns His Own Home, Deserves One (1962)
  • Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery (1964)
  • Name Dropping: The Life and Lies of Alan King
  • Is Salami and Eggs Better Than Sex? Memoirs of a Happy Eater
  • Matzoh Balls for Breakfast and Other Memories of Growing Up Jewish (2005)

External links

  • IMDb page (


pl:Alan King


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