Alan King (comedian)

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Alan King
Alan king 1966.JPG
Alan King in 1966
Date of birth: December 26 1927(1927-12-26)
Birth location: December 26 1927(1927-12-26)
Date of death: May 9 2004 (aged 76)
Death location: New York City, New York, USA

Alan King (December 26, 1927 – May 9, 2004) 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 was also a serious actor who 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 founded the Alan King Diagnostic Medical Center in Jerusalem, established a scholarship fund for American students at Hebrew University and created a chair in dramatic arts at Brandeis University.

He was the first recipient of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture's Award in American Jewish humor. The award now is named after him.


Early life

The youngest of several children, King was born Irwin Alan Kniberg in New York City, New York, the son of Minnie (née Solomon) and Bernard Kniberg, a handbag cutter.[1] He 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 14, King performed "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime" on the radio program Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour. As a result he was invited to join a nationwide tour. At 15, 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 20 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 began his comedy career with one-liner routines and other material concerning mothers-in-law 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. They had three children, Andrew, Robert, and Elainie Ray. His wife persuaded him to move to Forest Hills, Queens for their children, and later, to Great Neck, Long Island, where he lived for the rest of his life. There, he developed comedy revolving around life in suburbia. With America moving to suburbs, King's humor took off.

The comedian 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 resulted in 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."

King eventually expanded his range and made a name for himself in a wide variety of films. He often portrayed a gangster, as in Casino (1995) and Night and the City (1992), both starring Robert DeNiro, as well as I, the Jury (1982) and Cat's Eye (1985). He frequently worked for director Sidney Lumet, beginning with Bye Bye Braverman (1968) and The Anderson Tapes (1971). Lumet later cast him in a tour-de-force starring role in Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), a provocative comedy about a ruthless business mogul and his TV-producer mistress (Ali MacGraw).

He had another major role in Memories of Me (1988) as the so-called "king of the Hollywood extras," portraying Billy Crystal's terminally ill father.

Publicity photo for Friars' Club of California roast of Johnny Carson; pictured standing are Dick Cavett (left) and Alan King, 1968

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. Living just outside New York City, King was frequently available when Sullivan needed an act to fill in for a last-minute cancellation. King also became a regular guest host for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, 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 Friars Club celebrity roasts.

King was the first recipient (1988) of the award for American Jewish humor from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. The award was later renamed in his honor.


King died at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan on May 9, 2004, from lung cancer. The dedication on his tombstone reads, "His passion for life, brought life to us."

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 Kings Point, 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, which was carried on national TV by the TVS Television Network. He also started the Toyota Comedy Festival.



  • Hit the Deck (1955)
  • Miracle in the Rain (1956)
  • The Girl He Left Behind (1956)
  • The Helen Morgan Story (1957)
  • On the Fiddle (1961)
  • Bye Bye Braverman (1968)
  • The Anderson Tapes (1971)
  • Just Tell Me What You Want (1980)
  • Prince of the City (1981) (Cameo)
  • I, the Jury (1982)
  • Author! Author! (1982)
  • Lovesick (1983)
  • Cat's Eye (1985)
  • You Talkin' to Me? (1987) (Cameo)
  • Memories of Me (1988)
  • Funny (1989) (documentary)
  • A Love Story (1989)
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)
  • Night and the City (1992)
  • Casino (1995)
  • Under the Gun (1995)
  • Rush Hour 2 (2001)
  • Sunshine State (2002)
  • Mind the Gap (2004)


  • Alan King: Inside the Comedy Mind (1990) (host and producer)[2]
  • Great Performances - The World of Jewish Humor) (1990)[3]


  • Guys and Dolls (actor)
  • The Impossible Years (actor)
  • The Lion in Winter (producer)
  • Something Different (producer)
  • Mr. Goldwyn (actor)

Published works

  • Anyone Who Owns His Own Home, Deserves It (1962)
  • Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery (1964)
  • Is Salami and Eggs Better Than Sex? Memoirs of a Happy Eater (1985)
  • Name Dropping: The Life and Lies of Alan King (1996)
  • Alan King's Great Jewish Joke Book (2002)
  • Matzoh Balls for Breakfast and Other Memories of Growing Up Jewish (2005)


  1. Alan King Biography (1927-). Film Reference. Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  2. Alan King: Inside the Comedy Mind (1991). IMDb. Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  3. James Garner as a Curmudgeon Pulled Back Into Life The New York Times, November 30, 1990. Retrieved August 10, 2022.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • King, Alan, and Chris Chase. Name Dropping: The Life and Lies of Alan King. New York: Scribner, 1996. ISBN 0684803844
  • King, Alan. Alan King's Great Jewish Joke Book. New York: Crown Publishers, 2002. ISBN 0609609246
  • King, Alan. Matzo Balls for Breakfast: and other memories of growing up Jewish. New York: Free Press, 2004. ISBN 0743260732

External links

All links retrieved June 17, 2023.


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