The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue: A Memoir

Reviewed by Joseph Rosenberg

The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue : A Child of the Fifties Looks Back
Written by Robert Klein
New York, Touchstone, 2005
352 Pages

I met the comedian-actor Robert Klein in October of 1960 at the student union of Alfred University. This was the night that campus fraternities made their pledge selections; sadly, I was passed over or blackballed, just as Klein had been a year earlier. He offered me some comfort, however, by telling me that he eventually became a pledge and that my day would also come.

Eighteen months later, I left campus to bury my dad. When I returned to Alfred two weeks later, people who had heard about my dad’s situation avoided me. Klein, on the other hand, greeted me with an overwhelming hug. The last time I saw him at Goucher College, he extended the same consideration by speaking with me backstage and asking about my family.

Despite my otherwise high opinions of Klein, I can't help but be disappointed with this somewhat threadbare biography, whose primary focus is the author's sexual encounters. He seems to shy away from more serious details, such as the virulent anti-Semitism present on and off campus. Klein avoids discussing similarly sober aspects of his career; while he writes extensively about its beginning, he glosses over the reasons his routines are based on expressions of middle-aged angst. Also left out is why he clashed with David Steinberg at Second City.

Even basics seem to be missing. We are given no clues about his marriages, his children, his parents and sister, or even career highlights, including the launch of HBO comedy. There are no insights into other comedic acts or the world of comedy at large. Klein worked with the Dukakis campaign in 1988. I wonder what that was like? It's as though he's placed limitations on his own work.

Don’t get me wrong: this work is better than the recent tome by Bob Dylan. At least Klein had sex.

Joe Rosenberg, of Baltimore, is a wine connoisseur and bibliophile.

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This story was published on August 9, 2005.