Friday, April 19, 2024

Legendary Borscht Belt Comic Freddie Roman, 85, Dies, The Last of a Great Generation of Jewish Humor


Alan King, Don Rickles, Jackie Mason, Shecky Greene. They were among the legendary giants of Borscht belt Jewish humor. What was the Borscht belt? It was the group of hotels and clubs in the Catskills to which Jews flocked in the 50s and 60s.

These comedians were so funny they spilled out onto The Ed Sullivan Show. Some went on to even bigger things. Others remained tied to their core audience. The greatest of these guys was Freddie Roman. He’s been ill for a long time, living in Florida. On Saturday he died at age 85.

Freddie worked the circuit of clubs, events, and so on. He was a beloved act in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. He also picked up the torch at the Friars Club when Alan King died and served two terms as Dean. (That Friars Club is now a memory, it’s dead. People keep asking me, and I can tell you, it’s gone.) Freddie was a toastmaster, a genial presence who unlike Rickles didn’t insult anyone. His jokes just hit home and you loved him for it.

Freddie conceived and wrote a hit Broadway show, “Catskills on Broadway,” that played 453 performances from 1991-93. The audiences couldn’t get enough of it and the show cemented Roman’s place in comic history.

Here’s the thing about Freddie Roman. You could call him at home and book a date. He was a mensch, always accessible. God bless him. I’m sure he’s already doing shtick with Alan King, and asking for lean pastrami at the Carnegie Deli in the sky. Freddie, you were a treasure and you will be missed.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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