Brother Theodore: Innovative German-American Monologuist And Darkly Humorous Comedian

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Brother Theodore was a fascinating and innovative German-American monologuist and comedian, who – if you were in the audience and had never seen him perform before – could completely intimidate you with his forceful presence and dark humor. That was my experience when I saw him for the first time, in 1963, in a nightclub in Greenwich Village, in New York City (Manhattan). At that time, my good friend Bob Golden, who was Brother Theodore’s agent (he was also George Carlin’s agent, at that time) had not informed me about his act, deliberately! As strange as it seemed at that time, it was not long after that first performance, that I gradually became a fan, and would try to find out where he was performing next. In retrospect, I realized that I had been watching a master of darkly humorous comedy, casting his spell over that intimidated and mesmerized audience – absolutely fascinating! As many times as I have seen brother Theodore on TV or heard him on WBAI or WNYC radio, since, I will never forget that first time that I saw him, at the club in Greenwich Village.

Theodore Gottlieb was born on November 11th, 1906, in Düsseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia (German Empire). He was born into a wealthy Jewish family in Düsseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia. His father was a magazine publisher. Theodore attended the University of Cologne. At the age of 32, with Westphalia under Nazi rule, he was imprisoned at Dachau concentration camp, “until he signed over his family’s fortune for one Reichsmark.” Then, he was deported from Switzerland for chess hustling, and went to Austria where Albert Einstein, a family friend (and alleged lover of his mother), helped Theodore escape to the United States. In America, he started out taking menial jobs, first, working as a janitor at Stanford University. It was here that he also demonstrated his extraordinary skill at chess, by beating 30 professors, simultaneously. After that, became a dockworker in San Francisco. Later, he played a bit part in Orson Welles’s 1946 movie, “The Stranger.” For a while, he continued with small parts in mostly B-movies.

In the 1940s, Theodore’s career as a monologuist began in California, with dramatic Poe recitals. Later, he moved to New York City, and by the 1950s, his monologues had become darkly humorous, and he was attracting a cult following. During this early period of his monologuist career, in New York City, he took the stage name of Brother Theodore. In 1958, he did a one-man show promoting the idea that human beings should walk on all fours. By the 1960s, and into the early 1970s, Theodore was making numerous guest appearances on TV, reaching a much wider audience. He, first, appeared on “The Merv Griffin Show,” making 36 appearances, followed by “The Tonight Show,” with Johnny Carson, “The Dick Cavett Show,” and “The Joey Bishop Show.” Brother Theodore also made numerous guest appearances on radio, most notably, on listener sponsored WBAI, on Bob Fass’s show, “Radio Unnameable,” and on Steve Post’s show, “The Outside,” and later on WNYC, again with Steve Post on his show, “The No Show.”

But as his TV and nightclub appearances waned, by the late 1960s into the early 1970s, Brother Theodore was forgotten, and retired in the mid 1970s, around the age of 70. But his retirement was short-lived. Dick Brooks tracked him down, and pulled him out of retirement. He was booked by magician Dorothy Dietrich and Dick Brooks, to perform in, “The Magic Towne House,” on New York’s Upper East Side. The success of these special midnight performances resulted in a resurgence of Brother Theodore’s career, which included, 16 appearances in the 1980s on NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman,” as well as Brother Theodore becoming a regular on “The Billy Crystal Show.”

Theodore Gottlieb died on April 5th, 2001. His headstone reads: “Known As Brother Theodore / Solo Performer, Comedian, Metaphysician / ‘As Long As There Is Death, There Is Hope.'” Thank you, Brother Theodore, for devoting the best diabolical years of your career, to artfully – scaring the hell out of us!

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