By LINDSEY BAHR
AP Film Screenwriter
Comedian Freddie Roman, former dean of The Friars Club and a staple of the Catskills comedy scene, has died. He was 85 years old.
Roman died Saturday afternoon at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida, his booking agent and friend Alison Chaplin said Sunday. Her daughter told entertainment industry Deadline that she suffered a heart attack that morning.
Roman made a name for himself performing at hotels and resorts in the Catskill Mountains, also known as the Borscht Belt to the largely Jewish crowd that vacationed there and the comedians like Mel Brooks and Don Rickles who entertained them. He later performed at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and at Bally’s Grand in Atlantic City, and roasted the likes of Rob Reiner, Chevy Chase, Jerry Stiller, and Hugh Hefner. He also conceived “Catskills on Broadway,” where he and his friends Dick Capri, Marilyn Michaels and Mal Z. Lawrence brought their Catskills-flavored, nostalgia-tinged monologue to New York. He has also appeared in various TV shows and movies over the years, including “Red Oaks” on Amazon.
“A huge loss to the world of comedy,” Paul Reiser wrote on Twitter. “He was a great support and mentor when I was starting out. A GREAT comic, the best professional with the biggest heart. I will miss our phone calls and her big beautiful laugh.”
Born Fred Kirschenbaum on May 28, 1937, in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in Jamaica, Queens, Roman took an early interest in stand-up comedy through his family. His uncle and grandfather owned the Crystal Spring Hotel in the Catskills, where Roman began emceeing at age 15.
In “Catskills on Broadway,” Roman commented on everything from his childhood in Queens to his “retirement life” in Florida.
“I had a cholesterol test,” Roman joked. “My number came back 911.”
The New York Times, in its 1991 review of the show, wrote, “Catskill resorts may be battling a recession, but Catskill comedy hasn’t lost its style.”
The show, he would say later, changed his life. She went to Broadway and then toured across the country, and Roman would continue to perform for years to come. He was also named dean of the New York City Friars Club, where he mentored many aspiring comedians and infused the private club with young talent.
One such young comedian was Jeffrey Ross, who said of Roman in 2003 that, “When I became a member, there weren’t many of us who were younger. … But Freddie would always come and spend time with me and my friends and he would be really adorable.”
Capri, in the same interview, said that Roman was the perfect ambassador for comedy.
“He is the social director of the world,” Capri said. “And he loves every second of it.”
The season lasted a little longer than I expected. Roman joked about his tenure by saying: “Eleven years ago I became president for two years. I’m like the Fidel Castro of comedians. I am president for life.” In 2014, he was succeeded by Larry King.
But, he told Atlantic City Weekly in 2011, the best job he ever had was opening for Frank Sinatra, when his regular comedian Tom Dreesen wasn’t available. Roman heard about the opportunity on a layover in Chicago, left the plane and boarded another to Philadelphia to do the show in Atlantic City with only a few hours to spare.
He left the stage to see Sinatra laughing. The singer even called him for another bow.
“Frank hugged me, and I saw my wife and daughter and they were crying,” Roman said. “It was amazing. … Nothing ever got better working with Sinatra.”