Ben Stiller Remembers His Late Father: ‘I’ve Never, Ever Thought I Was Funny Like My Dad’

Jerry and Ben Stiller. Photo: Time & Life Pictures/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Today, The New Yorker published a new interview with Ben Stiller, a week after the death of his father, Jerry Stiller. The actor and director reflects on the final days of Jerry’s life, looks back on being raised by a famous comedy duo, and recaps how, despite initially wanting to make “serious” movies, the young Stiller ultimately took the same path his parents did and broke into comedy. Ben’s mother, Anne Meara, died in 2015, so while the interview is largely focused on Jerry, it also serves as a remembrance of both of his parents and how different their approaches to both parenting and comedy were. “I don’t ever remember a moment of thinking, Oh, they’re funny. I remember watching them onstage and seeing them perform and get laughs, and do their act,” Stiller said. “I remember, as a kid, enjoying watching that and thinking, Oh, this is kind of cool that everybody thinks my parents are funny. And it was exciting.”

Stiller reveals how supportive, but “overprotective,” his dad was when he first expressed an interest in acting and directing. “[I]f my dad could have been there with us every step of the way, he would pull every string that he could possibly pull, and open every door he could possibly open,” he said. “And, again, he was like that with anybody. If you met somebody on the street and they said they were a fan and they were interested in acting, he’d talk to them for twenty minutes about it. For real. He was that guy.”

Elsewhere in the chat, Stiller remembers the time he brought his dad along with him for a 1996 interview with Conan O’Brien, which the show rereleased last week (“I would dread the talk-show appearances, and it was like cheating to ask him to come and help”), how his dad was nothing like his Seinfeld character Frank Costanza (“[I]t’s really like this sort of volcano coming out of stuff that was inside of him”), and whether there was ever any tension due to the young Stiller’s successful career in Hollywood. “What I’ve always felt over the years is I wanted to do my thing, and my dad and mom did their thing — and were so good at it,” he said. “And it’s, like, my dad is so funny. Like, I’ve never, ever thought I was funny like my dad. Or as funny as my dad. I’ve never really felt a competition, because I would lose, hands down.”

Read the full interview here.

Ben Stiller Remembers His Late Father Jerry Stiller