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Catskills comedian Freddie Roman died Saturday at age 85

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The comedy world is mourning the loss of Freddie Roman, who died last week at the age of 85. A comic's comic, Roman was the longtime dean of the Friars Club, the New York comedy institution famous for its roasts. As Roman told WHYY's Fresh Air, he joined the Friars Club in 1969.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

FREDDIE ROMAN: I was a relatively - well, no, I was a definitely unknown comedian at that time. It just seemed like that's where I wanted to be - to be with all the comedy legends of our business, and maybe something would rub off on me from joining.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

He was raised in Jamaica, Queens, and Freddie Roman caught the comedy bug early, emceeing shows at a family hotel in the Catskills starting at age 15.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROMAN: My prior show business career to 1969 consisted of seven years up in the Catskill Mountains, playing all the wonderful resorts up there and a couple in the Poconos.

KELLY: Decades later, he brought his Borscht Belt humor to the stage with the "Catskills On Broadway."

(SOUNDBITE OF PLAY, "CATSKILLS ON BROADWAY")

ROMAN: The entire state of Florida goes out for dinner 3 o'clock in the afternoon - the early bird special. The state bird of Florida is the early bird.

SHAPIRO: Comedian Jeffrey Ross says Roman loved the old-school glamour of performing.

JEFFREY ROSS: He loved a hot room. He loved sparkly dresses, fancy tuxedos.

KELLY: But Ross says it was Roman's kindness that made him a magnet for younger comedians.

ROSS: He would compliment the young comics in front of their families to make them feel good. He was very generous that way. He was like a Jewish Santa Claus. Freddie was - he was like the grandpa that you read about in books. He grabbed your face, and he told you how much he loved you. And he kissed everybody.

My first time ever on public radio was - Freddie and I, together, were guests on Fresh Air. It's the same stories I would tell you today in some manner.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ROSS: I wrote some good jokes about you that I didn't get to do, Fred.

ROMAN: Well, do them now.

ROSS: I was going to say Freddie Roman's been doing comedy so long, his punch lines are in Latin.

KELLY: Roman's career, which spanned TV, film and stage, slowed down in recent years.

ROSS: Great comedians don't retire. They just keep going and going and going. And I know that Freddie admired that. And I just think that, when the pandemic hit, it's a shame guys like Freddie didn't really come out of it swinging and working again, you know? But I think his legacy lives on in all the comedians that he touched.

SHAPIRO: Freddie Roman died on Saturday. He was 85.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.