Robert Schimmel was a very well known and beloved comedian. During his 32 year career in stand-up, he made millions of people laugh, from New York to Alaska and Hawaii, from Canada to the Cayman Islands, whether performing on stage in comedy clubs or theaters, appearing on late night TV talk shows, being interviewed for radio or newspapers, or starring in his own joke-filled, X-rated CDs and specials on HBO and Showtime. That's the Robert Schimmel everyone knows. Or better yet, knew. Robert's incredible roller-coaster life came to an abrupt end on September 3, 2010.
But before Robert Schimmel was introduced to audiences around the world, he was just my big brother, Bobby. Our family and his close friends were the first to be bombarded with his non-stop, often dangerous antics and cutting, verbal wit. Before he was ever on stage, he was performing at the kitchen table during dinner. He would always make me laugh, and I would always get smacked by our Mom. You see, she couldn't reach Bobby, so I got it instead. Usually a backhand. My mother could have taught Bruce Lee a thing or two. When my sister Sandy and I were warned by our parents that Bobby was a bad influence, they may have been on to something. It was no coincidence that my brother's earliest nicknames were "The Holy Terror" and "Devil." Trust me, he wore those labels with a great deal of pride and always did his best to live up to everyone's negative expectations.
While legions of loyal Robert Schimmel fans recently lost a court jester who brought them endless laughter, I lost much more. Despite his recklessness and belief that nothing was off limits and that literally everything was funny, no matter the consequences, Bobby's passing has left a tremendous dent in my life, and there is no one who can repair it. Sadly, when he died, there was no tribute to celebrate the man or mark the impact he made on all of us. This full length documentary will serve to rectify that error - and it's the main reason my sister and I, along with our producing partner, Kelly Hommon, decided to take a leap of faith with Kickstarter.
"Leave 'Em Laughing" will introduce you to Bobby as a little kid, and will trace his journey from being the first son of Holocaust survivors who had barely arrived to America when he was born - up to and including the day he departed this world. Just as it takes a lot of tumbling to turn a dull, jagged rock into a shiny, polished stone, it takes a childhood and adolescence of turmoil and pain, plus a healthy sense of humor and overdose of crazy adventures and missteps, to transform a normal boy into a sharp, sarcastic, and self-deprecating stand-up comic who yearns for the acceptance of total strangers. If Bobby could make you laugh, that's all that mattered.
"Leave 'Em Laughing" will include stories about Bobby's earliest influences, including Jackie Gleason, Ernie Kovacs, Jerry Lewis, etc., and his approach to being an unpredictable but hilarious older sibling to a sister and brother who idolized him - often at our own peril. For example, you'll learn about Bobby's first late night gig, something he created called "The Sleeping Club." Not only did he put on a one man show for us in the bathroom after bedtime, but he even composed and sang the opening theme song. It was entertaining as hell, and never failed to get my sister and I in a lot of trouble.
You'll hear from former classmates about my brother's unconventional behavior in school. How he used comedy to avoid most beatings from bullies, and how he dealt with authority figures. For example, Bobby once accused his high school German language teacher of being a Nazi, which he believed would successfully explain away a failing grade in the class. My brother was the quintessential and fearless class clown. He had such a powerful impact on faculty members, that seven years after he had a teacher in school, that same teacher would read my name on an attendance sheet on the first morning of the new school year, and ask me if Bobby Schimmel was my brother. If I answered in the affirmative, I was routinely, and immediately, asked to transfer to another class.
Bobby was also a very talented musician and songwriter. He played numerous instruments and his exploits in that regard are legendary. This documentary will provide viewers with a rare chance to hear one of his original songs from the early 1970's. We will also "put the band back together" on location in New York.
At the height of the Vietnam War, my brother enlisted in the Air Force, but not out of a sense of patriotism. His ulterior motive was half genius and half stupid. "Leave 'Em Laughing" will recount his time in military service, starting with a ridiculous speech Bobby made at his Induction ceremony, and concluding with his court-martial after just one year in uniform. And we've got the documents to prove it all.
Not to give too much away, but "Leave 'Em Laughing" will introduce you to the Bobby Schimmel who once used his lower digestive tract to carry some contraband into Canada - to no good result, who used his siblings as guinea pigs for experiments using electricity, chemicals, and zip-lines, who once tried to dig a tunnel from Pennsylvania to China, who performed weddings without a license, who lost his entire weekend bankroll in Las Vegas before completing the hotel check-in process, who was a salesman of the first Sony video camera in America - and who used this technological breakthrough to create what most folks would consider inappropriate films, who left the country to work on a kibbutz in Israel, who found creative uses for Molotov cocktails, who broke out of jail, who lived in a hippie commune and a chicken coop, and who convinced our 81 year old mother to alleviate her pain with the use of possibly illegal methods with an extremely funny and heartwarming aftermath, etc. The great stories are endless, and that's the point.
Believe it or not, Robert Schimmel became a stand-up comedian purely by accident, and that incredible story will be introduced by his partner in crime, our sister Sandy. If it weren't for her totally unexpected actions, Robert Schimmel the comedian might never have existed - even though there's really nothing else he could've been.
Comedians were my brother's peers, and some of his favorite people to hang with. The road stories are fascinating and funny, and rather than doing those tired, standard interviews where a stand-up comic will talk about how they were a fan of a deceased comic's work, "Leave 'Em Laughing" will go in a different direction. Robert Schimmel's friends and fellow comics will be telling personal stories about the time they spent with my brother behind the scenes. Off stage. Early in his L.A. career, Bobby's apartment was a hub of activity for numerous comedians. If you want to get to know the real Bobby, this is the best way to learn about who he was. I also know many of the comics my brother knew over the years, and I've heard many of the stories they shared, and you won't want to miss this!
BIG BONUS!!! "Leave 'Em Laughing" will feature NEVER-BEFORE-SEEN FOOTAGE of Robert, on the road, in a comedy club, and behind the scenes, just a few weeks before he passed away.
Of course, if you're at all familiar with Robert Schimmel, you are well aware of his many challenges. His battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and subsequent victory over the disease, his tireless charitable work, his struggle against Hepatitis C and time spent on a transplant list, etc. You'll hear his personal physicians describe the nut-job Bobby could be, even under the very worst of circumstances. You'll hear about my brother's ill-advised escape from quarantine in the Mayo Clinic hospital, just so he could perform a single show in Las Vegas. He even once presented his Gastroenterologist with a CD of a song parody Bobby wrote and recorded that was played while he was unconscious during a colonoscopy. There is a definite, unfunny downside to the Robert Schimmel story, but without the valleys, the peaks don't seem anywhere near as high. "Leave 'Em Laughing" is comedy and tragedy to the Nth degree.
My big brother deserves to be honored for who he was, not just to me, but to his friends and fans. Our relationship was intense and much closer than most. All my life, I've heard people remark about how they wish they had that kind of inseparable closeness with their siblings. The truth is, it wasn't all lovey-dovey. Not by a long shot. Our fights were the stuff of legend. We once refused to speak to each other for two years. But we always came back together. Bobby once said, "You never love anyone more deeply than your family, but you never hate anyone more deeply than your family either." The good news, and something I am grateful for every day, is that the last words we said to each other before his tragic accident were, "I love you."
"Leave 'Em Laughing" is a story so worth telling. The only way I can be sure to bring it to you in the best, most satisfying, and most genuine way is to raise the funds and produce it myself - along with a top notch documentary team. No censorship, no outside parties insisting that certain content either be included or excluded. THAT'S WHY WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT! With your help, we can get there!
Please keep in mind, a full length documentary film is NOT a schlocky home movie that can be made for $1.50, although "Leave 'Em Laughing" we definitely include some never-before-seen, schlocky home movie footage from the 1950's and on. By the standards of legitimate documentary film-making, our budget is totally in line with what it takes to produce an ambitious project such as this. Believe me, a TV network or studio could not do it for less.
If you were a friend of my brother, Bobby Schimmel, or a fan of comedian Robert Schimmel, I implore you to contribute what you can to this project. We can't do it without you. Thanks!
PLEASE NOTE: A PORTION OF ANY PROFITS GENERATED BY THIS PROJECT WILL BE DONATED TO TWO CHARITABLE ORGANIZATIONS THAT WERE VERY IMPORTANT TO MY BROTHER - (1) THE LEUKEMIA & LYMPHOMA SOCIETY, AND (2) AMERICAN TRANSPLANT FOUNDATION.
SPOILER ALERT! This documentary will feature never-before-revealed tales told by family, friends, and fellow comedians - but WILL NOT include even a single story regarding my brother's marriages or children. Although those particular members of Bobby's family surely have volumes to speak about their husband and father, "Leave 'Em Laughing" is about who my brother really was within the dynamic of our nuclear family, how Bobby became the comedian we've all come to know and adore, and it will all be told from the perspective of those who had very close, but vastly different, relationships with him. While we will delve into many aspects of Bobby's life, rest assured that we will NOT invade the privacy of others.
(UPDATE - JANUARY 4, 2013) Howard Stern and comedian Dave Attell spoke about my brother on Howard's Sirius/XM radio show just this morning - the same day that this fundraising effort is being launched. I consider this to be the best of good omens. Bobby loved Howard, and we will include a story about how he first became a fan - a story that only I know. I certainly intend to ask Howard to please talk about this project, because his reach is unlike any other. My brother would be so touched to know that Howard Stern is still a fan and continues to keep his name alive.)