Funny-man Ben Stiller -- The comedian's parents, Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, grapple to understand their son's humor

By Benjamin Svetkey
Updated October 16, 1992 at 04:00 AM EDT

Ben Stiller’s parents just don’t understand. ”They’re really supportive,” he says, ”but it’s a generational thing. We have different sensibilities. Some of the stuff I do just zips right by them.”

Stiller’s parents — Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara — turned their New York odd couple sensibilities into one of the hottest comic acts of the 1960s; they appeared 34 times on The Ed Sullivan Show. Now their boychik is getting laughs as well, with Fox’s Ben Stiller Show. ”A lot of people think it’s pathetic that our generation has nothing but TV in common,” says Stiller, 26. ”But I don’t think it’s pathetic at all. TV is a bond we share. To me, it’s comforting.”

After playing bit parts in feature films (Empire of the Sun, Fresh Horses), Stiller broke into comedy in 1987, when he sold a 10-minute parody of The Color of Money to Saturday Night Live. That helped land him a 1989 13-part sketch series on MTV — which in turn brought him his current gig. ”We did one episode for MTV that was a parody of the Fox network,” Stiller recalls. ”Fox saw it and asked me to make a series just like it.” Well, not just like it. ‘First the network wanted it more sitcom-y, then they’d change their minds,” Stiller says. ”It was always, ‘We love the idea, but change it.’ It was a ridiculous process, a big circle. It taught me the value of patience.”

The network eventually got it; maybe Stiller’s parents will get it someday, too.