Working with David Steinberg

Dorothy Dobbie

He's back on a TV talk show. Photo by Robyn Todd.
He’s back on a TV talk show. Photo by Robyn Todd.

What do Seinfield, Friends, Mad about You, Curb your Enthusiasm, Designing Women have in common? They are all television shows familiar to contemporary viewers and they all have one common element: David Steinberg was the director for many of the episodes.

Born in Winnipeg in 1942 and raised here, he became one of the most in-demand comics in the United States in the sixties and seventies, guest hosting on the Johnny Carson show a dozen times and making 130 appearance there. His star was at its zenith in the early eighties and it has never really lost his lustre since, although he now works behind the scenes more often than in front of the camera.

Always a “Yes” for Winnipeg
In 1980, I was asked to chair the host committee for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce annual meeting to be held in Winnipeg in 1983, and I wanted an evening event that would wow our counterparts across the country. The name at the top of everyone’s list was David Steinberg so I decided to invite him to be our headliner for a Winnipeg talent-based variety show to be held at the Centennial Concert Hall.

The first challenge was to find his agent – this was well before instant access to information on the Internet. Fortunately, at the time, my secretary (yes, they were still called secretaries then) was a woman named Sheila Stewart who had once in her own glorious past worked for Sir Winston Churchill. There was nothing too daunting for Shelia to tackle and she immediately got on the phone and found a way to contact David’s agent in Los Angeles.

As is still the case with David, if it was for Winnipeg the answer was Yes, and we were put in touch with his local agent to work out the details. That local agent was none other than Gilles Paquin, at that time just getting his feet wet in the business. Gilles went on to marry RWB ballerina, Patti Paquette, and to found Paquin Entertainment which manages many of the biggest names in the entertainment world.

After three years of planning and fundraising, the big day arrived. The Concert Hall was a glittering, sun-filled venue for a cocktail party in the lobby on the main floor where a quartet from the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra played light chamber music. The lobbies of all the upper levels were set with snowy linen and sparkling wine glasses, ready for the 800 guests that would be there for dinner after the show, which would feature dancer Evelyn Hart, magician Brian Glow, several ethnic dance groups, singer Tom Jackson and other acts who would warm up the audience for the big time star.

Backstage in the green room, my master of ceremonies, Stan Kubicek, a rising local TV personality at the time, was pacing nervously. He had asked us to have a six-pack of beer on ice in the green room, which we supplied, and he was pouring these back to soothe his nerves. David Steinberg watched his for a while and then he said to me, “Aren’t you worried that your guy is going to overdo it with the beer?”

I looked at the five-foot-something Kubicek and said doubtfully, “I hope he can handle it. I think he’s just nervous.”

“Leave it to me,” said David. He marched over to Stan and took the bottle from his hand. “Come with me, son,” he said. “You don’t need this stuff.” Then, putting his arm around Stan’s waist, the diminutive David Steinberg began walking my tall, nervous MC back and forth behind the stage.

“You’re going to be great,” he said. “Don’t worry if they don’t laugh at the first joke or two. They just need to get to know you. Relax. Take it slow. You’re going to knock them dead.” And so he continued, walking Stan back and forth, encouraging him and giving him advice until curtain time, Then he gave him a little push out on the stage.

His quality shone through
And of course Stan was wonderful, as was the rest of the show – or so I heard later. I was so nervous that I couldn’t sit still and spent the entire show walking the halls and needlessly checking on dinner details.

What strikes me though was the incredible generosity of this major star toward a young kid just trying to break into the business. Like his loyalty to his old home town, his reaction to Stan’s jitters showed the quality of the man.

Now David Steinberg is back in the spotlight as star of the television talk show called Inside Comedy on the Showtime Network. Recently Stan Kubicek made it back to the Peg as well. He can be heard doing the weather on The Breeze 100.7.

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