Comedian Freddy Roman, former dean of The Friar’s Club and a staple of the Catskills comedy scene, has died. He was 85 years old.
His booking agent and friend Alison Chaplin said Sunday that Roman died Saturday afternoon at Bethesda Hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida. His daughter told entertainment trade Deadline that he suffered a heart attack that morning.
Roman made his name performing at hotels and resorts in the Catskill Mountains, also known as the Borscht Belt, for the largely Jewish crowds who vacationed there and the comics such as Mel Brooks and Don Rickles who entertained him. He later performed at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and Bally’s Grand in Atlantic City, and he has cashed in on the likes of Rob Reiner, Chevy Chase, Jerry Stiller, and Hugh Hefner. He also conceived “Catskills on Broadway”, where he and his friends Dick Capri, Marilyn Michaels and Mal Jed Lawrence brought their nostalgic, Catskills-flavored standup to New York. He has also appeared in several television shows and movies, including “Red Oaks” on Amazon.
“A great loss to the world of comedy,” Paul Reiser wrote on Twitter. “He was a huge supporter and mentor when I was starting out. A great comic, the ultimate supporter with the biggest heart. I will miss our phone calls and his big, beautiful laugh.
Born Fred Kirshenbaum on May 28, 1937, in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in Jamaica, Queens, Roman was exposed to stand-up comedy early thanks to his family. His uncle and grandfather owned the Crystal Spring Hotel in the Catskills, where Roman began emceeing at the age of 15.
In “The Catskills on Broadway”, Roman comments on everything from his childhood in Queens to his “retirement life” in Florida.
“I took a cholesterol test,” Roman quipped. “My number 911 came back.”
The New York Times wrote in its 1991 review of the show, “The Catskill resorts may be fighting the recession, but the Catskill comedy hasn’t lost its flair.”
The show, he later said, changed his life. It went to Broadway and then toured around the country, and Roman would continue to perform for years to come. He was also made dean of the New York City Friars Club, where he mentored many aspiring comedians and filled the private club with young talent.
One of those young comedians was Jeffrey Ross, who said of Roman in 2003, “There weren’t a lot of us young when I was becoming a member. … But Freddy would always come and play with me and my friends.” Will spend time with and become really cute.
In the same interview, Capri said that Roman was the perfect comedy ambassador.
“He’s the social director of the world,” Capri said. “And he loves every second of it.”
The tenure lasted a little longer than he expected. Roman joked about his tenure, “Eleven years ago I was president for two years. I’m like Fidel Castro among comedians. I am president for life. In 2014, Larry King replaced him.
But, he told Atlantic City Weekly in 2011, the biggest job he ever had was for Frank Sinatra when his regular opening comedian Tom Driessen was not available. Roman found out about the opportunity on a layover in Chicago, left the plane and flew to Philadelphia with just a few hours to go to the show in Atlantic City.
He left the stage to see Sinatra laughing. The singer also called him back for a second bow.
“Frank hugged me, and I looked at my wife and daughter and they were crying,” Roman said. “It was incredible. … Nothing tops working with Sinatra.