Ben Stiller is reflecting on his time with his father, the late Jerry Stiller, and the comedian's storied career. In a new interview with The New Yorker, the 54-year-old actor shares details on his final days with his dad, who died earlier this month at the age of 92.
"My sister and I were able to be with him," Ben says of him and his sister, Amy Stiller. "And, just due to the fact that he didn’t have a coronavirus-related illness, and he had been ailing for a while, we were able to be with him, which I’m very, very grateful for."
Noting that Jerry was "slowing down" in his final days, Ben added that one thing remained constant.
"The last week or two were tougher for him. But he went peacefully, and he had a sense of humor, for sure, until the end," Ben says. "I hesitate to call it a sense of humor. He was just funny, and so he was always himself. He was almost ninety-three, and I think his body was kind of at that point where it was time."
Jerry's beloved wife and longtime collaborator, Anne Meara, died in early 2019, and Ben reflected on growing up in a family of performers.
"We hardly ever sat down to have dinner together as a family. But, by the same token, I think we were a pretty close family," he says. "And it was just not your typical, traditional setup."
Ben added that his father was always supportive of his creative ambitions from an early age.
"My first instinct, when I was eight, nine, ten years old, was that I knew I loved movies and I wanted to be a director. And my dad really supported that," he recalls. "He went out and got a Super 8 camera, and got me the editing equipment, and would act in movies that I would make. He was just there, all the time, for that."
As for competition between the two, Ben said there never was any.
"My dad is so funny. Like, I’ve never, ever thought I was funny like my dad. Or as funny as my dad," the Meet the Parents star admits. "I’ve never really felt a competition, because I would lose, hands down."
Jerry is probably best remembered for playing the hot-headed Frank Costanza, the father of George Costanza on Seinfeld. Ben said that the origins of the character came from Jerry "not trying to be funny," but rather "putting everything into it."
"And yet, of course, it came out so funny because he was just putting everything into it. And it was just like the amalgam of who he was, as a person," he says.
He noted that the rabbi at his father's funeral even brought up the character ahead of the service.
"And I said, 'He never once raised his voice to me, ever, as a kid. Ever.' So I watch that and I laugh, because I’m, like, 'Who is that person?' Because that really was not him, but I think he was unleashing something that I think was suppressed in his real life," Ben adds.