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Bob Einstein as Super Dave.The Canadian Press

I had always assumed Bob Einstein was Canadian. His hapless daredevil character, Super Dave Osborne, was the best part of Bizarre, a 1980s Canadian sketch comedy series hosted by American John Byner on CTV in Toronto. Einstein was also a producer on Bizarre, and his own spinoff variety series, The Super Dave Osborne Show, was filmed in Toronto too.

Super Dave fell from the CN Tower. For his safety harnesses and seat belts he used only “genuine, fire-resistant Saskatchewan sealskin bindings.” So, Einstein’s death (on Wednesday, at age 76, of cancer) was compounded when the Canadian heritage I had attributed to him was wiped out with the news of his demise.

Even though Einstein was American, there was something Canadian about him. Einstein’s Super Dave (whose fictional status as an “accomplished” stuntman was continually contradicted by feats going horribly awry) was a parody of Evel Knievel, a star-spangled braggart, hard-living motorcycle madman and genuine American egotist. Super Dave, on the other hand, was guileless and sanguine, his calamity inevitable and hilarious. He overcame seemingly catastrophic injuries by the next week’s episode.

I also had no idea until his death that Einstein was the brother of comedic actor Albert Brooks. “R.I.P., my dear brother Bob Einstein,” Brooks wrote on Twitter. “A great brother, father and husband. A brilliantly funny man. You will be missed forever.”

Some will know the comedian from his frequent guest spots on Late Night with David Letterman, where the host’s jibes were met with straight-faced responses from a seemingly hurt Super Dave.

Younger fans will remember Einstein not as a luckless daredevil in a jumpsuit, but as the actor behind the recurring Marty Funkhouser character on Larry David’s HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm. Though he played one of David’s dearest pals and golfing buddies, the two argued constantly. Einstein’s comedic timing was flawless; his sandpaper voice added to the instant exasperation that met David’s shenanigans and rigid peculiarities.

My favourite Funkhouser moment? When Marty intrudes on a rehearsal of a Seinfeld reunion special and tells a truly crude joke to Jerry Seinfeld, who played himself. “It surprised me,” Jerry tells Funkhouser after hearing the joke. “I had no idea it would be so revolting.” No one did – the deep vulgarity was out of character for Funkhauser, but definitive Einstein.

“Never have I seen an actor enjoy a role the way Bob did playing Marty Funkhouser on Curb,” David told Rolling Stone on Wednesday. “There was no one like him, as he told us again and again."

What defined Einstein (who began his career as a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late 1960s) was his embrace of the absurd, his genius for the deadpan and his willingness to be the butt of jokes and fiascoes, particularly as Super Dave.

In a 2008 interview, Einstein recalled breaking his heel during a motorcycle stunt. “Which is about as painful as you can possibly imagine,” he told The Canadian Press. "And I’m rolling around on the ground and the crew and everyone are dying laughing, thinking I’m acting, and the more I yell ‘I’m serious!’ the harder they’re laughing – they’re crying.”

So, he was too good. He took the blows – from Letterman, from the disastrous stunts – and came back for more. I’m not sure that is inherently a Canadian trait, but Einstein’s Super Dave was pure Canadian pop-culture as much as any SCTV character, to my mind at least.

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