Arnold Stang has passed at 91. You may recall him from movies (The Man With the Golden Arm), the voice of Top Cat, and old Chunky commercials. He is in death described as a “nerdy” comedian, though his nasal, chinless persona predated the term “nerd” by decades. And contrary to the imputation, Stang’s characters usually had some steel to them, as is shown by this holiday bit from the Milton Berle show, in which Stang, starting around 1:15, ba-dum-booms the famously egocentric star off the stage to the delight of the crowd. Berle lays hands in anger on Stang several times, but Stang keeps coming. And Top Cat was no pushover, either.
Stang’s slightly querulous yawp suggests his Brooklyn roots, and the necessity of developing early a good line of patter in such an environment when you’re short (Stang was five-foot-three fully grown) and have a negligible chin. Sometimes Stang played a patsy, but audiences liked him because he talked back. It’s an old urban signifier — the little guy with a mouth on him who could get the crowd on his side.