Irving Benson, One of the Last Survivors of Vaudeville, Dies at 102

Irv Benson (right) and Johnny Carson on 'The Tonight Show.' - H 2016
John C. Brown/The Last First Comic

He gained fame as Sidney Spritzer, who heckled Milton Berle from the balcony, on TV variety shows.

Irving Benson, one of the last survivors of vaudeville and burlesque and a comic who made a career out of playing the Milton Berle wiseguy heckler Sidney Spritzer, has died. He was 102.

Benson, the subject of the 2010 documentary The Last First Comic, died May 19 at his home in Port Jefferson, N.Y., his daughter, Vicki Dvorin, told The Hollywood Reporter.

For more than a decade, Benson served as one-half of the comedy act Benson and Mann, teaming with straight man Jack Mann, and he was a frequent and favorite guest of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.

Fellow ex-vaudevillian Berle hired Benson to appear as Spritzer on the variety shows Texaco Star Theatre, The Hollywood Palace and The Milton Berle Show. Spritzer would be seated in the front row of the balcony overlooking the stage and give the comic grief.

"You're interrupting me all the time. You keep cutting me off. How will anybody know what I'm going to say?" an exasperated Berle said during one 1966 routine. "By watching Johnny Carson the night before," Spritzer replied.

After Berle noted that "comedy is in my blood," Spritzer said, "You better get a transfusion."

In the early 2000s, when Berle was in his 90s, he and Benson got together again for a tour in Florida.

Benson started singing and dancing in contests as a youngster. He entertained troops during World War II and first partnered with Mann in 1946. On a 1979 episode of Happy Days, he played a member of a burlesque troupe.

His wife Lillian, whom he married in 1936, died in March, 11 weeks before Benson.

In addition to Vicki, survivors also include daughter Cookie, grandchildren Mary, David, Susan, Marc and Alison and seven great-grandchildren.