While Jerry Stiller will forever be remembered for his role as the cantankerous, loud-mouthed father to George Costanza on Seinfeld, Ben Stiller, his son, said he was surprisingly much quieter in person.
Stiller and Fallon both commented on how despite being so boisterous onscreen, he “couldn’t be more opposite in real life.”
Stiller noted much of that suppression came from his father’s upbringing, of which he was “very, very poor. His dad was a bus driver in depression-era New York City.” He added that’s likely why a majority of his father’s characters were larger than life — “That’s where it would come out, in the characters.”
The late night host remembered having famed husband-and-wife comedy duo Stiller and Meara along with Ben on the show to play charades.
“It’s one of the most ridiculous things ever,” Stiller said. “It’s my dad and my mom, and they were such a unit together and had this amazing chemistry.” The actor noted with that bit, it showed the natural comedy that flowed from his father, who “wouldn’t go for a laugh. … He’d just be himself.”
When asked for any stories of his father from growing up in New York City, Stiller recalled his bike being stolen when he was 11 or 12 years old and his father chasing down a kid to get it back. Once he finally caught up with the kid, his father ended up relinquishing the bike, saying, “We’re gonna let him keep the bike. He needs it.”
The actor also shared how he called his father after taking LSD for the first (and last) time when he was 16. “He started talking me down, even though he knew nothing about drugs,” Stiller said. “He said, ‘I know what you’re feeling. When I was 10 years old, I smoked a Pall Mall cigarette and I was sick for two days. I said, ‘No this is different.'”
Fallon also asked if the elder Stiller would see his son perform in the city.
“Yeah, he came to everything. He was a very, very supportive dad,” Stiller said. “I remember the first job I had was a play in New York, The House of Blue Leaves. … He would do what they call ‘second acting’: He’d come in during the second act. … He’d do that all the time because he just wanted to watch and enjoy it.”
Watch the interview below.