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When Jerry Stiller died on May 11, people in show business or just fans reminisced about the duo of Stiller and Meara, including their son, actor/director Ben Stiller. Anne Meara was Stiller’s wife, and Ben grew up in the business with them. So he could shed some light on their career and relationship. 

Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller
Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller | Jim Spellman/WireImage

Ben appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on May 20 to give his father a virtual memorial, until such time as they can hold a physical one. On the show, he revealed that comedy always stressed his mother out. 

Anne Meara didn’t want to go into comedy

Stiller and Meara were such a solid act, you’d never know that 50% of them was nervous. Meara wanted to be a dramatic actor, which she was, and perhaps that’s how she covered up her nerves.

“My dad always wanted to do comedy,” Stiller said. “My mom never really did. She was a serious actress. My dad dragged her into it and of course she was brilliant at it. It always stressed her out.”

When they performed, however, they were a team.

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara | Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

“My dad and my mom, they were such a unit together,” Stiller said. “They just had this amazing chemistry and were married for 60+ years and worked together their whole lives. The way he was always funny, he wasn’t really trying to be funny. He wanted to be funny but he wouldn’t go for a laugh. He would just be himself.”

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were spouses before they were comedy partners

Ben told the story of how his parents’ relationship began. It was almost 10 years before the romantic relationship turned professional too. They continued to perform together until Meara’s death in 2015.

“They started out in the late ’50s,” Stiller said. “They got married in 1953. I think they started doing their act around 1960 to try to make money because they were both starving actors.”

For Jerry, Ben thinks comedy was a release.

Ben Stiller and family
L-R: Jerry Stiller, Christine Taylor, Ben Stiller, Anne Meara, and Amy Stiller | Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

“He was very, very quiet and I think he suppressed a lot his whole life,” Stiller said. “It came from this upbringing where he was very, very poor. His dad was a bus driver, Depression era New York City. He had all this stuff inside of him but that’s where it would come out. It would come out in the characters.”

Anne Meara overcame her stress on television too

If comedy always stressed Anne Meara out, it must have been exponentially stressful to be on The Ed Sullivan Show. Nevertheless, Sullivan kept inviting them back.

Anne Meara
Anne Meara | Jim Spellman/WireImage

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“They’d go on The Ed Sullivan Show which was huge, 30 million people watching,” Stiller said. “He had to invite you back the next week, so there was always that pressure. Every time they went on, they did it 35 times, something like that.”