‘The Tonight Show’: Ben Stiller Opens Up About His Parents’ 61-year Relationship

Ben Stiller came from a show business family. His parents were Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, who were a comedy duo and actors before him. Meara died in 2015 and Jerry passed away May 11. Ben has been sharing stories about both of them as he mourns, and he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on May 20 to celebrate his parents’ memory. 

Ben Stiller admired his parents’ relationship

Even when Jerry lost Meara, they had been together more than six decades. Ben admired his parents, especially when he got to see them work in person. 

Ben Stiller's Parents
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara | Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images

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“My dad and my mom, they were such a unit together,” Stiller told Fallon. “They just had this amazing chemistry and were married for 60+ years and worked together their whole lives. To watch them do their thing together, 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 go back to the ’50s

Jerry and Meara were an item in the 1950s and they married. The Stiller and Meara comedy act began a decade later. 

Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara | Walter McBride/Corbis via Getty Images

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“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.”

Comedy was Jerry Stiller’s idea 

Ben says his father was the one pushing for them to be a comedy act. Meara had aspirations for drama, which she still got to do.

Stiller and Meara's star
Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame | Jason LaVeris/WireImage

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“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.”

The Stillers landed primo gigs

When Stiller and Meara were on the scene, The Ed Sullivan Show was the primo gig for a comedian, like The Tonight Show became. Sullivan kept inviting them back. 

The Tonight Show
The Tonight Show | NBCUniversal

“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.” 

Ben Stiller can see how many people his parents impacted

Although losing Jerry is a tragedy, one silver lining for Ben has been the outpouring of support from people close to both Jerry and Meara. It shows Ben that his parents not only loved each other, but they loved colleagues and friends, who loved them in return.

L-R: Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Amy Stiller and Ben Stiller | Theo Wargo/WireImage

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A lot of people have reached out which has been really nice, just to feel how much he touched people, how much enjoyment he gave people. I know that he would have felt good about all this. If you had asked him, ‘Do you care about all the show business aspect of things?’ and he really did. He’d always say, ‘But I really care about my kids and my kids being happy.” He’d be so happy watching us do our thing, or his grandkids do their thing.