The proud owner of scores of dialects and hundreds of uncanny impersonations, slight, deadpan, rubber-faced, light-haired funnyman John Byner is the forerunner to such presently gifted comic impressionists as Dana Carvey and Frank Caliendo. Byner’s spot-on impressions have run the entertainment and historical gamut — from John Wayne, Walter Brennan and George Jessel to U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. As icing on the cake, he could unleash hilariously over-done singing vocals to such stylists as Johnny Mathis and Dean Martin. At his heyday in the late 60s and early 70s, John and Rich Little were the cream of the mimicking crop — deservedly recognized as the “Men of 1,000 Impressions”.
Born John Biener on June 28, 1938 in New York City, he was the son of Michael Biener, an auto mechanic, and Christina Biener, a mental hospital attendant. His stand-up comedy career began in New York’s Greenwich Village where he worked for a year for Max Gordon at Gordon’s jazz club “Village Vanguard”. He then went on to open for some of the finest jazz greats of his time and steadily became a favorite New York nightclub fixture. As he rose to the top of his game, he opened or headlined prominent niteries throughout the country included headlining stints at Basin Street East, Copa Cabana, Latin Quarter, The Rainbow Room and at such showrooms as Harrah’s, The Sahara, The Sands, Caesar’s Palace, The Tropicana and Las Vegas Hilton.
John’s TV career break happened in New York City on Merv Griffin’s “Talent Scouts Show” in 1964. After great exposure on both Garry Moore and Steve Allen’s variety shows in 1966 and 1967, he clowned around on Ed Sullivan’s showcase program over two dozen times and Johnny Carson late-night haunt over three dozen times. He added to the laughs on Carol Burnett, Mike Douglas and Dean Martin’s self-titled shows and became a veritable favorite with David Letterman and Jay Leno at night. He hosted and starred in his own summer variety series with The John Byner Comedy Hour (1972) which focused on sketch comedy and sitcom spoofs. John’s series “Comedy on the Road,” which aired for four seasons on A&E earned him his second Ace Award. The first came for his uproarious series Bizarre (1980), a half-hour sketch-styled program which aired for six seasons.
As an actor John contributed side-splitting moments on such established 60s and 70s shows as “Get Smart”, “Soap,” “Maude” and “The Odd Couple” and made his film debut in the Barbra Streisand/’Ryan O’Neal’ gagfest What’s Up, Doc? (1972). While he never found a strong footing in film, he managed to add second-banana fun to a handful of slapstick vehicles for such top comic stars as Rodney Dangerfield.
John’s penchant for creating voices led to an expansive career in cartoons and voiceovers for Disney projects as well as the animated programs “Duckman,” “Angry Beavers” and “Rugrats.” A cartoon segment entitled “The Ant and the Aardvark” on “The Pink Panther Show” series had the title characters voiced by Byner, who gave dead-on impressions of Dean Martin and Jackie Mason, respectively. Married four times, John has four children from his first marriage.
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