Before appearing as Marty Funkhouser in Larry David’s improvisational HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, actor Bob Einstein was familiar to cable audiences as “Super Dave” Osborne, an alter ego created as a parody of reckless daredevils like Evel Knievel. Like a human cartoon, Osborne's bravado would usually get him maimed.
Following the death of Einstein in January 2019, shortly after being diagnosed with cancer, HBO is debuting The Super Bob Einstein Movie, a new documentary about the man behind the stunt helmet. Ahead of that, we're taking a look back at the origins of Einstein's unique comic persona.
1. Bob Einstein is the brother of Albert Brooks.
No Super Dave primer would be complete without mention of the fact that Einstein vied for attention as a child with younger brother Albert, who went on to become an acclaimed writer, director, and actor with films like 1985’s Lost in America and 1991’s Defending Your Life. Understandably, Albert realized that a show business career might be hindered by his father’s questionable decision to name him “Albert Einstein,” so he changed his name to Albert Brooks. Bob kept the family surname.
2. The Super Dave character wasn't directly inspired by Evel Knievel.
When Einstein came up with the Super Dave character for a 1976 variety show, Van Dyke and Company, Evel Knievel’s popularity was in full swing. The daredevil—who had broken dozens of bones jumping over the fountains at Caesar’s Palace in 1967 and subsequently achieved superstardom doing similarly ill-advised stunts—seemed ripe for parody. But according to Einstein, Super Dave was born more out of the false bravado he had seen exhibited by stuntmen in the movie business. “Where it started was from every a**hole who worked on a movie or worked in athletics or anything and when they were interviewed they were always Mr. Gladhand,” Einstein told the Futon Critic in 2009. "'This was the best game I ever had!’ ‘This is the best stunt I've ever done!’ But then behind the scenes they said what they really felt. I wanted to create a character where you saw both sides of it. He was happy as sh*t before he got killed and then afterwards you saw the real side of him, so that's where it came from. It didn't really have to do with Evel except that I was a stuntman.”
3. Super Dave might have been cable TV's first spin-off series.
Einstein portrayed Super Dave in a Showtime variety series titled Bizarre from 1979 to 1985. In 1987, the cable channel gave the character his own series, Super Dave, which The New York Times declared “cable’s first spin-off series” and a “dubious landmark of sorts.” Super Dave’s first episode featured guest appearances by Ray Charles and Carol Burnett.
4. Bob Einstein nearly seriously injured himself for real.
Super Dave aficionados are familiar with the character’s formula, which involves bragging about his stunt prowess before inevitably getting mangled, crushed, or otherwise maimed after things go awry. (In one sketch, Super Dave plummets to certain death after his bungee cord snaps. His assistant tries to lower an ambulance via bungee cord, which then falls on him.) But for a 1990 episode, Einstein told the Los Angeles Times that he came close to getting decimated for real. Trying to navigate a “bullfight” in a mini-Cooper with a tank, the giant military vehicle advanced after Einstein’s car stalled out, nearly flattening him.
5. Super Dave endorsed Nike.
Super Dave became a cult cable hit in the early 1990s—enough for Nike to invite Einstein to appear in a series of commercials for Nike Air shoes alongside Reggie Miller and other NBA stars. As with most of Super Dave's stunts, his attempts to out-maneuver basketball's best players typically did not end well.
6. Super Dave had his own animated series.
In 1991, Super Dave entered a new dimension—animation—with Super Dave: Daredevil for Hire, a short-lived animated series on Fox that aired for 13 episodes in 1992. Something appeared to get lost in translation, as Osborne was already a cartoon and relegating him to animation seemed somewhat redundant.
7. Friends called Bob "Dave" in public.
Actors are usually irritated when they’re confused for their onscreen personas, but Einstein and Super Dave became so linked that Einstein’s friend—and Super Dave co-creator—Allan Blye resorted to calling him “Dave” when the two were out in public. “When I call him Bob, people are very confused,” Blye told The New York Times in 1995. “Super Dave Osborne, to millions of people, is a real person.”
8. Einstein resurrected Super Dave on several occasions.
Following his 1980s heyday, Super Dave was resurrected in several projects. In 1995, Einstein filmed a new series, Super Dave’s Vegas Spectacular, with an actual plot—Super Dave owns and operates a casino—which lasted just one season. In 2000, he released The Extreme Adventures of Super Dave, a direct-to-video film featuring Super Dave attempting one last stunt to earn money for a child’s operation. And in 2009, Spike TV brought him back for four episodes of botched stunts in Super Dave's Spike Tacular.
A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2021.