Samuel Joel Mostel was born in Brooklyn on February 28, 1915. In the late thirties, he worked as a stand-up comic in Greenwich Village and became noted for a zany, exaggerated improvisational style influenced by the Yiddish theater of the time.
The name “Zero” was created by press agent Ivan Black when Mostel began his career as a nightclub comic. The name was created at the behest of Barney Josephson, proprietor of the Café Society nightclub, who felt that “Sam Mostel” was not appropriate for a comic. Mostel’s mother coined the nickname “Zero”, noting that if he continued to do poorly at school, he would amount to a Zero.
His success as a comedian led to more work. Mostel made notable appearances on New York City television in the late 1940s. He had his own show in 1948 called Off The Record. Simultaneously, Mostel had a live TV show on WPIX in New York called “Channel Zero”.
But he had leftist leanings and his comedy routine included jabs at right winged politicians. As a result he was blacklisted during the McCarthy period.
His acting career revived in the early sixties and he won Tony awards for his performances of A Funny Things Happened on the Way to the Forum and The Fiddler on the Roof.
He died in 1977.