When Ed Asner takes the stage in the one-man comedy “A Man and his Prostate,” his audience should understand right up front the play isn’t autobiographical.
“My prostate is just fine, thanks. It’s perfect, it’s sacrosanct,” the 89-year-old character actor says.
The play, Asner explains, is based on an unexpected prostate problem that befell one of his longtime friends, Ed. Weinberger — with whom Asner co-wrote the 2017 book “The Grouchy Historian: an Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs” — during a cruise to Italy and his subsequent treatment in an Italian hospital after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Most men would return home to either be treated for, or recover from, the treatment for prostate cancer. Instead, Weinberger, one of the creative forces behind MTM Enterprises, which produced “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the 1970s, recovered from his illness and wrote a comedy about his experience.
Asner brought the show to life about three years ago and continues to tour the country with it because he sees the play as both an entertainment piece and a public service announcement.
“Every year, about 250,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer and 35,000 men die,” Asner says in one of few serious moments during an otherwise lively conversation.
Asner will perform “A Man and his Prostate” 2 p.m. Saturday, March 23, at the Grunin Center for the Arts at Ocean County College in Toms River.
He says the play tends to attract a mixed audience of men and women, and says ladies seem to get more of a kick out of the show than men.
“Some of the most raucous laughter we’ve had has been from women,” he says. “It gives them a chance to unwind, and that’s really what this show is.”
Asner says he leaped at the chance to do the play the moment he saw Weinberger’s script.
“Reading it was all I needed to do,” he says. “We have yet to perform it for an audience that doesn’t love it.”
Seeing Asner in this role might be something of a stretch for audiences who only remember him for his two runs as the TV character Lou Grant: first as news director on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and then, once Moore’s comedy ended, he reprised the role, this time as a hard-bitten newspaper editor on the drama series “Lou Grant.”
Asner has won seven Emmy Awards during his career, five of them for playing Lou Grant on both the sitcom and the drama. That makes him the only actor in TV history to win Emmys for playing the same character in a comedy and a drama.
“You can see that I’ve spent my life trying to figure out who I am,” he says with a laugh.
So who was Lou Grant? Was he a comedy foil to Mary Tyler Moore’s comedic character, or was he the gruff newspaper editor?
Actually, he’s a little of both. Asner says it was never a stretch for him to play either side of Lou Grant.
“He was a gruff, tough, sweet guy,” Asner says. “I’ve been playing blue-collar characters like him from day one.”
In fact, decades before he played the role of a newspaper editor on television, he actually was an editor — for his high school paper in Kansas City.
“One day, my beloved teacher walked by and asked me if I was thinking of journalism as a career,” he recalls. “And I said yeah. And he said, ‘I wouldn’t. You can’t make a living at it.’ This was in 1947. I said, ‘Oh, okay,’ and then a few years later I became an overnight sensation as an actor.”
Because he’s succeeded in virtually every medium — stage, television, voiceovers and movies, like the 2003 Christmas classic “Elf” — he can’t pick a favorite.
“I love it all,” says Asner, who was twice elected president of the Screen Actors Guild and is also known for his political involvement. In fact, he has found Twitter to be a great way to voice his opinions about the current state of the political world these days.
Despite turning 90 in November, retirement isn’t a word that’s part of his vocabulary.
When he’s not touring with “A Man and his Prostate,” Asner is never unemployed.
Besides, he’s a kid compared to another super senior entertainer who’s still hard at work. Asner seemed surprised to learn crooner Tony Bennett is still working into his early 90s.
“He’s 92?” Asner asks rhetorically? “So he’s got me by three years, so what? I guess maybe I need to eat more spaghetti.”