Morey Amsterdam was a gag writer in real life and on TV

By the time Morey Amsterdam performed on The Dick Van Dyke Show, he was already a show business veteran with almost forty years of experience making people laugh. Amsterdam started as a young man working in vaudeville. When he was sixteen, he landed a gig in a speakeasy owned by Al Capone. So, the Buddy Sorrell role on The Dick Van Dyke Show couldn't have suited him better.

"When this show came along, I thought it was great typecasting," Amsterdam told the Lansing State Journal. "I've been a gag writer all my life and here I am playing a gag writer." 

On the set of The Dick Van Dyke Show, art imitated life and vice-versa. Amsterdam's material and routines influenced the way the Buddy Sorrell character was written. As originally conceived by series creator Carl Reiner, the character was based on comedy legend Mel Brooks. Brooks and Reiner worked together on Your Show of Shows, and the time they spent writing jokes for host Sid Caesar informed the characters of Van Dyke.

Despite the character's origins, though, nobody shaped Buddy Sorrell more than Morey Amsterdam. Not only did he bring an unmistakable sense of timing, but Amsterdam also wrote a lot of his own material. Reiner would frequently surprise Amsterdam by using some of the actor's gags in Dick Van Dyke Show scripts.

"I thought they looked familiar," said Amsterdam. "But it's hard sometimes hard to keep up with old material.

"I've been in show business for 38 years-- ever since I was 10 --and I've been in television since 1939 in Los Angeles. I was the first person to use rear projection-- they couldn't afford scenery."

The Dick Van Dyke Show was a much-needed home for Morey Amsterdam after decades of prolific, yet scattered, success. It allowed him a base from which to focus his creative energy.

"I've wanted to do a series for a long time," said Amsterdam, "but nothing came up that flipped me." 

As opposed to the fleeting nature of stage performance, television allowed Amsterdam to connect with a wider audience, and in more memorable ways. 

"It's a funny thing about TV. There's no time element. Someone will come up to me and say: 'I loved you on Godfrey last week.' And you know something? I did Godfrey maybe three years before. Anyway, I'm lucky they remember that."