‘M*A*S*H’ Star Alan Alda Reveals He Learned Acting From Being in Burlesque Clubs as a Child

Alan Alda learned acting and comedic timing from watching comedy sketches in Burlesque clubs… as a toddler. Alda is a cornerstone of classic tv, having starred as the sardonic Hawkeye in 11 seasons of MAS*H from 1972 to 1983. The veteran actor remained on tv for decades to come, though. In the 90s, Alda had a 5 episode run as a guest star on the medical drama ER. In the 2000s, he made appearances on The West Wing and 30 Rock. More recently, Alda starred in episodes of The Blacklist and Ray Donovan.

Alan Alda has become a father figure to generations of tv viewers. Still, fans might be shocked by how the 86-year-old claims he got his acting chops. He recently described his early childhood living near burlesque clubs to The New Yorker. Though it sounds scandalous for a toddler to be around such things, Alda brushes it aside. “Well, it’s not the polar opposite of being decent. There was no indecency that I was aware of, just a lot of naked-idity,” he quipped. “I was in the wings, watching burlesque shows, from the time I was two or two and a half, and I was very aware of the naked women.”

Alda was taking notes, but not about what you might think

Still, there was much more the little tyke was taking in besides scantily clad ladies. Alan Alda was also learning what was to be his craft. “But I was also aware of the comics, and I watched their sketches, and sometimes as a joke they put me in the sketch. That’s how I learned acting, from watching from the side, he revealed.”

However, Alda didn’t just wander into the burlesque shows off the street, sucking his thumb. His father was a player in the shows and brought him along. Alan Alda detailed his father’s routine. “He would stand on the side of the stage and sing a song in the opening number while the chorus girls paraded,” he said. Alda remembers one specific bit vividly. “There was this one number—I think the music might have been “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, Alda detailed. He goes on, “and at the end an American flag rose in the background, and the chorus girls yanked open their jackets, revealing their chests, and saluted. It was educational. And historic,” the actor joked.

Alan Alda is keeping busy with podcasting

Alan Alda remains sought after for roles in both television and film. He was most recently seen in the 2022 Ray Donovan tv movie for Showtime. However, he has become a prolific podcaster. His podcast, “Clear+Vivid with Alan Alda,” recently released its 200th episode and is still going strong. The podcast even has a science-based spin-off, “Science Clear+Vivid”, in which Alda interviews experts from the world of science.

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