Grodin has won several acting awards, including American Comedy Award for Funniest Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for Dave, Best Actor at the 1988 Valladolid International Film Festival for Midnight Run. He was nominated for Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for The Heartbreak Kid in 1972. He also shared a 1978 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program for his work on The Paul Simon Special.
In the mid-1990s, Grodin retired from acting to become a talk show host on CNBC and in 2000 a political commentator for 60 Minutes II. He has written several autobiographical and acting related works, including 1990's It Would Be So Nice If You Weren't Here: My Journey Through Show Business and 1994's We're Ready for You, Mr. Grodin. However, he has recently returned to acting.
Grodin was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Orthodox Jewish parents, Lena (née Singer), who worked in the family store and volunteered for disabled veterans, and Theodore I. Grodin, who sold wholesale supplies. His maternal grandfather was an immigrant from Russia who "came from a long line of rabbis" and moved to Pittsburgh at the turn of the 20th century. Grodin has an older brother, Jack.
Grodin attended the University of Miami but left without graduating to pursue acting.
Grodin's film debut was an uncredited bit part in Disney's 1954 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A student of Lee Strasberg and Uta Hagen, he made his Broadway debut in a production of Tchin-Tchin, opposite Anthony Quinn. In 1965, he became an assistant to director Gene Saks and appeared on several television series including The Virginian.
Grodin had a small but pivotal part playing an obstetrician in the 1968 horror film, Rosemary's Baby. In 1964, he played Matt Stevens on the ABC soap opera the Young Marrieds. During the late 1960s, he also co-wrote and directed Hooray! It's a Glorious Day...and All That, a Broadway play, and directed Lovers and Other Strangers and Thieves, also on Broadway. He also directed Simon and Garfunkel's television special Songs of America in 1969. However, he turned down the part of Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate because of the low salary offered by producer Lawrence Turman, although Turman assured him that the part would make him a star, as it ultimately did for Dustin Hoffman.
After a supporting role in the 1970 comedy film Catch-22, Grodin gained recognition as a comedy actor when he played the lead role in the 1972 film The Heartbreak Kid. Grodin subsequently appeared in several films during the decade, including 11 Harrowhouse in 1974, the 1976 version of King Kong and the hit 1978 comedy Heaven Can Wait. During the 1970s, he also frequently appeared on Broadway and was involved in producing several plays.
In 1981, he landed in a role in The Great Muppet Caper playing Nicky Holiday, a jewel thief who falls in love with Miss Piggy. He also appeared that same year opposite Lily Tomlin in The Incredible Shrinking Woman. His 1980s roles included Neil Simon's Seems Like Old Times (opposite Chevy Chase and Goldie Hawn) and 1988's well-reviewed comedy Midnight Run, a buddy movie co-starring Robert De Niro. Grodin also appeared in the 1986 CBS mini-series sendup Fresno, playing the evil son of a raisin matriarch (Carol Burnett).
His Hollywood film roles of the 1980s usually saw him cast as uptight, bland and world-weary white collar professionals, such as a psychiatrist having a nervous breakdown (The Couch Trip), a health conscious accountant (Midnight Run), an ineffectual advertising executive (Taking Care of Business), and a lonely, socially awkward nerd (The Lonely Guy). He was cast against this type as a scheming CIA agent in Ishtar.
Commenting on his work with regard to Ishtar, Hal Hinson in the Washington Post observed: "Grodin has a one-of-a-kind quality on the screen, a sort of inspired spinelessness. And with his cat-burglar rhythms – he seems to play all his scenes as if someone were asleep in the next room – he's become a very sly scene-stealer." Sandra Brennan at Rovi noted that: "Whereas many funnymen have been popular for their ability to overreact and mug their way around everyday obstacles, Grodin belonged, from the beginning, to the Bob Newhart school of wry comedy that values understatement and subtlety."
Aside from his film work, he was a frequent presence on television. In 1977, Grodin hosted an episode of the NBC sketch show, Saturday Night Live, where the entire episode revolved around his forgetting that the show was live, and he proceeded to wreck sketches because of his failure to prepare accordingly. His many talk show appearances from the 1970s to the present have often included confrontational and mock angry segments. At one time Johnny Carson "banned" him from The Tonight Show appearances after taking offense at things Grodin had said. The NBC network would receive angry letters from viewers who didn't understand the joke, that he was playing a persona, trying to be as different from typical talk show guests as possible. His appearances on Late Night With David Letterman would sometimes erupt into shouting and name-calling, but Letterman always enjoyed Grodin's segments.
Grodin's career took a turn in 1992, when he played the nervous family man George Newton in the kids' comedy Beethoven, opposite Bonnie Hunt. The film was a box-office hit, and he reprised the role in the 1993 sequel, Beethoven's 2nd. After a supporting role in the acclaimed Ivan Reitman comedy Dave, Grodin took a lead role in It Runs in the Family (a.k.a. My Summer Story), which received a limited theatrical release in 1994. That same year also saw the much-delayed release of Clifford, in which Grodin portrayed the frustrated uncle opposite Martin Short's title role. After a 12-year-long hiatus from film, Grodin returned to acting in the Zach Braff comedy The Ex (2006).
Grodin made more frequent acting appearances in the 2010s. After guest starring on television shows such as The Michael J. Fox Show and starring in a recurring role on Louie, Grodin had several supporting roles in films, including Barry Levinson's The Humbling and Noah Baumbach's While We're Young.
From 1995 to 1998, Grodin hosted his own issues-oriented talk show, The Charles Grodin Show, on CNBC and, starting in 2000, became a political commentator for 60 Minutes II. In 2004, Grodin wrote The Right Kind of People, an Off-Broadway play about co-op boards in certain buildings in Manhattan. Grodin's commentaries continue to be heard on New York City radio station WCBS and other affiliates of the CBS Radio Network, as well as on the CBS Radio Network's Weekend Roundup.
He is also a best-selling author; his works include It Would Be So Nice If You Weren't Here, Just When I Thought I'd Heard Everything: Humorous Observations on Life in America and How I Get Through Life. His book, If I Only Knew Then...Learning from Our Mistakes was released in November 2007 by Springboard Press. It is a collection of essays from his famous friends (and friends of friends), with all author proceeds going to the Help USA charity. His book How I Got To Be Whoever It Is I Am came out in April 2009.
Grodin has two children: daughter Marion (a comedian), from his marriage to Julie Ferguson, and son, Nicholas, from his marriage to Elissa Durwood. For a period in the 2000s, Grodin gave up show business to be a stay-at-home dad to his children.Grodin, Charles. Price of Fame: A Play. New York: Samuel French, 1991. ISBN 978-0-573-69220-8.
Grodin, Charles. One of the All-Time Greats: A Comedy. New York: S. French, 1992. ISBN 978-0-573-69366-3.
Grodin, Charles. The Right Kind of People. New York: Samuel French, 2008. ISBN 978-0-573-65107-6.
Grodin, Charles. It Would Be so Nice If You Weren't Here: My Journey Through Show Business. New York: Morrow, 1989. ISBN 978-0-679-73134-4.
Grodin, Charles. How I Get Through Life: A Wise and Witty Guide. New York: Morrow, 1992. ISBN 978-0-688-11258-5.
Grodin, Charles. We're Ready for You, Mr. Grodin: Behind the Scenes at Talk Shows, Movies, and Elsewhere. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1994. ISBN 978-0-025-45795-9.
Grodin, Charles. I Like It Better When You're Funny: Working in Television and Other Precarious Adventures. New York: Random House, 2002. ISBN 978-0-375-50784-7.
Grodin, Charles. If I Only Knew Then... Learning from Our Mistakes. New York: Springboard Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-446-58115-8.
Grodin, Charles. How I Got to Be Whoever It Is I Am. New York: Springboard Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-446-51940-3.
Grodin, Charles. Just When I Thought I'd Heard Everything: Humorous Observations on Life in America. Santa Monica, Calif: Homina Publishing, 2013. ISBN 978-0-970-44999-3.