Berg held an honorary doctorate in theology. He produced regular religious-themed work for Moshiach Times and the B’nai Brith newsletter. His interaction with Mad’s atheist publisher Bill Gaines was suitably irreverent: Berg would tell Gaines, “God bless you,” and Gaines would reply, “Go to Hell.”
contributor Al Jaffee described Berg’s unique personality in 2009: “Dave had a messianic complex of some sort. He was battling … he had good and evil inside of him, clashing all the time. It was sad, in a sense, because he wanted to be taken very seriously, and you know, the staffers at Mad just didn’t take anything seriously. Most of all, ourselves … It came out in a lot of the things he did. He had a very moralistic personality … He wrote a book called My Friend God. And of course, if you write a book like that, you just know that the Mad staff is going to make fun of you. We would ask him questions like, “Dave, when did you and God become such good friends? Did you go to college together, or what?”
In this faith connection, Berg was additionally hired to contribute content to The Magazine For Jewish Children, The Moshiach Times, by Rabbi Dr. Dovid Sholom Pape. According to Pape: “He was a wonderful writer and humorist, and he had a great Jewish heart. I asked him to prepare a series of cartoons that would, in a humorous way, illustrate basic ideas in the Torah
. To do this, he invented a fat character called Schlemiel who would always misunderstand things, and then there would be a couple of boys who would correct him.”
His characters occasionally made their way into other artists’ works, such as Kaputnik finding himself a patient in a Mort Drucker spoof of St. Elsewhere, tagged “with apologies to Dave Berg”.
Berg contributed to Mad until his death, a total of 46 years. His last set of “Lighter Side” strips, which had been written but not penciled, were illustrated after Berg’s death by 18 of Mad’s other artists as a final tribute; this affectionate send-off included the magazine’s final new contributions from Jack Davis and George Woodbridge. In recent years, Berg’s Lighter Side strips have been rewritten for Mad with inappropriately “un-Berg-like” humor by longtime Mad writer Dick DeBartolo and others; this irregular feature is called “The Darker Side of the Lighter Side.”
Berg’s other work included the comic strips Citizen Senior (1989–93), Roger Kaputnik (1992) and Astronuts (1994).
After a long battle with cancer, he died in his home in Marina del Rey, California, shortly after midnight on May 17, 2002. Berg was survived by his wife of 52 years, Vivian, and their two children.