The stage at the Beverly Hills Paley Center for Media still stands today, even after holding up the comedic weight from Wednesday’s night tribute to the late Sid Caesar.
Billy Crystal, Carl Reiner, and Mel Brooks told stories about their close friend and TV icon for over 90 minutes at the Paley Center’s salute to Sid Caesar, who passed away in February. Eddy Friedfeld, the co-author of the autobiography Caesar’s Hours: My Life in Comedy, With Love and Laughter, moderated a program that was funny, touching, and illuminating.
Twelve-time Emmy winner Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show) worked on Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, alongside Mel Brooks and Neil Simon from 1950 to 1954. He also wrote on Caesar’s Hour, which aired from 1954 to 1957.
“My favorite memory of Sid is being on stage with him and hearing roars of laughter over things that weren’t planned,” Reiner told Rotten Tomatoes during the program’s red carpet. “If he heard a laugh, he could milk it more than any other comedian I’ve ever seen. If he knew the audience was enjoying it particularly, he says, ‘You let them enjoy it a little longer.’ I learned something from that: go with the audience. If they like it, give them more of the same.”
Mel Brooks (Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles) whose tenure with Caesar’s Your Show of Shows launched an illustrious movie career, wishes Sid Caesar had followed his lead onto the big screen.
“The trouble with Your Show of Shows and Sid Caesar and the reason it’s not living on is because it was captured on inferior material, like cellophane and kinescopes, but had Sid Caesar made movies, he’d still be a giant in comedy today,” Brooks told Rotten Tomatoes. “People would know because movies last. We go to see Charlie Chaplin movies, and we go to see Buster Keaton movies. There are no Sid Caesar movies, and that’s terrible. But his comedy was eternal and it’s a pity that it wasn’t captured on materials that would let it live.”
Reiner, who was first cast in Your Show of Shows in 1950 by producer Max Leibman, said the secret to enduring comedy is truth. “If a comedian is telling the truth — telling the truth means talking about what he really, really, feels deeply — you can’t fail. It’s when you’re trying to be something you’re not. The audience knows it in a second. But all the great comedians now, from Richard Pryor down to Louie CK, they talk about what they know about and they talk about the real.”
The realness of comedy also extends to political satire in Reiner’s opinion. “The political comedians like Jon Stewart and John Oliver — he’s incredible — and Colbert are just wonderful. Those are worthwhile comedians. They’re funny. Colbert may be the most original of all because he’s doing a right-wing gentleman and he’s not right-winged. He’s doing a satire and he’s making himself look like a fool, but doing it so honestly. He’s playing an honest fool.”
For Mel Brooks, finding current-day comedy on television that he enjoys is a bit more difficult.
“There are a lot of shows that I like, but, honestly, there’s not a lot of comedy that I’m crazy about,” Brooks said. “I like The Good Wife; I’d like to meet her. Breaking Bad was incredible. Justified with Timothy Olyphant is a wonderful show. I like mostly hour drama. It seems to be superior in intelligence and in writing ability than half-hour sitcoms that just don’t thrill me. I like Modern Family; it’s funny — especially when my old friend Nathan Lane is a guest star. It’s adorable. Otherwise, I like Chinese food. Peking duck.”
For info on upcoming Paley Center events, visit www.paleycenter.org.
For more TV news, visit the Rotten Tomatoes TV Zone.