Sid Caesar, age 91.
Who else had his stable of writers? Between Your Show of Shows, which debuted in 1950, and Caesar’s Hour, he had Mel Brooks (whose time writing for Caesar is summed up in My Favorite Year, starring Peter O’Toole), Woody Allen, Neil and Danny Simon (yes—the Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright had a writer brother who greatly influenced him), Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H), and Mel Tolkin (All in the Family) writing jokes, skits, sketches, parodies, and monologues that can still knock you on your keester in 2014.
Who today would dare perform a parody of an opera on prime time TV, if for no other reason that no one in the audience would know what the hell you were making fun of with the exception of a few octogenarian Italians?
Once Mel Brooks’s career as performer (The 2,000-Year-Old Man), writer, and director began to take off, he was eager to put his former employer to work. Caesar was originally cast as the Nazified playwright in The Producers, but his alcoholism had gotten the better of him, leaving him unable to commit. He would go on to recount his battle with the bottle and the ups and downs of his career in his autobiography, Where Have I Been? and would eventually hook up with Brooks on such projects as History of the World Part One and Silent Movie.
Below is what I consider the funniest sketch ever performed by people who think funny things. Below that is a sample of Caesar’s infamous “double talk,” which would no doubt be banned from broadcast television as “hate speech” today. Below THAT is a sketch with the wonderful Imogene Coca. (If she looks familiar to you kids out there, think National Lampoon’s Vacation—and yes, that’s Carl Reiner, Caesar’s sidekick and co-star, as the host in video 1 and the waiter in video 3. Of course, he’d go on to do big things himself: The Dick Van Dyke Show; The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming; The Jerk, and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid with Steve Martin; not to mention the Oceans 11 franchise reboot.)