Daily | Remembering Sid Caesar

Sid Caesar

Sid Caesar

When Sid Caesar died last week, Mervyn Rothstein and Peter Keepnews, writing the obituary for the New York Times, called him “a comedic force of nature who became one of television’s first stars in the early 1950s and influenced generations of comedians and comedy writers… Albert Einstein was a Caesar fan. Alfred Hitchcock called Mr. Caesar the funniest performer since Charlie Chaplin.”

The Dissolve‘s Matt Singer‘s noted that “after a stint in the military and performing on Broadway, Caesar starred with Imogene Coca on Your Show of Shows, which premièred on NBC in February of 1950 and quickly became one of early television’s most popular series. The live, 90-minute variety program is widely credited with bringing sketch comedy to the medium, and for establishing the template that nearly all future sketch shows would emulate…. After Your Show of Shows and its successor, Caesar’s Hour, went off the air at the end of the 1950s, Caesar struggled for years with drug and alcohol addiction, before regaining his sobriety in the late 1970s. Despite the problems in his personal life, Caesar still made memorable supporting roles in movies like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Silent Movie, and Grease.”

David Margolick for the New Yorker: “Though the competition is stiff, many feel that this sketch, called ‘This Is Your Story,’ is the funniest that Your Show of Shows ever did”:

Phil Dyess-Nugent at the AV Club: “Caesar surrounded himself with talented co-stars—including Imogene Coca, Howard Morris, and Carl Reiner (who later used his Your Show experience as the basis for The Dick Van Dyke Show)—and an incredible staff of writers, including Neil and Danny Simon, Lucille Kallen, Mel Tolkin, and Mel Brooks (whom Caesar paid out of his own pocket, until he was able to convince producers that Brooks was worth keeping around). And it was their gleeful, sophomoric satire that’s remembered by TV historians and comedy nerds as the cream of the crop. In a review of Ten from Your Show of Shows, a compendium of kinescopes of choice sketches that played in movie theaters in 1973, Pauline Kael wrote that, where Milton Berle’s comedy could only allow his audience ‘to be ridiculous,’ Caesar and his comrades ‘allowed us to be ridiculous and smart at the same time.'”

Back in the NYT, Billy Crystal recalls a night that Caesar watched the younger comedian’s one-man show: “We met afterward, and it was just magical…. He knew how I felt about him, and all I could do was whisper, ‘Thanks for coming.’ It wasn’t just a thank you for coming that day. It was a thank you for coming into my life, for inspiring me to want to be funny.”

Mel Brooks was on Conan last night, and both of these clips are just marvelous. In the first, we see a sketch Brooks wrote with a twist Brooks freely admits he lifted from Murnau‘s The Last Laugh (1924):

And in this one, Brooks explains why Caesar never (or rather, only rarely) made the transition to movies:

Back to Stanley Kramer’s It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) for a moment. Glenn Kenny writes that, “as someone who claimed to have never cared for the movie for much of his adult life, and who sincerely believed in that claim without ever feeling the need to subject it to much examination, I was slightly surprised when, watching the Blu-ray disc of the movie for the first time back in January, to find it enveloping me in a warmth that was virtually amniotic.”

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