Tag Archives: Carl Reiner

Sid Caesar & the Sight Gag that Got Away…Almost

Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Woody Allen all wrote for Sid Caesar in the 50s1  .  When their writing and filmmaking careers were riding high in the early 70s, someone put together a ninety-minute film called Ten from Your Show of Shows. It was exactly as described: ten sketches from the legendary series that aired from 1950-54 and starred Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris2  .

(For the uninitiated, it’s very hard to describe the humor of Your Show of Shows. I could say something clever like “With one foot silent film comedy and another in zany cartoons, it’s all held together with a tight borscht belt,” but it’s best to see for yourself, which you’ll have a chance to do before this post is done. Oh, and there’s also YouTube.)

As a kid, I was a fan of Brooks, Simon and Allen, and my folks would frequently tell me about Your Show of Shows, so when this film aired on the local PBS in 1984, my VCR and I were eagerly waiting. And, man, my hopes were high; thinking of the combined laughs I got from those three guys made me giddy at the notion of what they would write collectively. (I was unaware that Allen and Simon did not have a hand in any of the sketches in this film.)

So I watched with very high expectations. The first two sketches have some incredibly funny bits, but there’s a sight gag in the third sketch (“The Recital”) that I gave me what might be the biggest laugh of my teen years. At least from watching something on TV. I remember I saw it late at night and am pretty sure my laughter woke up my folks a floor above me.

In 2001, nine DVDs-worth of material from Your Show of Show and Caesar’s subsequent show, Caesar’s Hour, were released. Almost all of the sketches from the 1973 compilation film made their way to these DVDs, but sadly “The Recital” wasn’t one of them.

And so it was time to drag out my 24-year-old VHS tape and pump this sketch into the computer. And here it is, all 4 minutes of it, with Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.

Want to take a guess at the joke that did me in? (Hint: it gets one of the two biggest laughs from the audience. Another hint: it has “Mel Brooks” written all over it.)

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BACK TO POST 1There’s a longstanding myth that Woody Allen wrote for Your Show of Shows, which is not true. However, he did write for Sid Caesar in 1958, for a short-lived program called The Sid Caesar Show. On the other hand, in 2001 Allen gave on-camera interviews for some Sid Caesar DVDs and spoke lovingly about his time spent with Sid. As those who know how little Woody talks to cameras about anything, I think this is adequate proof that he is proud of his time spent under Caesar’s wing.


BACK TO POST 2Howard Morris makes a cameo in another of my posts.

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Filed under Comedy, Plucked from Obscurity

Garry Marshall Reiterates: Pain + Time = Humor

A few weeks ago Valentine’s Day was all the rage with the masses, yet it was trashed by the critics. The NY Times described it as “barely directed,” which is a shame since the director is Garry Marshall. As someone who was raised on Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, I have a soft spot for Mr. Marshall. He’s hokey as Hell, but he’s made me laugh a lot. Also, he was a wonderfully expressive voice, all full of peaks and valleys and feeling, as anyone who’s seen him in Albert Brooks’s Lost in America can attest.

Writer/Producer Carl Reiner shares his pain

But this post is about his early days, and is audio only. It’s the tail end of Garry Marshall’s commentary for a 1965 episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show. He and his writing partner Jerry Belson wrote several episodes of the show, and he openly credits the experience—and creator/producer Carl Reiner’s influence—as a defining moment in his career.

The commentary itself is a treat. The episode is called “Baby Fat,” and it concerns Alan Brady’s performance in weak play. He enlists Rob Petrie’s help to ghostwrite some material and goes so far as to have Rob hide in a dressing room closet, pounding out jokes on the sly. The episode is wonderful, but Marshall’s commentary is a lecture in “I Know Funny.” With his very distinct voice, he tells us how he and Belson became writers for the show and how Reiner taught them to turn pain—their pain—into genuine laughs.1  And through out, he points out important of aspects of comedy writing:

        • “A mushy sandwich is always funny.”

        • “So we figured at this point he’d have to lie so he said Rob was his tailor—because tailors are always funny to me.”

        • “Doors. I always liked doors. Whenever you got doors, you have comedy.”

        • “We spent a day to get the dog’s name. ‘Mr. Ben’ is a good name for a dog; we didn’t want Fluffy or Puffy or whatever.”

At the end of the show—which is where this audio clip begins—Marshall keeps on talking, over a black screen, speaking at length (5 minutes) about the techniques of Carl Reiner. What he says is entertaining, loving and enormously educational about writing against a deadline. Fascinating stuff. (At the very least, you’ll hear a good story about Murray the Cop‘s nose.)

Garry Marshall talks (4:54, right-click to download)


BACK TO POST 1 True, this notion is a derivative of a Lenny Bruce quote–“Satire is tragedy plus time”– but when you listen to the clip, you’ll hear Marshall give him full credit.

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