Tuesday

October 20th, 2020

Insight

When Comedy Was Funny

Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published July 6, 2020

Carl Reiner has died.

With his passing the last regular performer of "Your Show of Shows" and "Caesar's Hour" is gone. The other great players were Imogene Coca, Howard Morris and later Nanette Fabray. Of course Sid Caesar was the star and his talent is legendary. There'll never be another Sid Caesar. But each one of the supporting players was terrific and contributed their own unique talents to the show.

Your Show of Shows was a live 90-minute variety show that was broadcast weekly in the United States on NBC from February 25, 1950, through June 5, 1954. The series was produced by Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, directed by Max Liebman, and written by Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, Selma Diamond, Joseph Stein, Michael Stewart, Tony Webster and Carl Reiner.

Caesar's Hour ran from 1954 to 1957 when Larry Gelbart joined the writing team and Nanette Fabray joined the cast taking the place of Imogene Coca. Woody Allen worked on several Sid Caesar TV series and specials from 1958 forward.


This was Classic television comedy of the fifties. Along with Jackie Gleason's Honeymooners, funny didn't get funnier than this. This was back when humor was built on personality and came out of everyday life. Back when comedy wasn't mean-spirited, foul-mouthed, or even had double entendre. Back before political correctness and left-wing ideology took over the medium.

These shows had two basic things that today's television programs are sorely lacking: Talented comedy performers and fantastic writing.

Happily, the shows are available on DVD so later generations can see what real comedy was all about. The material is just as funny now as it was back then. Those sketches haven't aged a bit. That's what you get with great performances and great writing. Really good stuff doesn't go out of style.

Your Show of Shows had no political agenda. Viewers didn't know what the personal politics of the performers were and didn't care, it wasn't about that. It was about comedy that everyone could be in on and laugh at, as opposed to today when just about everything produced by the entertainment industry pushes leftist views and puts down anyone who doesn't happen to share those views.

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Reiner has often said that the time he spent on Your Show of Shows was the inspiration for The Dick Van Dyke Show. Your Show of Shows also inspired the 1982 movie My Favorite Year, produced by Mel Brooks, and the 1993 play Laughter on the 23rd Floor written by Neil Simon.

Explaining what made the shows so popular and special, Imogene Coca once recalled, "There was a special chemistry to Your Show of Shows, I think, because Max [Liebman] wasn't afraid to throw out material at the last minute. And I think when you do live television Ñ well, we stopped for nothing. We had no cue cards, no TelePrompTers, and no ad-libbing on the air, because Max would have died if anybody had ad-libbed. It would have been utter disgrace, and you would have been drummed right out of the corps. ... Nobody ever forgot a line, and that was the amazing part of it."

Back about 11 years ago I was contacted by actor Lee Delano who offered me an opportunity of a lifetime. I had the good fortune of attending a few get-togethers at Sid Caesar's home. I interviewed Caesar (and later his wife Florence) and was kindly invited to join their weekly Friday night potluck dinners.

Lee, who had replaced Carl Reiner as second banana to Sid in the classic comedy sketches Sid was doing on tour, later became a good friend of mine. Sid Caesar was always one of my favorite comedians so you can imagine how very special those times were. Meeting those legends of show business comedy was phenomenal.

I think of the comedy greats, the men I idolized and watched over and over again. The ones who could always make me laugh. Comics like Buster Keaton, Jack Benny, Bob Hope, and Sid Caesar. Who do we have today? Is there anyone working now who is as naturally funny as those men?

The question doesn't really call for a response; we all know what the answer is.

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