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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Feb 18, 2014 / 18 Adar I, 5774

Meet Sid Caesar: For those who never saw Your Show of Shows

By Paul Greenberg




http://www.JewishWorldReview.com |

"... the funniest man America has produced to date."

--Mel Brooks, describing Sid Caesar in 1982.

There must be whole generations by now whose reaction to the name Sid Caesar might be summed up as "Huh?"

How describe his appeal in the now distant 1950s? It may be impossible, for back in that cool, conformist post-war era, the era of "The Lonely Crowd" and "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," there was still a social norm for a Sid Caesar -- or Mort Sahl -- to satirize. Pity the poor comic today, who can only repeat and compete with the inchoate vulgarity of so much of what's called American society, not play against it. What's the use of being subversive if there's nothing to subvert?

If there's no structure, there's no undermining it. Without a background, there's no foreground, either. No form, no function for comedy. All is the same indiscriminate mass, loud or soft. Today's comic may be able to control the volume of the surrounding society he reflects, sometimes, but not its quality. Because it has so little. It's just sound and fury, null and without form, like the world before it was created.

How hope to explain why Americans of a different generation, Americans of all classes, which at the time meant we were all officially middle class, would watch that tiny black-and-white screen in look-alike suburban living rooms all across the country? Because gradually, step by step, we would slowly collapse into mirth. The descent would start with just a smile, followed by a small chuckle of recognition, and end in the kind of uncontrollable laughter that leaves you doubled up and wiping away tears.

How did Sid Caesar do it? It's anything but easy. Dying is easy, as an old vaudevillian once noted, it's comedy that's hard. And it requires art, and an all too rare artist. It took a while, but eventually it dawned on us that we weren't laughing at Sid Caesar but at ourselves, and it was a good feeling. Cleansing, clarifying. It restored perspective. It was a kind of molting, flaking off the dead skin so we could grow, expand, see anew. And it made things new.

Sid Caesar, tie undone, cuff links off, sitting there with his wingtips and lightly Brylcreemed hair, was our own Socrates ("Know thyself"), only wearing the mask of comedy. Who knew?

It wasn't just television's golden age but Sid Caesar's -- those were the days, my friend, and maybe he thought they would never end. But they did, and Isaac Sidney Caesar was surely the most disappointed and disillusioned observer of all as his magic fades, and he wound up just another stand-up comedian in a cast of interchangeable thousands, as in "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World."

Maybe that's what explains his later succession of addictions before he finally got a grip and decided to live, pulled up his clown's socks, and became one of those Grand Old Men weighed down with worthless honors and the knowledge that his show of shows was now far behind him. But, oh, while it had lasted....

How would one of Sid Caesar's gallery of stereotypes, the stuffier and more respectable the funnier, relay the news that one of the funniest men in the world made his final appearance last week -- in the obituaries?

The only way to break the news of his death in a way that might capture Sid Caesar's spirit and that of his times would be to make the announcement on a small black-and-white TV screen, complete with rabbit ears on top of the set. His old partner in sketch comedy, Imogene Coca in her bangs and 1950-ish housedresses, a Carol Burnett before her time, would be suppressing a sob in the background while Mel Brooks, whose idea of comedy has always been only slapstick, would be thinking he could have done the death scene a lot funnier.

The only actor who could have handled the delicate duty of announcing Sid Caesar's death at 91 to mordant perfection would have been Sid Caesar himself -- in one of his ultra-respectable personas:

"This is Roger Stiffneck of WXYZ bringing you today's News of the Dead," he would have begun, tie clip just right, carnation in lapel, his John Cameron Swayze voice sweeping low, Timex in place, as he e-nun-ci-a-ted every syllable in the Standard American that was once the only dialect allowed television anchormen. Only gradually would he begin to lapse into a New Yorkese of no determinate borough somewhere out there between Queens and Yonkers. His peccable diction, regressing to its origins, would somehow capture the spirit of the upwardly mobile yet ever downward descending urban American middle class of his time.

"I have to tell you tonight," our faux newscaster would intone, sober as a corrupt judge, "that one of the funniest men alive isn't any more, that is, alive. However, he's still funny and in the running for Best Posthumous Show of Shows for this season...."


And then Sid Caesar would proceed, in the manner of Dave Garroway's man-on-the-street interviews, from one wildly different American type to another. He might start with his progressive-jazz sax man, Progress Hornsby, explaining that his group's latest release was a whole new hi-fi listening experience. ("This is the highest they've ever fied. If they fie any higher, they're gonna foo!")

Progress Hornsby would be followed by a parade of equally improbable yet all too familiar figures. Like the distinguished guest lecturer in archaeology speaking a nonexistent foreign language that was really only doubletalk, or maybe tripletalk or quadruple talk, but with every rhythm, nuance, enunciation and accent mark in place, Ja? Like some great Herr Doktor Professor Fakegescheft, who would explain that he had just discovered the great secret of Titten-Totten's Tomb, which he was not at liberty to reveal at the moment.

And then ... on and on to the end of your show of shows, which would leave the audience both sorry it was over and too exhausted from laughter to take any more.

At the end of the night, with work waiting the next morning, the TV screen, glowing softly like a night lite, would show nothing but a soothing test pattern. And it was all gone. Like the 1950s.

Paul Greenberg Archives

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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