When I was a kid “Your Show of Shows” was regular viewing at our house. It was by far the best comedy/revue program on television. There was nothing like it. The onscreen talent was wonderful: Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Howie Morris. And the writing! Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, Tony Webster, Joe Stein, Danny Simon. Larry Gelbart wrote for Caesar’s later programs. These are the names that have dominated comedy in the U. S. for the last half century not only on television but in film and on the stage. If you want a good feel for what “Your Show of Shows” was like, watch any episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show”. Think of that but zanier. The goings-on among the writers and backstage have been dramatized in the movie My Favorite Year.
It was by far the funniest and most innovative comedy show on television until Ernie Kovacs hit the airwaves.
Sid Caesar has died at the age of 91:
In a day before comedy was laced with irony and studded with mean-spirited barbs, Sid Caesar was more than funny.
He was hilariously, outrageously, tear-inducingly, gather-up-the-whole-family-for-this funny.
A veteran of the Catskills with an elastic face, a knack for gibberish and a mind that could find comedy gold in the workings of a Bavarian cuckoo clock, Caesar was the king of live television sketch comedy in the 1950s.
Some of the best writers — Carl Reiner, Neil Simon and Mel Brooks — vied to work for him. No slouches at comedy themselves, they were dazzled by his genius and, at times, horrified by his temper; he once tore the sink from a hotel bathroom and threatened to throw Brooks out an 18th-story window.
Caesar went public with some of his emotional problems in 1956, long before it was common for celebrities to do so. He is best known, though, not for his tormented inner life but for the inspired zaniness of the sketches on his trademark programs, “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour.”
A two-time Emmy Award-winning performer, Caesar died Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills after a brief illness, according to his biographer Eddy Friedfeld. He was 91.
“He was without a doubt the greatest monologuist, pantomimist and sketch artist that ever worked on TV,” Reiner told The Times on Wednesday. “He set the template for all the other comedians that came after him, but none could do what Sid did.”
Today’s comedy programs are funny, maybe, 10% of the time. Sid Caesar’s program was funny 90% of the time. That’s what happens when you gather together great performers and great writers. We will not see the like again.