Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks met when both men were writers for Sid Caesar’s fabled television program, Your Show of Shows. Working from an idea that Reiner had, they developed a comedy routine based on the memories of a 2,000 year-old man. Reiner took the part of the interviewer, and Brooks was the old man. For ten years, from 1950-1960, they performed their routine for friends at parties. There was some fear — keep in mind that WW II had ended only a few years earlier — that some people might be offended by Brooks’ clearly Jewish caricature.
Finally, at the urging of a number of friends who had seen their act, the pair went into World Pacific Studio in 1960, and before an invited audience recorded what would be the first of a series of albums, released over the next 40 years, that would feature the ancient Hebrew character. Those albums have been compiled on The 2000 Year Old Man: The Complete History (Shout Factory). On that first recording, Brooks had no idea what questions Reiner would ask him. His answers were totally off-the-cuff, and usually hysterically funny. In addition to the 2000-year-old man, the album also featured Brooks in other roles including the rock star Fabiola, who has no time to remember how old he is, and the astronaught (sic) who is frightened that he’s about to lose his life. When Reiner expresses doubt that he really is an astronaut, Brooks replies, “whaddya mean, I’ve got gloves and everything.”
A year later, another album followed. This one featured the by now 2,001 year-old man as well as a psychiatrist with some rather dubious treatment methods, and an alleged Peruvian of some rather dubious ancestry (“Vee crushed France in 27 days!”). In 1962, the duo was back again, this time with a visit to the Cannes Film Festival, which, according to Reiner, was in southern Italy. Interview subjects included the German director Adolph Hartler, the Italian new-wave director Frederico Fettucini, and Britain’s Tippy Skittles, KCVB. Of course the old man is back again, this time at 2,002 years of age.
It would be eleven years before Reiner and Brooks got together again to record 2000 and Thirteen. This time Brooks muses on a variety of subjects including natural foods, asparagus, ancient poetry, and Paul Revere. He claims to have hated Revere for riding through the countryside shouting “the Yiddish are coming, the Yiddish are coming.” When Reiner informs him of his error, he is taken aback and says that he’ll send a card to express his apology to Revere’s wife. He recalls how Jesus and the apostles used to come into his store back in the day, but never bought anything, and questions the sexuality of history’s great generals.
The most recent entry in the long running series is The 2000 Year Old Man In the Year 2000. By this time the whole thing was getting pretty long in the tooth, but there are still some laughs to be had as Brooks recounts his personal history at the proprietor of a yarmulke shop during the Spanish Inquisition, and wonders at the new fangled world of computers and self help. This disc also contains a number of radio spots that Brooks did with interviewer Dick Cavett for Ballantine beer.
The fourth and final disc of The 2000 Year Old Man: The Complete History is a DVD featuring a 1961 appearance by Reiner and Brooks on the Ed Sullivan Show. The audience seems baffled. They did better at a Steve Allen Show appearance later that same year, perhaps because this time Brooks appeared in a costume in keeping with his 2000 year-old status. There’s also a wonderful animated television special from 1975 featuring audio from the very first 2000 year-old man recording. Finally, Reiner and Brooks sat down in August of this year to film a discussion of the history of their long running partnership.
I grew up on this stuff. I still quote lines from these albums all of the time, and people still look at me like I’m nuts. Maybe, but for me this is comedy nirvana. Yes, the routine did begin to wear thin, and all in all I would have been happy if Reiner and Brooks would have stopped after the third album, the Cannes Film Festival. Having waited ten years to record their first album, though, they can hardly be blamed for wanting to continue. I think they went on mostly because it was so much fun for them, and it’s fun for us too, especially the early albums. The world was a different place back then. Maybe we’ve grown too cynical for this kind of thing. I hope not.
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