Sid Caesar's "Finest Sketch"
Smile for a Saturday
We strive to feature a variety of genres in our Smile for a Saturday pieces and often seek inspiration from the past. We have found that old music holds up very well, as do throwback memories of iconic public figures. But one area in which we struggle is comedy; many routines age about as well as a tuna fish sandwich.
The topical references that make comedy resonate with contemporary viewers are so transitory as to become arcane over time — incomprehensible without footnotes (and footnotes are rarely funny). Also, social, racial, gender, sexual, and other mores can be so dated that they render former laugh lines cringeworthy. But we’re not giving up.
So we were scrolling through Twitter this week when we came across a tweet from Dr. Bob Wachter, whom we follow for his thoughtful guidance on COVID and other health matters. “Need a laugh?” he asked, sharing a link to a clip from the TV classic “Your Show of Shows,” with comedian Sid Caesar. We did need a laugh, and boy, was one delivered. So we’re making it this week's Smile for a Saturday.
Caesar is a legend. Many comedians consider him one of the best who ever lived. He helped pioneer comedic techniques and styles that endure today. And his star vehicle, “Your Show of Shows,” rightfully occupies a special place in television history. It was chock full of talent, and it helped launch several notable careers; Neil Simon and Mel Brooks were two of its writers.
As for this particular sketch, the more we researched it, the more accolades we found. A New Yorker column called it “Sid Caesar's Finest Sketch.” Pretty high praise. The article’s writer, David Margolick, dubbed the scene “probably the longest and loudest burst of laughter—genuine laughter, neither piped in nor prompted—in the history of television.”
On the occasion of Caesar’s death in 2014, talk show host Conan O’Brien cited the sketch as inspiration. “Saw this Sid Caesar sketch when I was a kid. It made me want to make people laugh,” he wrote.
And the comedian Billy Crystal, referencing the incredible physical comedy in the sketch, once quipped, "That's how I used to go to bed. I'd grab my dad's leg, and he'd drag me to bed like Sid Caesar." More high praise.
The sketch features Caesar and the late, great Carl Reiner, who also starred on “Your Show of Shows.” It is a parody of another legendary TV show at the time, “This Is Your Life,” where celebrities were surprised into meeting a cavalcade of people from their past. Reiner plays the show’s host, Ralph Edwards. For those who remember “This Is Your Life,” this take is particularly funny. But the sheer level of the comedic timing, the verbal and visual hilarity, the improvisation, all of the genius of these performers extends across the ages and speaks in the universal language of humor.
It certainly brought a smile to our faces, and we hope it will to yours.
This sketch was so legendary that it inspired Carl Reiner’s own appearance on the real “This Is Your Life.” And Dinah Shore helped make it happen. If you are in the mood for a little more television history, enjoy the clip below, as well.