With your arms T-Rex-in’, do The Creep.
Have a great weekend,
Seth Meyers is on the Fresh Air today! We’ll talk about his transition from SNL to Late Night, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, and other fun things.
You can follow Late Night on tumblr here: latenightseth
David Bianculli on Sid Caesar, a pioneer of sketch comedy:
Sid Caesar, who died Wednesday at age 91, was the driving engine behind NBC’s original “Saturday night live’’ – a show that had as great an impact on popular culture as the current SNL…
That series was Your Show of Shows, which ran on NBC from 1950-1954. It was broadcast in prime time, but other than that, everything about it sported the same template as Saturday Night Live, which would appear a TV generation later. Your Show of Shows, like the much later SNL, was 90 minutes long. It featured a guest host each week, and musical guests. And it was driven by a brilliant staff of performers and writers, the former led by Sid Caesar, with very able assistance from Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris.
That wasn’t Caesar’s only TV showcase series from the early days of television. Your Show of Shows had grown out of Admiral Broadway Revue the year before, which had been simulcast by NBC and DuMont the year before. And after the talent on Your Show of Shows opted to divide and conquer, Caesar went on to Caesar’s Hour, maintaining some of the Your Show of Show writers, and adding others – including Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen, just to name two.
And if you want to name the writers on Your Show of Shows, you can start with Caesar, Reiner, Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Lucille Kallen, Max Liebman, and Mel Tolkin. Follow the resumes of all those writers, and you’ve got a legacy of 20th-century comedy every bit as impressive as that to spring from SNL or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
I teach Your Show of Shows in my TV History & Appreciation classes at New Jersey’s Rowan University – and every term, the comedy brilliance and antic energy of This Is Your Story (an extended spoof of the ambush biography show This Is Your Life) and the mostly wordless segment “The Clock” work as well as they must have in the early Fifties.
In 2001, Sid Caesar appeared during the Television Critics Association press tour to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award. He was in his late 70s then, and looked frail as he waited his turn to take his tentative tiny steps to the podium. As soon as he started to talk, though, the showman in him shaved decades off his demeanor.
Instead of delivering the expected thank-you speech, Caesar launched into one of his patented nonsense-language riffs. The usually hard-to-please crowd of TCA TV critics howled with laughter, because we were not only familiar with, but weaned on, Caesar’s gift for gobbledygook. He finished doing his “speech,” in what sounded like almost passable German, to a loud ovation. Then he picked another language to skewer, and did it again. And again.
Then, after his real thank-you speech, Caesar received a standing ovation so long that he was able to negotiate his way down the steps from the stage and towards his front-row table – at which point, still relishing the spotlight, he mimed remembering one more thing, and worked his way back to the stage and the podium, just as slowly.
The laughter, and the applause, stayed with him all the way. It was a grand bit of live comedy, from a guy who first provided them more than 50 years earlier.
That same year, I interviewed Caesar about his guest appearance on ABC’s Whose Line Is It Anyway?, an ABC improv series appearance perfectly suited to Caesar’s comedy skills – and taped, as it turned out, on his 79th birthday. I asked if he had been nervous, taking the stage in front of a live studio audience after so many years away.
“The nervousness I have now,” he said, “is, ‘Will they remember me? Will they know who I am?’”
Caesar said he told Carey, before the taping began, “These kids don’t know me. Two generations now, they never heard of me. Maybe their fathers, probably their grandfathers.”
Caesar then picked up the story of what happened next.
“Then when I get out there,” he told me, both astonished and proud, “I walk out onstage and get a 15-minute standing ovation. Really – I was so shocked. It was so nice. I looked around and said, ‘Who came in?’
“That really got me.”
That story really got me, too. There aren’t many TV icons from the salad days of television that were as original as Sid Caesar, as influential, or as monumentally talented. He was smart enough to surround himself with the best, on stage and off, and push them all, and himself, to do things on television that had never been done before, and seldom have been done as well since.
Sid Caesar will be missed.
He will not, however, be replaced.
photo of Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca on Your Show of Shows.
Sasheer Zamata is joining the cast of Saturday Night Live, making her the first African American woman to join the cast in six years, since the departure of Maya Rudolph.
The NBC program was under fire recently after cast member Kenan Thompson made a comment about black female comedians not being “ready” for the show, from what he could see in auditions.
Zamata honed her comedy skills at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York and will debut on January 18th.
In the Fresh Air interview with Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, of the Comedy Central sketch series Key & Peele, they discussed the lack of diversity on SNL:
Peele: Keegan and my race has really played to our advantage in the improv/sketch world. It’s also a bit of a special power. We can do characters that other people would feel uncomfortable doing. We can play black characters and explore the comedy of black characters. There’s a whole world of characters and impressions that black women can do that other people — just on the social level, disregarding the practice and skill that goes into perfecting these things, but just on the social level — people would feel uncomfortable doing. They should hire some black women. Not a black woman — black women.
Photo taken by Robyn Von Swank, courtesy Sasheer.com
Darling, you look marvelous! (Billy Crystal with his famed Fernando Lamas impression on SNL)
Tomorrow: Billy Crystal is on the show and dusts off some of his old impressions and tells us how they came about. Tune in for more on his early career, hosting the Oscars, and stories from his unusual jazz-filled childhood.
Today Geoff Nunberg talks about Google Glass,
The real problem with Glass was pointed out by the New York Times’ tech blogger Jenna Wortham. It isn’t so much the glassholes as the “glassed out,” the people who wear a slack-jawed look of druggy disengagement as they focus fixedly on the little screen in front of their eyes. It reminds you that in Shakespeare’s time “distraction” was another word for madness.
Indeed, Glass brings us literally to face with the fundamental metaphysical perplexity of modern life, as it was crisply summed up in the title of a classic comedy album released by Firesign Theater back in 1969: How can you be two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?
Bill Hader — who is leaving Saturday Night Live after eight years this weekend — on his audition for the show:
I remember getting in the elevator for my audition and there was a guy next to me who had a backpack full of props and wigs and things, and I went, ‘Oh, my God, that guy is so prepared, I have nothing, I have no props.’ And that was Andy Samberg. And Andy Samberg said he was looking at me going, ‘Oh, that guy has no props. He doesn’t need props.’ And that was the first time we met, was in that elevator.
Justin Timberlake talks to Terry Gross about doing comedy:
I’ve always thought that there was humor everywhere. As a kid, I grew up an only child, and nothing made me happier than to make my parents laugh. … I had a Jackson 5 wig that I would wear around, and I would do the dances from the Jackson 5, and my mother thought that was hysterical. Of course, that seed got planted very early, the physicality of comedy. When I was a kid, I would impersonate anything that I would hear. [That’s] why I was able to become a musician and a singer. What I was more talented at, more than anything — because I don’t think I’m a great singer — I grew up imitating different voices that I heard, and when I was young my mother used to listen to a lot of a Southern rock station in Memphis, and I grew up imitating all of those voices that I heard when I was young.”
Since he gives a shout out to his mom here it’s a good excuse to revisit the Timberlake-Samberg modern classic, "Motherlover."
I remember getting in the elevator for my audition and there was a guy next to me who had a backpack full of props, and wigs and things and I went, ‘Oh my god, that guy is so prepared, I have nothing, I have no props.’ And that was Andy Samberg. And Andy Samberg said he was looking at me going, ‘Oh, that guy has no props. He doesn’t need props.’ And that was the first time we met, was in that elevator.
Tomorrow: Maya Rudolph. Related: Amy Poehler on Fresh Air
From the archives: Tracy Morgan
From the archives: Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog
I remember it was my fault. I remember my hand slammed in the door. My fault. Also electric socket, my fault. All my fault, isn’t it? Can you imagine the desperation of a child who chooses to believe that it was all his fault just so he doesn’t have to consider the idea that his mother did it? Or that his parents did it? Because Terry, I’ll tell you something, I don’t know anything about you, but I think it’s completely barbaric to shake hands with and seek help from the person who caused your injury. That will make you sick.
— Darrell Hammond, on today’s Fresh Air. [complete interview here]