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THIRTEEN’s Sid Caesar: On The Language of Comedy a primer for anyone who appreciates the genre

A still of Caesar from THIRTEEN's documentary showing how physically funny he was. Pic credit: PBS/THIRTEEN
A still of Caesar from THIRTEEN’s documentary showing how physically funny he was. Pic credit: PBS/THIRTEEN

Tonight, the genius that is Sid Caesar will be examined on THIRTEEN’s documentary, Sid Caesar: On The Language of Comedy.

For those too young to remember Sid on live TV, he is considered one of the founding fathers of modern comedy and especially televised comedic performances. Caesar served up memorable bits and cracked up a nation starved for a bit of levity after the wars years of the last century.

He really was one of our first TV superstars. His weekly live 1950s comedy program on NBC, Your Show of Shows, boasted writers like Carl Reiner Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Mel Tolkin, Lucille Kallen, Selma Diamond, Joseph Stein, and Michael Stewart. Reiner and Imogene Coca also acted with Caesar in the show.

Later in Caesar’s TV career, noted writers Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen joined Caesar’s brain trust and writing staff.  Golden Girls’ star Bea Arthur worked with him in his early years too.

The series was an event for a country glued to the TV sets every Saturday evening on NBC, and it served as a Rosetta Stone and example for future TV writers in the comedy, sketch show and variety show genres that were immensely popular in the 1950s and 1960s.

The doc features first-person interviews from the archives of the Comedy Hall of Fame, and with no narrator or host.

Who was Sid Caesar?

Sid was a first-generation American, born to Jewish immigrant parents Max and Ida. He was raised in a restaurant family where his natural comedic timing and wordplay was discovered early on.

As a young teen, he was sent to work in the Catskills, dubbed the Borscht Belt where Jewish families vacationed and were entertained by Jewish comedians and enjoyed Big Band music and dancing, much like what was shown in the film Dirty Dancing.

He joined the Coast Guard during the war years and then went on performing in New York and down in Florida. During those years, he married and had three children.  After the war, he moved to Hollywood with his family and worked with Columbia Pictures, who had an interest in his first touring comedy review Tars and Spars. He wound up working with Milton Berle for his Texaco Star Theater on TV.

Along with Berle, George Burns and Jack Benny, Sid Caesar is considered to be one of the founding fathers and architects of 20th century comedic television.

Sid’s TV series Your Show of Shows is considered by many historians to have pioneered modern ensemble and sketch comedy for TV.

Unlike previous comedic variety programming with the likes of Berle and Benny, Caesar’s Your Show of Shows featured a cast of comedians who traded in one-liners for long-form sketch comedy segments.

Sid created a master class of who’s who in comedy writing: Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, and later, Woody Allen.

A satirist at heart, Caesar skewed, parodied and poked fun at all-powerful people, whether they were celebrities, politicians, corporate America, the sexes, or even the media. Many experts considered his show to be the inspiration for our NBC long-running series, Saturday Night Live.

Tune in and see how the pros defined the structure of comedy presented on television to this day.

Sid Caesar: On The Language of Comedy airs Friday, July 19 at 10:30 p.m. on (PBS) THIRTEEN, thirteen.org and THIRTEEN Explore. Special encore presentations air Monday, July 22 at 10:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN, WLIW21, and NJTV.


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