Watch This: Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks’ Seminal Skit “The 2000 Year Old Man”
We were deeply saddened to learn of Carl Reiner’s passing this morning. His contributions to modern comedy are far too numerous to count. Perhaps one of the greatest testaments to his timeless humor comes in the form of one of his earliest and most beloved creations with his close friend, Mel Brooks. The two had met working on Your Show of Shows in the early ’50s, where Reiner was an actor and Brooks was a writer. As Reiner recalls, he had the inspiration for a sketch where he would be a news announcer reporting on absurd events…
“I turned to Mel and I said, “Here’s a man who was actually seen at the crucifixion 2,000 years ago,” and his first words were “Ohh, boy.” We all fell over laughing. I said, “You knew Jesus?” “Yeah,” he said “Thin lad, wore sandals, long hair, walked around with 11 other guys. Always came into the store, never bought anything. Always asked for water.”
The two loved the bit–apparently more than the show’s producers–and so “The 2000 Year Old Man” instead became a regular party gag, with Reiner and Brooks improvising brilliantly quippy interviews to the astonishment of their audiences. It was soon their most requested sketch, leading them to record an album in 1960 at the behest of fans Steve Allen and Sid Caesar.
Reiner remembered: “We weren’t sure yet whether everybody was going to like it. And it was Cary Grant, who was my neighbor at Universal, he came over and I gave him a record and I said the new record came out, you may like this. And he came back a week later, said, Can I have two dozen? I said, What are you going to do with them? He said, I’m going to take them to England. I said, You’ll take these to England? He said, Yeah, they speak English there. Anyway, he came back and said, She loved it. I said who? The Queen Mother. I said, You played this in Buckingham Palace? He said yes. And then Mel says, Well, if the biggest shiksa in the world loves it, we’re home free.”
The 2000 Year Old Man became a mainstay throughout Reiner and Brooks’ careers, generating over 5 albums, dozens of TV appearances, and even an animated TV special in 1975. Its influence can’t be understated – their first album’s success was an early breakthrough for Jewish humor in mainstream entertainment, and the skit’s format expanded the notions of what stand-up comedy could be, upending the traditional formula of canned jokes and punchlines by introducing character-based humor and on-stage improvisation.
Here’s just a taste of The 2000 Year Old Man from a 1967 performance on the Colgate Comedy Hour. Many more hours can be found by digging around on Youtube or listening to the Shout Factory compilation.