The 2000 Year Old Man and the People of the Book

The November 23 release by Shout! Factory of “The 2000 Year Old Man: The Complete History,” a 3-CD and 1-DVD set, exuberantly celebrates Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner’s classic comic shtik. Alongside all the beloved old albums, starting in 1961, and even an animated film, is an interview filmed in August 2009.

In the latter, the ever-raucous Brooks shows unexpected delicacy, explaining that the duo first devised the comic routine of an interviewer (Reiner) and an ancient man with a quintessential Jewish accent back in 1950. Only five years after the war, the Holocaust was a fresh memory, and comics generally felt it was too soon to record Jewish jokes for a general public which might contain antisemites.

Instead, Brooks and Reiner let loose at private parties and other showbiz occasions where in-the-know (and mainly Jewish) audiences were guaranteed to greet them with a sympathetic, instead of derisive, ear. After 1960, when other comedians insisted, Reiner and Brooks finally recorded the 2000 Year Old Man routine, alongside other comic bits, and even then Brooks seems to have shown a certain diffidence, preferring to omit the mention of purported love affair between the 2000 Year Old Man and Joan of Arc for fear of offending Catholic listeners (“She’s a Saint, after all”).

In these releases, Brooks and Reiner reveal themselves to be not just articulate, but also highly literate (Brooks is well known as a learned devotee of the Russian novel), and “The 2000 Year Old Man” benefits from this depth of shared bookish culture, and snazzy vocabulary. Some of the early routines on psychiatry fascinatingly foreshadow later Brooks achievements like the film “High Anxiety” while his faux-impresario garb in one filmed sketch from the early sixties seems to lead directly to the immortal Max Bialystok in “The Producers.”

Watch the 2008 interview below in which the genial Carl Reiner discusses his family roots in Chernivtsi.

Here he discusses his first encounter with the “very young, obstreperous” Mel Brooks, among other memories.

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