The 2000 Year Old Man: The Complete History
DVD year-end box sets
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Nov. 27, 2009
The 2000 Year Old Man: The Complete HistoryShout! Factory, $59.98
So you show up at this party, and instead of the usual mingling and schmoozing, everyone is clustered around these two guys, best buddies deep into some zany routine that they're making up on the spot. The bit is killing, cracking up the entire crowd, but you can tell these jokers would be just as jazzed to be doing this and be the only ones in the room. That gleam in their eyes, the way they focus on each other, the way each breaks up so readily when the other says something hilarious, makes clear that they're taking most of their pleasure from each other's company and the shared act of comedic creation.
That was the scene throughout the Fifties when Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, then both mining laughs for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour, developed their act for The 2000 Year Old Man. Whenever they'd go to a party, at some point they'd be asked to perform, and Reiner would start tossing questions at Brooks, who took on the guise of a sandpaper-voiced codger, very crusty and very, very Jewish, who claimed to have lived through the past two millennia. Reiner's alternately awed and skeptical interviewer was as good as a straight man gets, masterfully steering the material, but the schtick flew on Brooks' inspired answers – always improvised – which explained how people really lived in ancient times (before there was God, they worshipped Phil) and provided the lowdown on history's famous figures (Shakespeare was a "pussycat" who actually wrote a 38th play, the justifiably lost Queen Alexandra and Murray). In time, people started throwing parties specifically for Brooks and Reiner to do the act, which led to Steve Allen urging the pair to commit it to vinyl. They did in 1960 to great success and eventually made five records over four decades, all of which are included on Shout! Factory's 4-disc The Complete History, along with 1961 appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The New Steve Allen Show, a 1975 animated television special, and a half-hour conversation between the two creators in August 2009.
What's remarkable about the collection – besides, of course, Reiner and Brooks' astonishing ability to draw so much fresh, funny material from this one well again and again – is the unchanging nature of the comedians' relationship. As the years pass, you can hear the men age – by the Grammy-winning The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000, Brooks' real voice had gone more gravelly than the ancient character voice he used in the first recording – but their enthusiasm and jollity never fades. The two love playing with each other, for each other. Many great comedy teams did work this good – Bob and Ray, Nichols and May, Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello – but you won't hear that kind of love shine through the material anywhere else. Reiner and Brooks, they never left the party, and this collection is joyful proof.
Also in Classic Comedy Teams
Legends of Laughter: Abbott & Costello (Hollywood Select Vid, $29.98); The Three Stooges Collection, Vol. 7: 1952-1954 (Sony Pictures, $24.96)