A Shtick With a Thousand Lives: Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner

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MEL BROOKS and Carl Reiner have been cracking each other up for nearly 60 years. The two met while working on Sid Caesar’s early television series “Your Show of Shows,” when they cooked up a routine in which Mr. Reiner played an earnest, unnamed TV interviewer, and Mr. Brooks, the 2,000 Year Old Man.

In a Yiddish accent, the old guy held forth on the questionable wisdom of an absurdly long life, touching on topics including parenthood (“I have over 42,000 children — and not one comes to visit me”), Shakespeare (“He was a dreadful writer.” “Every letter was cockeyed, he had the worst penmanship I ever saw in my life!”) and the Black Plague (“Too many rats, not enough cats”).

The shtick yielded five comedy albums, television appearances with Ed Sullivan and Steve Allen and a 1975 animated television special, all of which are included in Shout! Factory’s remastered 50th anniversary four-disc reissue (three CDs and one DVD), “The 2000 Year Old Man: The Complete History,” in stores Nov. 24. Mr. Brooks and Mr. Reiner even won a Grammy in 1999 for the fifth album, “The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000.” Their wry satire of pop culture influenced a generation of comedians while it helped make Jewish humor American humor. There are hints in the albums of their own later work, like Mr. Brooks’s bits on the Spanish Inquisition in his 1981 movie “History of the World: Part One.”

Of course Mr. Brooks, 83, and Mr. Reiner, 87, have had long, rich, diverse careers beyond “The 2000 Year Old Man.” Mr. Brooks wrote, directed and starred in movies like “High Anxiety,” “Blazing Saddles” and “Silent Movie,” created the TV series “Get Smart” with Buck Henry and turned two of his movies, “The Producers” and “Young Frankenstein,” into Broadway musicals. Mr. Reiner created “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” directed the movies “Oh, God,” “The Jerk” and “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” and has published eight books.

But it’s their friendship — and the bond of the 2,000 Year Old Man routine — that has helped sustain the two men through the bad times (Mr. Brooks’ wife, the actress Anne Bancroft, star of “The Graduate,” died in 2005; Mr. Reiner’s wife, Estelle, best known for her one line in “When Harry Met Sally” — “I’ll have what she’s having” — died in October 2008) as well as the good. (See career highlights above.) And they don’t seem to be slowing down...

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