The Shmooze

Sid Caesar Shines in 'When Comedy Went to School'

By Masha Leon

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Watching Sid Caesar’s side-splitting, insanely funny linguistic gymnastics in the documentary “When Comedy Went to School,” reminded me of the December 11, 2000 gala at The Pierre at which Caesar was honored with the National Foundation for Jewish Culture’s “Alan King Award in American Jewish Humor” which was presented to him by Mel Brooks [who also appears in the film].

Emcee King joked: “Did you ever think you’d get old enough where your prostate was larger than your ego?” Never at a loss at mangling words or language — Caesar dazzled the crowd — which included Catskills alums Marilyn Michaels, Jonathan Katz Anne Meara, Lanie Kazan as well as Ben Stiller and Susie Essman with a fusillade of flawlessly articulated faux French, Italian, Japanese plus Yiddish gibberish.

Karen Leon
Marilyn Michaels, Sid Caesar and Lanie Kazan

Two bona fide Catskills comics who deserved to be in the film are Jan Murray and Jackie Eagle. On a Saturday night in July 1983 stand-up comic Jan Murray strode out on Brickman’s nightclub stage, I immediately began taking notes. Stopping in mid-sentence, Murray looked down at me at a ringside table and bellowed: “No one writes down my routines! What have you got there? “ As 800 guests silently watched, I handed him my spiral notepad. “What does this mean: ‘red shirt, white pants, black jacket?’ Who are you with?” I joshed: “Women’s Wear Daily” then quickly recanted, “ I’m with the Forward, the Forverts.” Slamming the pad down on the piano on stage, Murray bellowed: “That’s where it stays for the rest of the show!” Then, in what is every performer’s nightmare, he got derailed and lost concentration. Pacing the stage he wagged his finger at me: “What this Forverts lady did to me! Oy!” I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. After Murray regained his composure and got his spiel on track he had the audience roaring. Guests “tsk’d-tskt’d” me as we left the nightclub and the manager cautioned: “Don’t you ever do that again!.”

Next day at breakfast, Murray offered me a piece of his egg omelet and forgave me. Turning to fellow comic Phil Foster, said, “ Don’t ask what this lady from the Forward did to me. In our house every Friday night when my father came home from work, he would hopscotch from page to page on the freshly washed floor. It was the only way he could get to read the Forward.”

In the 1970s, Catskills veteran Jackie Eagle — best remembered as “Brother Dominic” in the 1977 Superbowl Xerox commercial — was a headliner at the Fallsview. Short, Humpty Dumpty rotund wearing a bright yellow checkered double-breasted suit, Eagle launched a fusillade of Polish jokes. The audience’s laugher suddenly turned to gasps as N.Y. State troopers in jackboots came marching down the aisles. Before Eagle knew what was happening, two stagehands raced up front lifted Eagle up under the armpits and carried him to a car that whisked him off to who-knows where. It seems that Eagle’s appearance coincided with the New York State Troopers Convention at the Hotel with many from Buffalo and environs who happened to be of Polish ancestry.


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