Sid Caesar

Comedian / Performer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tab

About
About this interview

Sid Caesar (1922-2014) emphasizes the challenge of doing live TV in the early days of the medium: "Doing a show live on television is a different animal altogether than doing TV today. I mean on tape, that's like relaxing. That's like going on vacation!" Caesar is a seminal figure in early TV comedy and one of the first recipients of the Emmy Award for Best Actor (in 1952). In his Archive interview, he recounts his early years as a performer, including his time writing and acting in shows for the Armed Forces. He notes how his first series, Admiral Broadway Revue, was launched, which gave way to the now classic Your Show of Shows. He speaks about the phenomenon of "live" TV and the pressures and rewards of helming an hour-and-a-half weekly variety series. Caesar speaks about NBC's decision to separate the network's Your Show of Shows commodities by having producer Max Liebman do TV "spectaculars" and giving Caesar and co-star Imogene Coca their own shows.  Caesar then discusses his next successful venue, the variety series Caesar's Hour, with Nanette Fabray filling the void left by Imogene Coca. From both Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour, Caesar chronicles such famous sketches as "The Professor," "The Hickenloopers" and "The Haircuts." He also humorously recounts many of the gaffes that occurred on "live" television, including the time he forgot the name of the guest star during the show's introduction, when he was dressed in the wrong costume seconds before going on, and when his make-up pencil broke during his Pagliacci take-off (leading to one of his most-famous ad-libs). He then frankly discusses his bout with alcoholism and his decision to get sober. Lastly, he give his impressions of the many talented collaborators he worked with over the years, including: writers Larry Gelbart and Mel Brooks, and performers Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, and Howard Morris. Sid Caesar was interviewed in Beverly Hills, CA on March 14, 1997; Dan Pasternack conducted the three-hour interview.

"I was very, very demanding. I would never settle. Sometimes, you have to because of the time element. But if I could, I would not settle. I'd say, 'Come on, we can  get better than that.' I always pushed. And that pushed (the writers). So it was a 'love-terror' arrangement. There was a lot of terror, and a lot of love."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Sid Caesar on his classic Your Show of Shows character "The Professor"
Sid Caesar on the Your Show of Shows foreign film parodies, including one on The Bicycle Thief
Sid Caesar on an infamous case of losing his temper with Mel Brooks during the run of Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on advice he has for aspiring performers
Sid Caesar on how he'd like to be remembered (in six words)
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early influences; on becoming a musician (playing the saxophone)
On performing in the Catskill Mountains; on his first sketch; on writing an Armed Forces show; on performing in "Tars and Spars"
On appearing in the movie version of "Tars and Spars"; on his first professional jobs as a comic; on being asked by producer Max Liebman to do television

Chapter 2

On the creation and format of Admiral Broadway Revue; on working in "live" television
On NBC's popular Saturday night comedy line-up in 1950; on the big budget given to Your Show of Shows; on his insistence that no cue cards be used on his shows; on a workweek of Your Show of Shows; on how the writer's used their personal experiences to create sketches
On the camaraderie and mutual respect between the cast and crew; on accidentally being dressed in the wrong costume in a sketch during the "live" performance; on the show's ensemble; on some of the show's sketches, including a parody of From Here to Eternity ("From Here to Obscurity") that became the source of a lawsuit

Chapter 3

On Your Show of Shows movie parodies of The Story of Vernon & Irene Castle and The Lost Weekend; on TV standards & practices in the 1950s; on the rehearsal schedule; on forgetting guest star Basil Rathbone's name while introducing him
On the writing talent on Your Show of Shows (and Caesar's Hour); on classic characters and sketches from Your Show of Shows ("The Professor," "The Hickenloopers")
On pantomimes; on opera parodies; on foreign film parodies with foreign language double-talk (such as The Bicycle Thief); on parodies of Shane, On the Waterfront, and High Noon

Chapter 4

On winning the Emmy Award in 1952 on the same day his son was born; on being uncomfortable in front of an audience while not in character; on how the pressures of TV led to alcoholism; on a typical workweek of Your Show of Shows; on a fight he had to get a monitor installed when the show changed venues
On losing his temper, once dangling Mel Brooks outside a window; on his philosophy of keeping a creative flow during the writing process; on the cancellation of Your Show of Shows and the start of Caesar's Hour; on the Caesar's Hour's writing staff as a "dream team"
On several Caesar's Hour sketches including: "The Commuters," "The Haircuts," Aggravation Boulevard , Pagliacci take-off "Galipacci," and "A Drunk There Was"

Chapter 5

On the end of "live TV" with the introduction of videotape in the mid-to-late 1950s; on his lack of immediate career plans following Caesar's Hour; on his BBC series Sid Caesar Invites You (briefly); on the failure of his ABC series (also called) Sid Caesar Invites You; on overextending himself with his work in the 1960s; on his salary in his heyday
On the success of the 1967 special The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special; on getting cleaned up after an incident in the late 1970s when he forgot his lines completely while doing "Last of the Red Hot Lovers"; on his self-therapy (which he arrived at recording his own voice into a tape recorder) in the late '70s/early 80s; on his feelings about being inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences "Hall of Fame"; on shows influenced by his work in comedy-variety
On advice he has for aspiring performers; on how he'd like to be remembered (in six words); on his collaborators including performers Imogene Coca and Carl Reiner and writers Mel Tolkin, Neil Simon, and Larry Gelbart

Chapter 6

On his collaborators Mel Brooks, Howard Morris, and Nanette Fabray; on some of his contemporaries, including Ernie Kovacs; on his brother and his wife
Shows

Admiral Broadway Revue

View Show Page
Sid Caesar on his and Max Liebman's creation of the format of Admiral Broadway Revue
Sid Caesar on how, in these early days of TV, the show waited for the cameras to come back from sporting events before they could rehearse
Sid Caesar on the experience of "live TV" and his insistence that no cue cards be used on his shows

Caesar's Hour

View Show Page
Sid Caesar on the experience of "live TV" and his insistence that no cue cards be used on his shows
Sid Caesar on the Caesar's Hour parody of On the Waterfront
Sid Caesar on the cancellation of Your Show of Shows and the start of Caesar's Hour
Sid Caesar on the lengthening of sketches from Your Show of Shows to Caesar's Hour
Sid Caesar on the "dream team" of writers who worked on Caesar's Hour
Sid Caesar on the Caesar's Hour sketch "The Commuters"
Sid Caesar on the Caesar's Hour sketch "The Three Haircuts"
Sid Caesar on the Caesar's Hour  silent film star sketch Aggravation Boulevard (take off of Sunset Boulevard)
Sid Caesar on his Pagliacci take-off ("Galipacci") on Caesar's Hour and an ad lib he did "live" when his make-up pencil broke
Sid Caesar on the Caesar's Hour sketch "A Drunk There Was"
Sid Caesar on falling asleep from exhaustion when he out to dinner with the writers
Sid Caesar on the end of "live TV" with the introduction of videotape in the mid-to-late 1950s
Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows /Caesar's Hour writer Neil Simon (and Simon's later play "Laughter on the 23rd Floor")
Sid Caesar on Caesar's Hour writer Larry Gelbart
Sid Caesar on working with Caesar's Hour co-star Nanette Fabray

Carol Burnett Show, The (1967-78)

View Show Page
Sid Caesar on Carol Burnett's work in the comedy-variety field in the 1960s, following his seminal 1950s work

Ernie Kovacs Show, The

View Show Page
Sid Caesar on the talents of contemporary Ernie Kovacs

Imogene Coca Show, The

View Show Page
Sid Caesar on NBC's decision to break up Your Show of Shows, leading to Caesar's Hour and The Imogene Coca Show

Jack Benny Program, The

View Show Page
Performer Sid Caesar on how Your Show of Show's parody of From Here to Eternity became the source of a lawsuit (and how it related to the Gaslight parody done on The Jack Benny Program)

Jack Carter Show, The

View Show Page
Sid Caesar on NBC's popular Saturday night comedy line-up in 1950

Phil Silvers Show, The aka You'll Never Get Rich aka Sergeant Bilko

View Show Page
Sid Caesar on the talents of his contemporary Phil Silvers

Sid Caesar Invites You

View Show Page
Sid Caesar on his exhaustion resulting in the failure of Sid Caesar Invites You

Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special, The

View Show Page
Sid Caesar on the success of the 1967 special The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, and Howard Morris Special

Your Show of Shows

View Show Page
Sid Caesar on being mentored by NBC exec Pat Weaver in the early days of television
Sid Caesar on working with Your Show of Shows co-star Imogene Coca
Sid Caesar on NBC's popular Saturday night comedy line-up in 1950
Sid Caesar on the big budget given to Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on the experience of "live TV" and his insistence that no cue cards be used on his shows
Sid Caesar on a workweek of Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on how the writer's used their personal experiences to create sketches as in the sketch "Six tickets"
Sid Caesar on the camraderie and mutual respect between the cast and crew of Your Show of Shows (and how quickly scene changes were made in "live TV")
Sid Caesar on skipping a rehearsal to relieve tensions when less experienced crew fill-ins were used during a strike on Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on accidentally being dressed in the wrong costume in a sketch during the "live" performance
Sid Caesar on the Your Show of Shows ensemble: Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris
Sid Caesar on a sketch idea for Your Show of Shows which originated with Imogene Coca 
Sid Caesar on how Your Show of Show's parody of From Here to Eternity ("From Here to Obscurity") became the source of a lawsuit
Sid Caesar on the Your Show of Shows parody of the movie The Story of Vernon & Irene Castle
Sid Caesar on the Your Show of Shows parody of the movie The Lost Weekend
Sid Caesar on standards and practices in 1950s TV 
Sid Caesar on the rehearsal schedule for Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on forgetting Basil Rathbone's name while introducing him as the guest star on Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on the writing talent of Larry Gelbart and his sketch idea of hip musician "Progress Hornsby" on Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on his classic Your Show of Shows character "The Professor"
Sid Caesar on the Your Show of Show sketch "The Hickenloopers"
Sid Caesar on one of the Your Show of Shows "The Hickenloopers" sketches wherein the wife slowly reveals to the husband that she has crashed the car
Sid Caesar on the pantomimes he did on Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on the opera parodies (with Italian double-talk) he did on Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on the Your Show of Shows foreign film parodies, including one on "The Bicycle Thief"
Sid Caesar on the Your Show of Shows parody of Shane
Sid Caesar on a painful gaffe on "live TV" during a Your Show of Shows parody of High Noon
Sid Caesar on winning the Emmy Award in 1952 on the same day his son was born— learning he'd won at the hospital
Sid Caesar on being uncomfortable when he was out of character
Sid Caesar on how the pressures of television led to alcoholism
Sid Caesar on a typical workweek on Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on the physical toll of doing a 90-minute live show and the recognition of learning from mistakes
Sid Caesar on the change of venues (to a bigger theater) for Your Show of Shows and his fight to have a monitor installed
Sid Caesar on an infamous case of losing his temper with Mel Brooks during the run of Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on his philosophy of keeping a creative flow during the writing process
Sid Caesar on the cancellation of Your Show of Shows and the start of Caesar's Hour
Sid Caesar on striving for the best material on Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour
Sid Caesar on striving for the best material on Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour
Sid Caesar on Your Show of Show's co-star Imogene Coca, and their rapport together
Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows writer Mel Tolkin
Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows co-star Carl Reiner (and Reiner and Mel Brooks' later "2,000 Year Old Man" sketch)
Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows /Caesar's Hour writer Neil Simon (and Simon's later play "Laughter on the 23rd Floor")
Sid Caesar on working with writer Mel Brooks on Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on working with performer Howard Morris on Your Show of Shows
Topics

Bloopers

View Topic
Sid Caesar on accidentally being dressed in the wrong costume in a sketch "live" on Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on a painful gaffe on "live TV" during a Your Show of Shows parody of High Noon
Sid Caesar on forgetting Basil Rathbone's name while introducing him as the guest star on Your Show of Shows

Censorship / Standards & Practices

View Topic
Sid Caesar on standards and practices in 1950s TV 

Comedy

View Topic
Sid Caesar on how Your Show of Show's parody of From Here to Eternity ("From Here to Obscurity") became the source of a lawsuit

Creative Influences and Inspiration

View Topic
Sid Caesar on his influences and the importance of being "prepared" for when your break comes along

Emmy Awards

View Topic
Sid Caesar on winning the Emmy Award in 1952 on the same day his son was born— learning he'd won at the hospital

Industry Strikes

View Topic
Sid Caesar on skipping a rehearsal to relieve tensions when less experienced crew fill-ins were used during a strike on Your Show of Shows in the 1950s

Memorable Moments on Television

View Topic
Sid Caesar on his Pagliacci take-off ("Galipacci") on Caesar's Hour and an ad lib he did "live" when his make-up pencil broke

Technological Innovation

View Topic
Performer Sid Caesar on the first sketch he did that used split screen on Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on the end of "live TV" with the introduction of videotape in the mid-to-late 1950s

We Laughed

View Topic
Sid Caesar on his Pagliacci take-off ("Galipacci") on Caesar's Hour and an ad lib he did "live" when his make-up pencil broke
Professions

Comedian

View Profession
Sid Caesar on advice he has for aspiring performers

Performer

View Profession
Sid Caesar on the experience of "live TV" and his insistence that no cue cards be used on his shows

Performers

View Profession
Sid Caesar on advice he has for aspiring performers

Writers

View Profession
Sid Caesar on his philosophy of keeping a creative flow during the writing process
Genres

Comedy Series

View Genre
Sid Caesar on the Your Show of Show husband-and-wife sketch "The Hickenloopers" and his philosophy of truth and believability behind comedy
People

Milton Berle

View Interview Page
Sid Caesar on Milton Berle

Mel Brooks

View Person Page
Sid Caesar on an infamous case of losing his temper with Mel Brooks during the run of Your Show of Shows
Sid Caesar on working with writer Mel Brooks on Your Show of Shows

Carol Burnett

View Interview Page
Sid Caesar on Carol Burnett's work in the comedy-variety field in the 1960s, following his seminal 1950s work

Imogene Coca

View Person Page
Performer Sid Caesar on working with Your Show of Shows co-star Imogene Coca
Sid Caesar on the Your Show of Shows ensemble: Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris
Sid Caesar on a sketch idea for Your Show of Shows which originated with Imogene Coca 
Sid Caesar on Your Show of Show's co-star Imogene Coca, and their rapport together

Nanette Fabray

View Interview Page
Sid Caesar on working with Caesar's Hour co-star Nanette Fabray

Larry Gelbart

View Interview Page
Sid Caesar on the writing talent of Larry Gelbart and his sketch idea of hip musician "Progress Hornsby" on Caesar's Hour
Sid Caesar on Caesar's Hour writer Larry Gelbart

Ernie Kovacs

View Person Page
Sid Caesar on the talents of contemporary Ernie Kovacs

Howard Morris

View Interview Page
Sid Caesar on the Your Show of Shows ensemble: Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris
Sid Caesar on working with performer Howard Morris on Your Show of Shows

Basil Rathbone

View Person Page
Sid Caesar on forgetting Basil Rathbone's name while introducing him as the guest star on Your Show of Shows (and Rathbone "returning the favor" at the curtain call)

Carl Reiner

View Interview Page
Sid Caesar on the Your Show of Shows ensemble: Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris
Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows co-star Carl Reiner (and Reiner and Mel Brooks' later "2,000 Year Old Man" sketch)

Phil Silvers

View Person Page
Sid Caesar on the talents of his contemporary Phil Silvers

Neil Simon

View Person Page
Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows /Caesar's Hour writer Neil Simon (and Simon's later play "Laughter on the 23rd Floor")

Mel Tolkin

View Interview Page
Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows writer Mel Tolkin

Sylvester L. "Pat" Weaver

View Person Page
Performer Sid Caesar on being mentored by NBC exec Pat Weaver in the early days of television

All Interviews

Q
S