Your Show of Shows. Saturday at 11:30 on Channel 7. If television is a cool medium, it's only since Sid Caesar left it. An immense, bear-like monster who generated more energy than any three TVA projects, Caesar did the best comedy on television, ever. With a company of electrocharged writers and actors, including Howard Morris, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks and the woman to whom flowers should be sent and odes written daily, Imogene Coca, Your Show of Shows took over the airwaves live, for ninety minutes a week. Twenty-five years later, their old kinescopes re-shown seem live again.
Older people will tell you just how exciting television was in the early days--how amazing it was to have that picture come into your home. Highbrows complained that it was a moron's medium, but smarter people seized the new miracle toy and created ineffable moments. In the Caesar show, you can almost see the shock and the exhilaration on the actors' faces at what they are doing: they are in a stage, under bright lights, doing material written within the last week--but they are appearing in front of millions. And they know that millions are responding to them.
In a sketch last week, Caesar couldn't sleep because Coca was sitting up late watching a jungle movie on television. As the native drums got louder, Coca would go into a wild savage tribal dance in her oriental pajamas, growing so frenzied that she began to believe there was an intimate connection between her dance and the action on the screen. Caesar, furious, came out after her to turn off the set, but he too became transfixed by the TV (you can imagine how fresh and futuristic those initials sounded to viewers in the early fifties) and soon found himself throwing his limbs around in a kind of rhythmic epilepsy, enslaved by the beat of the native drums on television.
It is such innocent spontaneity--who gets involved in television anymore, and in such a sweet way? Even on television's only current live comedy show, the humor has a wicked cynical edge. On NBC's Saturday Night, which runs in the same time slot as Your Show of Shows, Chevy Chase was making jokes about the Italian earthquake and an actress playing a drunk Pat Nixon was complaining about not going to bed with Dick for fourteen years.
The humor in Your Show of Shows is surprised by hostility, not used to it; the word "lousy" gets a big laugh from the audience of twenty-five years ago because Americans then weren't used to being able to call something lousy publicly. Maybe we're still not at ease with it, though. If we were, wouldn't we have called John Davidson lousy and gotten rid of him? Where the hell did we get John Davidson? Who asked for him? And where is the genius Sid Caesar now? He once made us all go into frenzied tribal dances of laughter in front of our television screens. People hurt themselves, they laughed so hard. Bring back the huge, rubber-faced dynamo. His endless energy was a war on the static, the complacent and the passively stupid. When Sid Caesar was stupid, he was actively stupid.
Usually when someone makes a movie about The Creation, they cast an august presence like John Gielgud or someone to play the voice of God. But there is no doubt that there was one person born to play Him, and it was Sid Caesar. He hurled and slapped his little universe into its own special order. There was nothing cool about it.