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The 2,000 Year Old Man Brought Jewish Humor Mainstream

Brooks and Reiner tell ‘Times,’ as they prepare for box set

by
Ari M. Brostoff
November 16, 2009
Brooks and Reiner performeing the 2000 Year Old Man in 2003.(NYTimes.com)
Brooks and Reiner performeing the 2000 Year Old Man in 2003.(NYTimes.com)

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner have been doing their “2,000 Year Old Man” routine for a meager 50 years, but apparently that’s long enough for their creation of minor genius—a Yiddish-accented schlub who’s been around for the crucifixion, the inquisition, and the French Revolution, and still his 42,000 children don’t call—to get his own four-disc box set rerelease. In an interview with Brooks, who plays the Man in the routine, and Reiner, who plays his befuddled interlocutor, the New York Times identifies the original 2,000 Year Old Man albums, from the early 1960s, as among the first that “helped make Jewish humor American humor.”

Brooks and Reiner seem to agree. At first, “[We said] we can’t do it for anybody but Jews and non-anti-Semitic friends,” Reiner recalled. “The Eastern European Jewish accent Mel did was persona non grata in 1950. The war had been over for five years, the Jews had been maligned enough.” The television personality Steve Allen convinced them to put their character on an album, but they remained skeptical about the Man’s crossover appeal until, said Reiner, Cary Grant reported that the Queen Mum was a fan: “I said, ‘Well there’s the biggest shiksa in the world, we must be all right.’”

Ari M. Brostoff is Culture Editor at Jewish Currents.

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