Brooks And Reiner's 2,000-Year-Old Man Turns 50

When Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner created the "2,000-Year-Old Man" routine, they never dreamed it would turn 50. This month, Shout! Factory released a remastered 50th anniversary collection of the original comedic recordings called The 2000-Year-Old Man: The Complete History. Host Scott Simon talks with Brooks and Reiner about their decades of comedy and friendship.

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SCOTT SIMON, Host:

The 2000-year-old man is about to turn 2050. The character that Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks concocted, first to entertain at parties - they finally recorded him in 1960, back when Elvis Presley was discharged from the Army, Cuba nationalized all property, and the Twist was a huge hit.

MEL BROOKS: Wait a minute, Cuba nationalized all property?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: I have a little department store there.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: When did they - no wonder I'm not getting a check. Okay, keep going.

SIMON: The Shout Factory has issued a mixed CD and DVD set of all the albums that the men recorded and many of the TV appearances they've made - "The 2000- Year-Old Man: The Complete History." As maybe obvious now, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks join us from Beverly Hills. Thank you very much, gentlemen, for being with us.

BROOKS: Our pleasure. It's our pleasure, Scott.

CARL REINER: Yes, we love NPR. It's one of the civilized places in the world.

SIMON: So - so, in fact, did this begin with the two of you doing this bit at parties?

REINER: I am going to give you the real genesis. Mel was so creative...

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

REINER: Mel Brooks is the single funniest human being I've ever met.

BROOKS: That's...

REINER: I met him in 1950 in the office of Sid Caesar's "Show of Shows." Max Cleveland's(ph) "Show of Shows." Mel got up one day, it's the first day I met him. He got up and he did a Jewish pirate, a pirate who was complaining about not being able to set sail and pillage and rape and do (unintelligible) because the price of sail cloth was too high. You know what it cost for a sail cloth? Anyway, I laughed so much.

SIMON: Oh, boy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

REINER: I said you were actually at the scene.

BROOKS: Are you going to do both parts?

REINER: No, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

REINER: No, I was just saying those were the first words. I asked you, did you know Jesus.

BROOKS: Yeah, sure. I've seen him, right, sandals, 12 guys followed him around. They all came in my candy store. They never bought anything, they asked for water.

REINER: And by the way, he remembered that. Those were the first words he ever did and it was at a party 10 years later. Joe Fields(ph), a very big producer, had a party here. Command performance. He asked us to come and perform, and these three people came up to us, and that's why there's a record today. First was George Burns. After he heard us he said, Fellows, is there - is there an album here?

We said no, there's no album. He says, Put it on an album, I'm going to steal it. He actually said that. Edwards G. Robinson, the old great actor, said, Make a play. I want to play that thousand-year-old man on Broadway. He actually said thousand, I said it's two thousand. No, (unintelligible) play a thousand-year- old. Anyway, he said that and the brilliant one was Steve Allen, who loved comedians. His whole thrust in life was to get comedy out into the world, new comedians.

BROOKS: But I didn't want to do it.

REINER: No - neither of us did. Well, Mel certainly didn't want to do it. I always wanted to do it because I loved hearing him.

BROOKS: I thought it was very special. I thought it was very private, but Steve Allen, he said you do it, if you don't like it you can expunge it, burn it, you know. And we said oh, what the hell, we'll do it for Steve, if we like it, you know...

REINER: When we made the album, the album came out, we weren't sure yet whether everybody was going to like it. And it was Cary Grant, who was my neighbor at Universal, he came over and I gave him a record and I said the new record came out, you may like this. And he came back a week later, said, Can I have two dozen? I said, What are you going to do with them? He said, I'm going to take them to England.

I said, You'll take these to England? He said, Yeah, they speak English there. Anyway, he came back and said, She loved it. I said who? The Queen Mother. I said, You played this in Buckingham Palace? He said yes. And then Mel says, Well, if the biggest shiksa in the world loves it, we're home free.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: Ask questions, Scott. You know, you're getting paid by NPR. Not much, I know, it's National Public Radio, but...

REINER: You'll get a raise for this...

SIMON: I make a living.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Mr. Reiner, without getting too analytical, what is it, you know, you have been called one of the world's greatest straight men for your role in this enterprise "The 2000-Year-Old Man." What does it take to set him up?

REINER: No, all it takes is - my job is the job of the audience. I'm asking all the questions that the audience would die to ask a man who lived for 2000 years. If I throw anything at him, he - by the way we're not sure if the old man still exists now, because we haven't talked to the old man for a long time. But I know if I asked him, for instance, of all the wives you've had, who is your favorite wife?

BROOKS: Shirley.

REINER: What was...

BROOKS: I thought of Shirley.

REINER: What was so special about Shirley?

BROOKS: Her friend Laila.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: (unintelligible) me and Laila woo, woo, woo.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

REINER: Where did you live, by the way? Where did you live most of your life?

BROOKS: Texas.

REINER: Tex - but where in Texas?

BROOKS: I lived in San Antonio.

REINER: I know I didn't have - there's no record of you being there.

BROOKS: Well, I didn't have money for rent. And the Alamo was deserted.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: So, I took a futon and I moved in. And every once in a while when they had tours, I'd have to roll up in a corner.

REINER: Now, that is funny.

SIMON: Mr. Brooks, are there times, as Carl Reiner suggests, that "The 2000- Year-Old Man" is in you, is in your head, and comes out when you don't plan it?

BROOKS: Only, really only when - when Carl Reiner, who is exceedingly insane, traps me. If I say I'm 2000 years old, he's ready to say, sir, I find that hard to believe.

REINER: You know, I want to say something about the 2000-year-old man. When the 2000-year-old man speaks in that little European accent, he's terribly funny. Mel Brooks doesn't need the 2000-year-old man to be funny. He can be funny as Mel Brooks with his perfectly God-given English accent that he was born with.

BROOKS: I was funny at birth.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BROOKS: I mean the people in the delivery room were hysterical. The minute I came out there was so much laughter, they didn't even clean me up properly.

REINER: Most children's first words are mamma or dada. What were your first words?

BROOKS: Dimethylamino benzenesulfonic acid, which is the chemical formula for camphor.

REINER: By the way, Mel Brooks is being honored at the Kennedy Center Honors this year. Annie and I are going...

BROOKS: I didn't want you to tell them.

REINER: I don't care. It's going to get out.

SIMON: I got an email.

REINER: He wanted to keep it a secret. They are honoring him among other people, but mainly him, but we're very excited about that because this is something that should have probably been done a few years ago because...

BROOKS: I have a grandson, he's four - four years old, and my son Max and his wife Michelle got him a tuxedo.

SIMON: Oh.

BROOKS: He's got a little four-year-old (unintelligible)...

SIMON: You didn't say his name.

BROOKS: His name is Henry Michael Brooks. And he likes me. He calls me grandpa. He has no poppy here. There is no word for papa, there is none of those nicknames. I am grandpa and I love being called grandpa, and he rushes to me when he sees me. He throws his arms around me and says grandpa...

SIMON: You know, not that I've not been able to ask many questions, and it hardly matters, but can I work in one question?

BROOKS: Sure, Scott, ask away.

SIMON: What's - both of you. What's the secret of having a friendship that lasts more than half a century?

REINER: Oh.

BROOKS: I don't know, I don't know. I have my answers. Carl, what would you say?

REINER: Well, first of all...

SIMON: I meant with each other, by the way...

REINER: We had a very good relationship during the days of the "Show of Shows," and then we had two wives that liked each other, and we became a couple that went out together to eat and to go to movies, and...

BROOKS: Yeah, we really liked - we really liked hanging around together, I mean, we liked the same movies. We liked the same, either Italian or Chinese food. And we liked the vocal ping pong that ensued, you know, when we would all get together.

SIMON: Thank you both, gentleman.

BROOKS: Okay, Scott, keep in touch, don't be strange.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

REINER: He can't help being strange, he is strange.

SIMON: Thank you.

BROOKS: Okay, this has been a pleasure. We love NPR. And we're glad to contribute any visibility, any little happiness we can toward it.

SIMON: Well, that's very kind of you. Thank you both. Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, speaking from Beverly Hills. Mr. Brooks is one of this year's Kennedy Center honorees. "The 2000-Year-Old Man: The Complete History" has just been issued on the Shout Factory label.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon

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