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New DVD Releases of Old TV Shows Featuring Mel Brooks and David Steinberg Are a Riot -- And Still Seem Capable of Inspiring One
February 10, 2012  | By David Bianculli

They're old TV shows, newly released on DVD, and they're both hilarious - but they're not sitcoms. They're talk shows: one is a seminar that gathers most of the writers who worked on Sid Caesar's comedy programs of the 50s and 60s, the other is an old episode of The David Susskind Show that invites its prominent guests to explore the topic How to Be a Jewish Son.

The former features Carl Reiner, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon. The latter features David Steinberg and George Segal. And both are stolen, in their own way, by Mel Brooks...


How to Be a Jewish Son was recorded in 1970, with the guests talking for so long, and ultimately so casually, that the program remains, more than 40 years later, an amazing artifact of the television talk-show genre.

It has the power to be controversial even today. My review this week of these two new DVDs, on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, included a clip, with a remark by David Steinberg about how to date outside of his faith, that generated lots of heated response on the Fresh Air website. You can hear the piece, and read the comments, HERE.

The Caesar's Writers DVD is less incendiary, but it's just as funny. (The Fresh Air piece has a clip from it, too, that's well worth hearing.)

And what I adore about both shows is how clearly they demonstrate how true wit rises to the top, and grabs the spotlight.


In Caesar's Writers -- an unedited version of the Writers Guild of America West seminar reuniting writers from Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour, once shown in edited form on public TV -- one-liners are tossed out from every direction, and the ones that score, score big. It gives you the feeling you're in one of those writers' rooms of old. Brooks is the hit of the panel, just as you suspect he was the hottest firecracker in the room back in the old days.

And on How to Be a Jewish Son, the feeling is that you're listening to an after-hours, unchecked chat at which its celebrity guests -- fully remaxed -- are likely to say anything. And often do. Eventually, Brooks and Steinberg take over the reins, and never let go.

Both shows are a riot, and worth owning and enjoying. Jewish Son is released Tuesday; Caesar's Writers is out already.

You can order How to Be a Jewish Son by clicking HERE.

You can order Caesar's Writers HERE, or visit the Caesar's Writers website HERE. 




Whitney Landon said:

I enjoyed your piece (via Fresh Air) and, today, a day or two later, when encountering a (yes) Watergate-era memory, realized D Susskind was, I believe, the "other half" of the memory. (I'd originally had the memory a couple of days ago. ... As a Watergate-era-er, the course of memory ... does have its anxious fascinations) ...

It was, I'm quite sure, one Father+- (in a collar) John McLaughlin, so long now known (without the collar) for irrepressiblity ... on the McLaughlin Group; ... defending ... one RMNixon ... for all it/he/the Pres. ... was worth (and a good deal more, one thought/felt/knew). ... Summer ... '74, maybe; the Ervin (Fred Thompson; Joseph McCarthy (in an earlier era, I've just learned) hearings summer (oo, that would be '73). So OUTRAGEOUSLY "more" to this perhaps archetypal (duly outraged) college to-be-politics-major sophomore that he called the very White House to see if "[they] backed this guy on tv." Maybe even called back a second time after unsatisfactory response the first time. Well, the response THEREAFTER was to cut off MY PHONE. Line DEAD! Quick instruction in power (politics).

A while back I searched to see if that Susskind ... might have been noted ... somewhere. Maybe I'll do so again. Meanwhile, ... thanks. (And if it wasn't ... David S. ..., well, ... those would be the breaks, right?) (I'm 99.44% sure ... it was John M.) ... (There was a 'rabbi for Nixon' there, too, I seem to remember .... Phoo. ... Classic.)

Despite my hazinesses, a quick visit to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_McLaughlin_%28host%29#Education_and_early_career confirms plenty; and! no Suskind reference. I ACHE to add such. Can one help me? ... Or not. Thanks again. (And hopefully not presuming overly on your Suskind ... enthusiasm.)

[Dear Whitney -- Put me down as a can't help on this one. Sorry. But your writing style DOES reveal vestigial traces of the Sixties, so I believe you were there. - DB]

Comment posted on February 10, 2012 11:25 PM
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