Luckily for Caesar, others laugh at him too—but they call him a comic genius. It was that way 39 years ago, when he starred in Your Show of Shows, the ground-breaking TV comedy series. Now, at 66, after emerging from a long struggle with drink, drugs and emotional difficulties, Caesar is being hailed once more. His comeback vehicle is Sid Caesar & Company, his first starring appearance on a New York stage in 18 years. The revue offers only vintage Caesar material like his know-it-all professor and his famous "At the Movies" sketch. There's nothing new, and for this he offers no apologies. "There's enough new, new, new," he says. "News is constantly new and it's still the same. I'm playing to nostalgia, absolutely." His classic material is just fine with the critics. When the show opened last week, the notices were just short of worshipful. The New York Times wrote, "The Legendary Genius of Comedy [the show's subtitle]...is not an overstatement" As for audiences, they've been enthralled. Following the show each night, Caesar's tiny dressing room at Manhattan's Village Gate theater is swamped with well-wishers thanking him for the years of laughs he has provided. "That's the paycheck," says Caesar. "You can't buy that. It really means something to me."
Caesar was the golden boy of TV's golden age. For eight years, beginning in 1950, he delighted America each week with a crazy salad of skits, pantomime and gentle satire. Your Show of Shows, which Caesar helped script, produced such stellar comedy writers as Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and Neil Simon. Yet it took a heavy toll on its star. Overwhelmed by his early success, Caesar took to drink and barbiturates. His show suffered, was ultimately canceled, and Caesar was never able to recapture his former glory. "I went to a psychiatrist for 20 years and kept asking, 'What am I trying to punish myself for?" he says. "I never found out. Finally I said, 'I don't care.' "
With support from his family, he did manage to find sobriety. Clean for more than a decade and reborn as a health fanatic, he has in recent years appeared in a handful of movies and TV shows and lectured on comedy. But Sid Caesar & Company is his first all-out attempt to re-create the magic of Your Show of Shows. His wife of 45 years, Florence, soon plans to fly out from their home in Beverly Hills to help him celebrate his success, and the show's original four-week run may be extended till the fall. But even if it isn't Caesar feels he has had his comeback. "I was sitting on the sidelines for such a long while," he says. "Now I'm just glad to be a part of life."
Sid Caesar has a philosophy of humor that is deceptively simple: "I don't take myself too seriously," he says. "I just laugh at myself a lot and call myself a dummy."