Picks and Pans Review: Spotlight On...

updated 11/03/1997 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/03/1997 01:00AM

>Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks

REVIVING AN OLD RIFF IN THE BEGINNING, OR AT LEAST ONE day in 1950, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks were hanging out in the writers' room of Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows when Reiner suddenly asked Brooks, "So you knew Jesus?" Brooks, instantly lapsing into the thick Yiddish accent of the character they would later dub the 2000 Year Old Man, ad-libbed, "Sure. Thin lad. Wore sandals. Came into my store, but he never bought a thing."

Best friends Reiner, 75, and Brooks, 71, are now pushing their classic comedy partnership toward the millennium. In a new book (from Cliff Street Books/HarperCollins) and a new CD (from Rhino Records), both titled The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000, the sage codger is making his first appearance since 1973. To longtime fan Billy Crystal, the wait was worthwhile. "They're as good as it gets," he says. "You have the greatest straight man who ever lived, and, when he's on a riff, the funniest man."

Starting with a writing session in January, the two veteran writers worked up a prophet-able show's worth of Q&A shtick, which they recorded in a Los Angeles studio a month later before a select audience of 50 that included Crystal; Brooks's wife, actress Anne Bancroft; and Reiner's son, director Rob. The Old Man hasn't lost a step. When Reiner inquired about the outcome of the Trojan War, an aghast Brooks roared, "You have to ask who won? You don't go into a drug store and ask for Greeks, do you?"

"Mel's funny even when he fails," explains the always appreciative Reiner. "When you fail, fail, fail, and then hit gold, you're twice as funny."

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