'2000-year-old man' lives Hilarity: When Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks get together tonight at the Lyric, they will resurrect a classic character.

June 20, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

The 2000 Year Old Man, on how this millennium compares to the last: "This is much better, much better, because people are free, they're sexually liberated. In the first one, they said, 'Don't you dare touch that.' And now they say, 'Touch it, touch it, touch it.' I am so happy to be able to fool around. And in the first millennium, did they have a thing called Viagra? Well, they've got it now, and I'm hanging my hat on it. Things are looking very good." For a couple of guys working off the tops of their heads, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner have done all right for themselves.

Their ad-libbed creation, the 2000 Year Old Man -- born (despite his name) in 1950, when Reiner plugged in his new tape recorder, turned to his friend Brooks and asked, "Is it true that you were at the scene of the Crucifixion some 2,000 years ago?" -- is back after a 25-year hiatus.

"You know, that's something that's been happening lately," Reiner says over the phone from his Los Angeles home, where's he's joined by Brooks in discussing what drew the 2000 Year Old Man out of his happy retirement. "I think every comedian who's stayed alive seems to be re-issuing their [material]. Bill Cosby is doing his old routines, Bob Newhart has come back to Carnegie Hall to do his 'Button-Down Mind' stuff. So before we go, we figured we'd give people another shot of it."

Not that the two men haven't left enough of a legacy already. Since their days as writers for Sid Caesar, both have left their mark on American comedy. Reiner, most famously, was the man behind "The Dick Van Dyke Show," while Brooks' films as a writer-director (and sometimes star) have included "The Producers," "Blazing Saddles" and "Young Frankenstein."

Still, that old guy they came up with in an inspired moment of lunacy 48 years ago (part of Brooks' answer: "I knew Christ, Christ was a thin lad, always wore sandals. Hung around with 12 other guys. They came in the store, no one ever bought anything. Once they asked for water") has remained a crowd favorite. Four records released from 1961 to 1973 weren't enough for their fans.

"The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000: The Record," culled from two performances Reiner and Brooks gave before some lucky friends last year, hit the CD racks in October -- just a week after "The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000: The Book" arrived in bookstores.

As if that isn't enough, Brooks and Reiner are taking their act on the road for the first time. Tonight, they'll be appearing at the Lyric, in an 8 p.m. benefit performance for the Save-a-Heart Foundation. Their day is scheduled to begin at noon with a book signing at Bibelot on Reisterstown Road.

"I hope they have nice people in Baltimore," says Reiner, who's understandably a little nervous. Save for a handful of television appearances, he and Brooks had never done the 2000 Year Old Man in front of an audience before they started promoting the new book and CD.

"We never had an act," Reiner explains. "We never did it except in rare places, like once on the Sullivan show and a couple of times on 'Hollywood Palace.' In the 40 years we've been together, we've done it only at parties."

At parties, surrounded by friends, the audience tends to be forgiving. And in the studio, it's easy to cull only the best bits for a record.

But up on stage, ad-libbing without a safety net, the pressure gets ratcheted up a notch.

The 2000 Year Old Man, on the birth of capitalism: "There were two guys. One had an ounce of gold and one had a cup of milk. And the guy with the cup of milk said, 'I'll give you the cup of milk for the ounce of gold.' And they traded, and the cup of milk was sour. That cup of milk, that sour cup of milk, it's now called Wall Street. They know how to screw you nice and good for that ounce of gold."

The routine hasn't changed much in 40-plus years. Reiner, as a reporter asking this remarkable human specimen a wide range of questions, is still the affable straight man. And Brooks is still the man-on-the-spot, the guy who has to come up with lines that they hope will leave their audience howling.

"Once in a while," Brooks says, "we do strike paydirt and say, 'Nope, can't improve on that, leave it alone.' But most of the time, we say, Gee, if we'd given it a little more thought, we might have come up with something even clever."

Reiner admits to a little preparation. "I'll say, 'Mel, can you ad-lib on this subject?' And he'll stop and I see a look in his eye and we don't continue." But there's no way for him to prepare for tonight. The pair plan to take questions from the audience, with Brooks answering as the 2000 Year Old Man.

"It's going to be as thrilling for us as it may be for the audience," Reiner says. "Actually, it's going to be more nerve-wracking for us, because we have to do it. They're all going to sit there and think, 'Look at how old they've gotten.' "

The 2000 Year Old Man on his plans for the year 2000: "I'm getting a condominium in Egypt, I'm going back to Egypt because the only real happiness I ever had was with Cleopatra. Not a lot of people know this, but Cleopatra looked very much like Monica Lewinsky. It's amazing, but that's what she looked like. I want to go back to Egypt, get a nice condominium there and look for the descendants of Cleopatra; maybe I can restart

the affair."

Of course, even when you're ad-libbing, there are such things as second chances.

"You know something?" Reiner says, "This is a question I will ask him again, because that is not a satisfactory answer."

'Knights of Comedy'

Who: Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner

Where: Lyric Theater, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

When: 8 tonight

Tickets: $25-$250, available at Lyric box office

Call: 410-685-5086

What: Book signing with Reiner and Brooks

Where: Bibelot, 1819 Reisterstown Road

When: Today, noon-1: 30 p.m.

Call: 410-653-6933

Pub Date: 6/20/98

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