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Caesar, Coca: Still Clowning Around

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The show had ended and as Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca walked by a group of die-hard fans, a woman in her 40s confessed, “The worst punishment as a kid was not being able to watch Sid and Imogene on Saturday night.”

Nearly 40 years later, “Your Show of Shows” still elicits fond memories from the legions who watched the 90-minute comedy revue on NBC. And its two stars still bring cheers.

During two shows Monday at the Seattle Center’s Opera House as part of the annual Bumbershoot art and music festival, Caesar and Coca received standing ovations as they took the stage to perform a new 90-minute act.

“They are turning out to be the cult act of Bumbershoot,” said Lauri Jacoby, the festival’s booking director.

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Their sketches, pantomimes and routines included some new material, but most of it was adapted from “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour,” the variety show that Caesar hosted following the cancellation of “Your Show of Shows” in 1954. One skit had them dueling with raised eyebrows and forefingers as “Man and Wife in Argument,” set to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

For Rosemarie Lippert, 78, and her daughter, Barbara, 45, Caesar and Coca were a “must see” at the festival, whose other nationally known names included writers Ann Waldman and Tom Robbins, the Marsha Threlkeld Dance Troupe, Emmylou Harris, Ry Cooder, Buckwheat Zydeco, Albert King, Fats Domino, Leon Redbone, Ziggy Marley, Michelle Shocked and the Righteous Brothers.

“Who knows when we would be able to see them again?” Barbara said.

If Caesar, who turns 68 on Saturday, and Coca, 82, have their way, their longtime fans and potential new ones may have many more opportunities.

They’ve already played New York and Atlantic City, and now are heading for an open-ended engagement in Chicago, with Los Angeles a possibility beyond that.

“How long do I want to do this?” Caesar pondered the question during an interview here, and a smile quickly emerged. “I make good money, work with nice people, and I’m able to do what I want to do. Are you crazy?”

Coca looked around for wood on which to knock. “This is great. I’d like to do this for a long time,” she said.

The two got back together last spring after Caesar did a four-month stretch in a small off-Broadway club in New York and then a two-week stint on Broadway. He called to see what Coca was doing.

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“The time was right,” Caesar said simply.

They were booked into Michael’s Pub, the club where Woody Allen plays his clarinet Monday nights. The date was open-ended. “We played for four months, five days a week, with a couple shows on the weekend,” Coca said. “I loved that club. I could have gone on forever.”

It’s still a wonder to her why “Your Show of Shows” was canceled.

Both Caesar and Coca were given their own shows. Coca’s lasted only six months. “Caesar’s Hour” lasted three years.

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For Caesar, still muscular thanks to a strict daily exercise regimen that includes dozens of sit-ups and push-ups, a 90-minute walk and a 20-lap swim, NBC’s decision remains a bitter memory.

“They figured they could make more money by breaking us up. It’s called greed,” he said. “They have no understanding of chemistry. They know names, they know agents. But you can have the best writers, actors and producers (and) without chemistry you can have a flop. The business people upstairs don’t understand that.”

After the demise of “Caesar’s Hour,” Caesar hit an extended dark period filled with drugs and alcohol. In his 1982 book, “Where Have I Been?,” he talks of days and weeks erased from his memory. Some associates laid the blame on too much success too soon. Caesar became a Comedy King at 26.

His advice for young talent on the rise? “There’s no warning before the big fall,” he said. “It’s a matter of self-control. Knowing you don’t know it all. Success is new to them. Treat it as something that can easily go away. Enjoy it, but don’t delve into it.”

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