Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, joined in comedy history as the 2,000-year-old man and his interviewer, and joined at the hip in life, made a tandem, two-headed appearance Monday afternoon at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. With Judd Apatow as moderating host, it was the inaugural event in #Comedyfest, a collaboration between Twitter and Comedy Central that will continue through Friday and includes the premiere of the new series “Inside Amy Schumer” (Tuesday at 10:30 p.m. ET, with star Schumer live-tweeting), “Writer’s Room: A Panel” (Thursday, 6 p.m. ET) and “The Comedy Central ‘Half Hour’ Daytime Drinking Game” (Wednesday, 4 p.m. ET).
You can watch it all here. (Beware the salty language.)
Brooks was tieless in a white jacket and black shirt, Reiner wore a suit in two shades of gray, if my eyes did not deceive me. (Sometimes they do.) Apatow wore plaid. (“When are you going to shave?” Brooks asked him.) Before the pair came out, Brooks -- who still does all his work in pencil on a legal pad -- had been coached in his first-ever tweet, a pitch for the event that also included a link to a live stream and concluded “P.S. Carl made me do it.” Reiner, who is 91 to Brooks’ 86, is a vigorous and inveterate tweeter (though “twitter” was the verb he used), if old-fashioned enough that he brought along a hard copy of all his tweets in a manila envelope.
“It’s very close to thrilling,” said Brooks of his initiation into social media.
“Will you actually tweet after today?” Apatow asked.
“Explain what a tweet is,” answered Brooks, who as of this writing has not made a second one.
If the event seemed more focused on Brooks than Reiner, it was partly because of that first tweet, partly because he was in the middle seat onstage, and partly because he is the faster and louder of the two, and cannot stop himself being funny. And, in spite of Reiner’s many credits, in front of and behind the camera, he remains temperamentally his partner’s straight man.
Brooks is also being much feted at the moment -- the PBS series “American Masters” will pay him tribute May 20, while Shout! Factory (which will release “Mel Brooks: Make a Noise” on video) recently issued a wide-ranging five-DVD, one-CD set, “The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy.” Centering on his TV work, it includes pilots for “Get Smart!” and the never-produced 1963 boy-in-New-York series “Inside Danny Baker” (based on the “Dreams of Glory” cartoons of William Steig), talk show appearances, commercials for Frito-Lay, his Emmy-winning guest work on “Mad About You,” his television debut in a 1951 episode of Milton Berle’s “Texaco Star Theater,” cartoons, promotional films and much more.
Reiner also had product to promote, however, the hopscotching memoir “I Remember Me” (AuthorHouse). There was a copy under every seat in the auditorium; the jacket sports a portrait of Reiner and a photograph was taken of Reiner with the audience, each member holding a book before his or face to create a roomful of Carls.
The audience was young, with smartphones and laptops. Though tweeting was encouraged, I didn’t notice much activity; it’s hard to multitask when you’re laughing. Along with Apatow’s promptings and questions from the audience, there were questions submitted via Twitter, including one from Ron Howard. (“We know Ron Howard,” said Brooks. “Short. Red hair -- when he had it.”)
They are something of an old married couple; they hang out and watch TV together. (“Breaking Bad,” “Homeland,” “Justified,” “The Good Wife,” “The Office” and “30 Rock” -- these are shows they like; Apatow recommended they check out “Top of the Lake.”) They fight about chicken and salmon.
Their meeting, on “Your Show of Shows,” the 1950s sketch show on which Reiner appeared, and where Brooks was personally employed as a writer by star Sid Caesar, was love at first sight. Brooks introduced himself as a Jewish pirate: “You know something, how much they’re charging for sailcloth these days.... I can’t afford to pillage and rape anymore.” The next day, the 2,000-year-old man was born, when Reiner prompted Brooks: Here’s a man who was present at the crucifixion. “You knew Jesus?” “I knew him, I knew him. He came in the store every day ... a little candy store. He came in with 12 other guys. They never bought anything.”
The afternoon’s final question came from a woman in the audience who wondered if humor worked across time, from generation to generation. (The age of the crowd argued that it can.)
“Comedy always reflects the mores of the times,” said Reiner. “You talk about what is today the relationship between men and women, people to their society, to their government.... Making fun of the things around you always works.”
“We knew that political humor is temporary,” said Brooks. “But human behavior, and more important, human frailty, is forever and ever.”