Hail to the Funnyman, Sid Caesar

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With Laughter on the 23rd Floor
and the documentary special Hail Sid Caesar! The Golden Age of Comedy, Showtime showcases the talents of one of the pillars of the so-called Golden Age of Television. But at first blush, you might not realize that.

First up is Laughter, a film adaptation of Neil Simon's Broadway comedy. Unless you're a student of television history or the Broadway stage, you might not know that the lead character of this film, Max Prince (played by Nathan Lane in a reprise of his Broadway role) is based on Caesar. Simon spent his formative years on the legendary funnyman's staff.

With manic acting, crisp one-liners and a searing eye turned towards Prince/Caesar's self-destructive lifestyle, Laughter
uses comedy to illuminate Caesar and the early years of television. Mark Linn-Baker (Perfect Strangers) is "Val," the Russian immigrant who takes English lessons at Berlitz in order to learn how to curse without an accent. He, too, reprises his role from the earlier production. Peri Gilpin (Frasier) plays Carol, the only woman on this all-star team of comedy writers, with Saul Rubinek, Victor Garber, Dan Castellaneta, Richard Portnow, Zach Grenier and Mackenzie Austin rounding out the cast.

As wonderful as this adaptation is, perhaps more illuminating to the real life behind this story is the follow-up documentary, Hail Sid Caesar!
It answers many of the questions viewers are bound to have after watching Lane and company's fictionalized version.

Caesar, the Yonkers, N.Y., native, was a seminal figure in early television history. His roots extend as far back as guest appearances on The Milton Berle Show
in 1948.

This documentary traces his stratospheric rise, from his signature Your Show of Shows, to his breakup with partner Imogene Coca, to their subsequent reunion and less-than-spectacular results.

Of note, Caesar's writing team consisted of such stellar talents as Simon, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner. Carl's son, Rob, narrates this fascinating documentary, keeping it all in the family.

The Showtime production of Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor
airs Saturday, May 26, at 8 p.m. Hail Sid Caesar! The Golden Age of Comedy
bows at 9:45 p.m.