When comedy was creative and clean…and funny

Today’s Wall Street Journal’s “Notable and Quotable” section on its Op-Ed page quotes the following from a 2003 memoir by comedian Sid Caesar, who died Wednesday at age 91:

Comedy reflects the culture it comes from. There once was, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the show.” It’s now hi, how’s everybody doing? That’s a subtle but very significant change. There’s a style, a level of refinement that is gone. The language used today would not in anyone’s wildest dreams have been used on television when we were starting out. . .

We couldn’t go for a cheap joke or a shock joke. We had to be funny on our own. These limitations made us think. Instead of going for the easy laugh with profanity or an off-color remark, we always had to be creative and come up with something that was both funny and clean. We drew from real life. Things aren’t funny, people are funny. We would never have a guy walk into a room with a piece of toilet paper stuck to his heel. We had to be subtle.

I believed then, and still do, that if you’re an entertainer, especially a comedian, you can be satirical, but you can’t engage the government head-on. There is a very thin line between being a politician and an entertainer. You can’t knock the entire system because you never really know what’s going on inside and why certain decisions were made. My job is to make you laugh and make you happy. My personal opinion is my own. I don’t want to know how you vote, and you don’t need to know how I vote.

This will make you laugh, a Rich Man’s Joke, Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and Carl Reiner in a sort of a silent movie version of Pygmalion.

For another shining example of the old style of creative humor see, Johnny Carson and Jack Webb — From the Days When Television Comedy Was Funny