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"Sid is TCA #1 in my Book!"
by Rich Tackenberg
post date 7/27/01

It is one thing to meet and work with your idol (I've been doing that for two years with Sid Caesar, and it's been amazing), but it is wholly another thing to see your other idols also idolize Sid Caesar. That happened to me close up and in person.

Last Saturday night was the Television Critic Association's annual award dinner where Sid was nominated for a lifetime achievement award. My partner Peter asked me to attend on behalf of Creative Light. Normally I would jump at the chance, but considering that my fiancée Genevieve and I are less than two weeks away from our wedding, I really wasn't in the mood for "working" on the weekend. The deciding factor was it would be a chance to spend the evening with not only Sid's wife, Florence, and his eldest daughter Michelle, who I already know very well, but also their son Rick and their youngest daughter Karen. Rick had come down from Portland, Oregon with his girlfriend just for the award ceremony. Karen and her husband Tim live in the L.A. area, but I've never had the chance to meet them.

At the cocktail reception before the ceremony I finally had the chance to talk with them a little, but I was preoccupied, trying to figure out how to introduce myself to documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns. Ken's latest series, Jazz, really blew me away, and his decade of work was clearly one of our inspirations when we went to work on our documentary about Sid, Hail Sid Caesar: The Golden Age of Comedy. Do I say this to him? I didn't want to come off as fawning. Turned out I didn't need an excuse, because Ken came up to Sid, embarrassed, nervous and unsure of himself. It turns out Ken is a huge fan of Sid Caesar, and idolizes him. I stood by listening as Ken praised, stammered and, well, fawned. Watching "Ken the fan" was much more illuminating and revealing than any conversation I could have had with "Ken the filmmaker."

Meanwhile, the cocktail party was filled with a few of the television stars whose shows were up for awards, such as the cast of The West Wing. Sid's kids loved checking out The West Wing cast. While the rest of the party guests were probably pointing and talking about Aaron Sorkin's drug bust and the cast's salary negotiations, it was such fun to sit and laugh with Sid's family, including Sid and Florence, point to Josh, C.J, Toby and Donna and share our favorite moments from our favorite drama.

That made it all the better when the tables turned during the actual awards ceremony. Sid won the lifetime achievement award and absolutely killed during his acceptance speech. The crowd was rolling with waves of laughter. This was not surprising to me because I've seen Sid kill at many award dinners. What made it a great moment was seeing The West Wing cast nearly falling out of their seats laughing. I think the whole family really appreciated the fact that the cast that they most enjoy watching most enjoyed watching their father.

Since Sid's award was third in the evening's lineup we all thought that his role in the dinner was over. But we were way off on that one. Sid had made such a strong impression on the television critics and the television producers who were winning the awards that his presence dominated the evening. Sopranos executive producer David Chase spent most of his acceptance speech praising the work of Sid Caesar. So did Ken Burns, Lorna Luff and Linwood Boomer, the executive producer of Malcolm in the Middle. Critics were wowed by his presence and presenters didn't deliver their preplanned jokes because Sid had stolen the evening.

After the ceremonies, those same executive producers came to our table to thank Sid for the many years of entertainment that he had provided and for his influence on comedy. While the group couldn't have been more different, the common thread of all these people was their clear lack of B.S. Above all they believed in quality work, and it shows in the television series they currently produce, just as strongly as it shows in their appreciation of our mutual idol Sid Caesar.

This never gets tiring. At the Showtime premiere of Laughter on the 23rd Floor a few months ago, I had had the opportunity to watch one of my all-time heroes, playwright Neil Simon, talk to Sid like a little kid seeking his dad's approval. And when Sid gave it, well... I've never seen Neil Simon smile that big.

But none of the stuff I've talked about even closely compares to the highlight of the evening. For me, the rest of the audience, and most importantly, his children the true unforgettable moment was after Sid's acceptance speech, after he had left the podium, was helped down the stairs, and got to his seat, all to a thunderous standing ovation. It was then that something struck Sid's fancy. He turned around, was helped back up the stairs, and walked all the way back to the podium. He approached the mike and continued speaking with, "…and I also want to thank…" as if he never left the stage. Everyone remained standing, not sure of what to do, but eagerly anticipating the next joke out of Sid's mouth. What he said was very far from a joke. He simply wanted to thank, more than anyone else, his wife Florence. He wanted the crowd to understand that for all he did in his life, without her he would have done nothing. He said quite simply, "she is my guts."

It is amazing that the seemingly impossible act of writing, producing and starring in a live 90 minute show every week, 39 weeks a year, for ten years can so easily be dwarfed by the seemingly more impossible feat of keeping a marriage strong for fifty-eight straight years.

The final standing ovation Sid received after thanking his wife sounded noticeably different from any applause I had ever heard. It was the fever pitch of hands clapping together as hard as they could. The audience was actively trying to increase the volume of their response because they could not show enough appreciation and devotion to Sid. They were praising him for what he did in the 50's, and for what he still can do in his 70's. And they were sharing in the love that Sid felt for his wife.

For his family, coming as far as Portland just for this night, it was a touching way to see Sid. Not Sid Caesar the comedian, but Sid Caesar the father. And for myself , a man less than two weeks away from getting married, it reminded me that what truly matters in the twilight of your career isn't the awards you won but the people you spent the time with along the way. I don't think I was the only one who learned that lesson Saturday night. Even my idols can learn a thing from Sid Caesar.