“The King Is Here,” intoned the comedy writers and actors, rising to their feet as Sid Caesar entered Factor’s Famous Deli to join the fortnightly eat-and-shmooze fest.
The salutation had a jocular undertone, but it was rooted “in the immense respect we all had for Sid,” recalled master of ceremonies and entertainer Monty Hall, one of the lunch regulars.
It was even more than respect, “it was a reverence we all felt for Sid as a brilliant actor who could deliver and embellish any line,” Hall said.
The two men knew each other for some 40 years and frequently ran into each other at testimonial dinners, mostly Jewish, for this or that honoree.
[Related: Comic great Sid Caesar dies at 91]
“Often Sid was in the audience and when the M.C. spotted him and asked him to say a few words, Sid would launch into one his fractured Italian or Japanese monologues and have everyone in stitches,” Hall added.
At the get-togethers at Factor’s, Hall would sit next to Caesar and regale him with Yiddish jokes.
Most of the lunch regulars were comedy writers, but also included such multi-faceted entertainers as Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. The frequently hilarious sessions were immortalized last year in the documentary “Lunch.”
In one scene, Reiner recalled the widespread job discrimination against Jews in many fields, but comedy writing wasn’t one of them. “If you could make them laugh, they’d hire you,” Reiner said.
Caesar, whom Hall described as “strong as an ox,” declined physically in the past two years, but his mind remained razor sharp. He had little respect for the current level of American comedy. As he commented in the film, “What’s going on today is a lot of schmutz (dirt)… that’s cheating, anyone can get a laugh by talking dirty.” -- By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor.