The Jewish jokes flew fast and furious at AFI’s life achievement tribute to helmer Mike Nichols, held Thursday night on the Sony Pictures lot.
Candice Bergen talked about how she and Robert Redford auditioned for “The Graduate” but that Nichols “decided to go in a more ethnic direction.” She lamented, “It could have been a classic.”
Robin Williams told the director “it’s rumored that you even had final cut at your own circumcision.” And Emma Thompson said there were two things she and Nichols shared in common: laughter and guilt, and proceeded to introduce the “Post Tribute Punishment Kit,” replete with whip.
Going in, the big question was whether Jack Nicholson, the Los Angeles Lakers’ unofficial mascot, would show. Two years ago when Warren Beatty was the AFI’s honoree, Nicholson arrived at the Kodak Theater late (11 p.m.) and ornery after the Lakers lost to the Celtics at home in the championship series. This time around the Lakers lost to Boston in an away game, allowing Nicholson to show up at 9:30 (a fact not lost on Beatty) in slightly better humor, even if he did describe himself as “a little bit of Jack and a little bit of Norman Maine.”
Meryl Streep recalled “Silkwood,” when Nichols said to her: “Directing is like making love, because you never know if you’re doing it as well as the other guy.” She admitted to being a bit creeped out by it.
But the running joke all evening, introduced by Sony chief Howard Stringer and apparently based on truth, had to do with Nichols being Albert Einstein’s cousin.
Comedien Elaine May read a letter purportedly written by Einstein that referred to “little Igor” (Nichols’ birth name was Michael Igorevitch Peschkowsky), who convinced the Nobel laureate to abandon his dream of being a director and stay with physics. “Albert Einstein was a sad man when he died because he never achieved the combined field theory and that’s gotta be depressing,” May said in closing. “In whatever dimension he may be in, if he’s watching tonight, I think he’d be cheered to discover he’s Mike Nichols’ cousin.”