Guffawing through “Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett Together Again” — a joint stage appearance by the pair, selectively edited down to a little under an hour — you wonder why they don’t do things like this more often. After all, nothing could be cheaper than taping such an event; all you need is two raconteurs as skilled as Brooks and Cavett, plus a cameo by Carl Reiner from the audience. Sit back, relax and savor a genuine treat infused with Hollywood nostalgia, riotous storytelling and only a few easily forgiven drops of mutual admiration.
Brooks, 84 when the spec was shot last year, and Cavett, 11 years his junior, own the stage and the audience from the moment they sit down. Exhibiting an obvious rapport born from a long association, they simply swap stories about great luminaries from the past, from Brooks’ hilarious dinner with Alfred Hitchcock (to whom he paid tribute with “High Anxiety”) to Cavett’s limousine ride with Fred Astaire.
Throw in an anecdote about Chico Marx propositioning Tallulah Bankhead (punch line: “And so you shall, you old-fashioned boy”), George Burns insulting Jack Benny, a young Cavett seeing Bob Hope perform, Frank Sinatra refusing to croon “Springtime for Hitler,” and you’ll dine out on the stories for weeks.
Are they true or mostly apocryphal? Frankly, who cares?
The pair also devote considerable time — with an assist from Reiner — to recalling the genesis of “The 2,000 Year Old Man,” the party joke/writers’ room exercise Reiner and Brooks parlayed into one of the most famous comedy routines of all time. In that context, Brooks still displays a quickness and dexterity of wit that should instill men half his age with envy and which surpasses most of his films.
Not every moment is a winner, but the overall vibe proves so warm and delightful that those of any age will find themselves wondering why they don’t make ’em quite like this anymore — or at least, at a loss to think of baby-boomer personalities who could pull off such a breezy exchange with quite the same ease and aplomb.
Nor would anybody but HBO likely devote an hour on a Friday to a spec featuring a trio of guys with an aggregate 245 years behind them.
In that regard, be grateful for a premium network that can afford to demonstrate — with nary a concern about what advertisers want — just how much fun the over-70 demographic can be.