What was the genesis of the 2000 Year Old Man?
The original 2000 Year Old Man started in 1960. He's really 2045, but he likes to chop off the years. It's tough to get dates when you're 2045.
Mel Brooks was in the writers' room of The Sid Caesar Show, it was 1950. There was a television program called We the People Speak, and Dan Seymour used to re-create the news. [Seymour] said, "This actually happened last Sunday in the Kremlin. This plumber was in Stalin's toilet and he heard the premier say, 'I'm going to blow up the world Thursday.' " I came into the office and said, "Did anybody see that thing? What a thing to take off on." And I turned to Mel, and I said, "Here's a man who was actually at the scene of the crucifixion 2,000 years ago. Isn't that true, sir?"—I knew Mel would give me an answer.
That was it? You just created the 2000 Year Old Man there on the spot?
Yes. [I said to Mel,] "Were you at the crucifixion?" He says, "Oh boy." "You were there?" "Oh, yes." "You knew Christ?" "A thin lad, right? Wore sandals, a beard, had 12 friends with him always?" In those 10 years, we went through the history of the world, in the office, at parties. In 1960, [we performed] at this party in California [thrown by producer] Joe Fields. George Burns said, "You better put that on a record or I'll steal it." Edward G. Robinson said, "Make a play out of it, I wanna play that 1,000-year-old guy." It was Steve Allen who got a studio and made us do it. We did two hours and cut it to 47 minutes. That was the genesis.
So it took the 2000 Year Old Man until he was 2045 to feel he was ready for a children's book?
Yes. As a matter of fact, the 2000 Year Old Man had problems with how he would be caricatured. James Bennett [the artist] made me laugh. When I looked at the one scene, where [the hero] said, "Hitting a tree with a stick was a good job!... Another job you could get was watching each other," there are cobwebs on the guys' legs, they'd been sitting there so long. James is the hero of this for me.
With 2,000 years to consider, how did you decide what to include?
We had no thought of making a children's book out of this. Byron [Preiss] did. He nudged us! He talked us into doing it. And I'm glad he did. It's not the 2000 Year Old Man, because that has one million jokes in it; this has a few dozen.
What other projects are in the works?
Nnnnn [S&S]. It's about an author who's writing his version of Genesis. He says, "The guy who wrote it originally was a hack writer who didn't have the 5,000 years of knowledge that I have about the earth being round, about the sun not revolving around the earth." I think it's the best thing I've ever written.