Monday, April 16, 2018

Sid Caesar's "Gallipacci" or the Fine Art of Gibberish

[post 442]

Sid Caesar (1922–2014), who I worked with VERY briefly (full story here), was one of the truly great American comedians. He was also the King of Gibberish, fluent in faking many a foreign language. I hadn't seen Gallipacci until Riley Kellogg recently ran across it and clued me in, but it's already one of my favorite Caesar pieces. And what an ensemble! That's Nanette Fabray as Pagliacci's wife, who in fact had opera training at Juilliard (despite a serious childhood hearing problem). Carl Reiner, partner to Mel Brooks and father to Rob, is the rival. And Howard Morris is the elfish Vesuvio. The score is —shall we say?— eclectic.

Hard to believe, but...

•  In real life, Caesar spoke only English and Yiddish
• This piece is thirteen and a half minutes long, and in those days Caesar's show was on for 39 episodes a year. Compare that to today's television "seasons" and the complexity of today's sketches.
• In 2007, an 85-year-old Caesar hobbled onto the stage of the tv improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway? to do battle with Drew Carey in a game matching skills at foreign language "double talk," and proceeded to run gibberish circles around the younger comedian.

I'm in Torino, so I showed this piece to Italian clown compatriots Angela Delfini and Giuseppi Vetti, curious as to how it would work for them, what with them actually speaking Italian and all. They laughed a lot, and it got me to thinking that I'm familiar with all sorts of non-English gibberish, but there must be gibberish versions of English that I haven't heard. And of course there are. One of the most famous of these was Prisencolinensinainciusol, an Italian version of English by Adriano Celentano. (Full history here.)

I must say there have been actual American rock songs that I didn't understand much more of.

And of course anyone with any clown or improv training has probably played gibberish games, which can be a very funny way of animating expression without depending on actual language. You can find a list of some of these here.

UPDATE:  Kendall Cornell just reminded me of this amazing woman who does gibberish in twenty plus languages remarkably well.


  1. This Sid Caesar ensemble with Nanette Nanette Fabray (Imogene Coca was a bit before my childhood awareness) was the best. Definitely impacted on the development of my sense of humor, and my interest in performance.

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