Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mel Brooks Strikes Again

Mel Brooks victimized me again.

Not just me, directly, but rather any and all of my namesakes. Anyone with the name Murray.

In the latest homage to the incomparable comedian, this time an interview with the BBC’s Alan Yentob (Mel Brooks Strikes Back, aired for the first time on HBO Monday night), a video clip was shown of Brooks and Carl Reiner performing their 2000 Year Old Man routine before a live audience in the early to mid 1960’s. Reiner asked Brooks, playing the ancient yet dapperly-dressed man, how clapping one’s hands as an expression of applause began. 

“Murray the Coward” was responsible, Brooks responded. It seems back in olden days, people would show their approval by slapping their cheeks with their palms. But Murray the Coward didn’t want to hurt himself so he pulled his face back at the last second, allowing his hands to hit. When everyone else heard the sound and saw Murray was not in pain, they followed suit. Thus, clapping was created.

Now, I take great pride in bearing the name of such an innovator as Murray the Coward, but I find it rather amusing the 2000 Year Old Man had so many friends with the name Murray. Three years ago, in an interview with The NY Times, the 2000 Year Old Man attributed to Murray the invention of thumb twiddling: 

REINER: Who was the first one to twiddle his thumbs?

BROOKS: Murray.

REINER: Murray? 

BROOKS: Murray, the cave man.

REINER: What made him twiddle his thumbs?

BROOKS: He couldn’t go on the hunt. He had hurt his foot very badly the day before, a musk oxen had hurt his foot the day before, so he was in the thumb—he was in the cave, twiddling his thumbs. He was the first one to betray this nervous disorder, thumb twiddling. And when we all came back, we noticed it. We said, “Murray, kung voo roch mush?” We talked in a different language.

REINER: Yes, I see.

BROOKS: Cave talk (for) “Why the hell are you twiddling your thumbs.”

There aren’t too many Murrays roaming the earth these days, so I guess my brethren-in-name and I should be happy Mel Brooks is keeping our moniker alive. 

Of course, sometimes having an uncommon name can prove useful, especially if your wife has an equally distinctive name. To wit—when an acquaintance a few weeks ago was speaking to a professional colleague about our daughter’s singing, and she mentioned our first names, the other woman perked up. From the deep recesses of her mind she remembered a Gilda and Murray from her time living in the New Haven area 38 years ago. Could these be the same couple? Indeed we were. Our mutual acquaintance set up a reunion dinner two weeks ago. 

Murray and Gilda. Gilda and Murray. Vive la différence!