Wednesday July 01, 2020
Carl Reiner (1922-2020)
When I was growing up in Minneapolis in the 1970s, the non-music album we played the most was probably “2000 and THIRTEEN,” by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, which my father always felt was funnier than the more famous “2000 Year Old Man.” I agree. I still think it's one of the funniest things I‘ve ever heard. This is from memory so forgive all the errors:
CARL: [Somehow mentions Paul Revere]
MEL: Anti-Semitic bastard!
CARL: What? Why, we have no record of
MEL: Oh, he was scared of us. He was afraid. He was afraid we were moving into the neighborhood. I remember one night, he got on his horse, and he rode around yelling, “The Yiddish are coming! The Yiddish are coming!”
CARL: No, it was “The British are coming!”
MEL: Oy, my god!
CARL: You mean all this time...?
MEL: Oh, and I didn’t go to his funeral. ... I‘ll have to send his wife a note.
There are tributes and testimonials all over the internet and social media, of course. From Nick Kroll. From Al Franken. From Alec Berg, a “Seinfeld” writer. From Matthew Rosenberg, a comic book writer, who recounts his father’s love of “Your Show of Shows” with one sketch and one perpetual birthday dinner. Anyone who can get “Beef Straganoff” to trend on Twitter, instead of the latest Trumpian idiocies, is my friend for life. Paul Wadman simply posted a nonsense rhyme—Nog, Nog/McKellan bee bog—which I immediately recognized from “2000 and THIRTEEN” and translated. My friend Adam posted that the Reiner-directed “The Jerk” was “flat-out the funniest film ever made” and it made me recall all the bits from “The Jerk” Adam would do when we shared an office from 2005 to 2007.
Reiner was mostly straight man to hilarious men, wasn't he? To Mel. To Sid Caesar. To Steve Martin. I never regularly watched his huge breakthrough, “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” but I did see most of the movies he directed in the late 1970s—and in the theater: “Oh, God,” “The One and Only,” and “The Jerk.” Yes, even “The One and Only,” since it starred Henry Winkler and I was Fonz-crazed at the time. Then I was Steve Martin-crazed. Though “Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid” and “The Man with Two Brains” might have been VHS but “All of Me” was definitely theater. In the autumn of his life Reiner did lesser summer movies: “Summer Rental,” “Summer School.” Apparently he was greatly disappointed in the box-office response to “Bert Rigby, You‘re a Fool,” his 1989 working-class, British, musical comedy. He thought the star, Robert Lindsay, was another Dick Van Dyke, but “working class” and “musical” and “British” didn’t take in the summer of Tim Burton's “Batman.” (What's with “Rigby,” by the way? It's also Martin's name in “Dead Men.” Anyone know?)
He kept going. He never stopped working. He appeared with Mel on Jerry Seinfeld's “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” He was nominated for an Emmy in his mid-90s for starring in and narrating “If You‘re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.” He took potshots at Trump on Twitter. He became a toy in Pixar’s “Toy Story” world: Carl Reinerocerus.
Baseball historian John Thorn posted this trading card from the “1953 Bowman TV and Radio Stars of NBC” set—a thing I never knew existed, but you can look it up:
He made it a long way from the garment district. You look at that long, full life, full of laughter, and think, “That's the way to do it.”