This week, we lost comedy legend Carl Reiner. Mr. Reiner, at 98 years old, was one of the last survivors of the golden age of television. He was one of the famous members of the writers’ ensemble of Your Show of Shows, a sketch comedy program that aired on TV between 1950 and 1954.
The most influential writers’ room in history
Your Show of Shows was full of irreverent sketch comedy. While it may seem tame today, it set the stage for every sketch comedy show to follow it. The writers’ room was full of people who would become the leading comedy legends of the 20th century. Imagine a room wherein you’d find Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar, Woody Allen, and Neil Simon. Joining them were female pioneers Selma Diamond and Imogene Coca, as well as Larry Gelbart, who later gained fame for writing M*A*S*H. It’s been called the funniest room that ever existed. Here’s just one excerpt from that show:
The narrator was, of course, a young Carl Reiner.
The 2,000 Year Old Man
Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner hit it big with a sketch on The Ed Sullivan where Mr. Reiner interviews Mr. Brooks, playing a 2,000-year-old man. The supposedly old man has silly answers to why things happened in history. It was massively well received, leading to one of the first standup comedy albums to enjoy massive success, 1961’s 2000 and One Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. It remained a stalwart part of the comedy landscape. Here’s a performance of it from The Colgate Comedy Hour in 1967.
The legacy of Carl Reiner
Mr. Reiner’s version of the “straight man” character would have been enough had he done only that. But, he didn’t. He was nearly singlehandedly responsible for The Dick van Dyke Show, which cast Dick van Dyke as a writer of a comedy show (based of course on himself.) Mr. Reiner played the humorless host of the show, Alan Brady.
Here’s an excerpt from that show, where Mary Tyler Moore’s Laura Petrie has to apologize to Alan Brady for telling America that Brady wears a toupee:
Let’s not forget that Mr. Reiner’s legacy extends to his son Rob Reiner, who has been responsible for decades of hilarious television and movies, perhaps none as hilarious as this scene from When Harry Met Sally, filmed at Katz’s Delicatessen in Manhattan:
The funniest line, “I’ll have what she’s having,” about ten seconds before the end, is uttered by none other than Estelle Reiner, Mr. Reiner’s wife. She is said to have improvised the line on the spot and it was so funny that it made it into the film.
98 years of funny
Carl Reiner spent 98 years on this planet and it’s a fair bet he was funny in every single one of them. He joins an ensemble of the best minds in comedy, including Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, George Carlin, Lucille Ball, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, Ernie Kovacs, and so many others who made the 20th century one of the most innovating times in history in which to laugh. Hats off to you, Mr. Reiner, whether you wore a toupee or not.
Oh, before anyone leaves a comment, I know it was Mel Brooks who played The 2,000 Year Old Man, while Carl Reiner played the unnamed interviewer. But the headline practically wrote itself.