Comedy legend Carl Reiner is partly famous for his series of recordings with fellow comedy legend Mel Brooks as the “2000 Year Old Man.” At 91, he’s hanging in there pretty strongly himself, with a recurring guest role on the smash-hit CBS sitcom “Two and a Half Men” and the release of his acclaimed memoir “I Remember Me.”
Over the years, Reiner’s made an impact as a stand-up comedian, actor, director, producer, writer and voice artist, with 12 Emmy Awards and one Grammy to his credit. All that success aside, he may be most famous for two things: creating legendary sitcom “The Dick Van Dyke Show” on television and “creating” actor/director Rob Reiner behind the scenes.
Before releasing a new round of memoirs due out in February called “I Just Remembered,” Reiner will discuss “I Remember Me” on Dec. 19 at the Santa Monica Public Library.
— Carl Kozlowski
What made you decide to write this book?
I started a book a couple years ago — not a bio, but a story of things that happened to me, “my anecdotal life” of people I met and events that tickled me. Then a couple years later, memories started popping back in my head from early life. Every time I walked around the block, a new one popped up. Things are still popping. Next year, I have a book called “I Just Remembered” coming out, another book of memories, because I just can’t stop.
What was the hardest thing to write in it, and what was your favorite?
It’s like saying which one is your favorite child. I have three, and each one has something that’s worth pointing to and saying this is the best: Wife, parents, animals; it’s all family related. The chapters on my wife and her passing were most dear to me. And my behavior when the FBI visited my house and asked if I knew any Commies. I was in my underwear, and my decision was to be as charming to them as they were to me: “Helllo Mr. Reiner.”
What part of your career are you most proud?
I can always say two things made me who I am: Being on “Your Show of Shows” with Sid Caesar, and then living in New Rochelle and being asked to write a show about being a comedy writer, based on “Your Show of Shows,” who lives in New Rochelle. The funniest thing I did was ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show.’ Audiences and writers still tell me how much it meant to them. Writers who watched the show at 12, 14, 15 years old say they thought comedians were just funny and didn’t have writers. At least two dozen or more big writers have said “I’m a writer because the show taught me there were comedy writers.” Kids who are 20 to 30 years old now say the same to me, and that tickles me the most.
What is your special bond with Mel Brooks?
Mel is the single funniest person I know. I met him on “Your Show of Shows.” He was a friend of Sid’s who was on retainer to come up with jokes for $35 a week. His first line was for a Jewish pirate. The next day I saw him on a show about the recreation of the news called “We The People Speak.” I said, “What about a man who saw the crucifixion live 2000 years ago?” and he said, “Oh Boy.” We did it for 10 years as a game for friends before people said to make an album. The Jewish accent had been removed from comedy after World War II, and that helped bring it back. Mel had not done anything theatrically with film until “The Producers.” But the raft of things he did afterwards was a testament to the fact I was right about his being the funniest man alive.
You’re in “Two and a Half Men” now, playing the very randy boyfriend of Jon Cryer’s mom, saying things you never could have said back in the “Dick Van Dyke” days. Do you feel comedy is better or worse off for becoming coarser?
I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but it reflects the times. You go with the show. “Two and a Half Men” was my dirtiest show ever, and it was hysterical. I’m a dirty old man, and it was written for me. The audience ate every line up and I loved every moment. I’m back on a big episode in February.
What about the worlds of comedy and filmmaking do you share with your son?
Rob is one of the smartest human beings I know. He never stops amazing me with his depth of knowledge about what’s going on in every corner of the world and politics. The movies he’s done — from “A Few Good Men,” “When Harry Met Sally,” “Spinal Tap” — every time they come on the air I can’t stop watching. I saw “Princess Bride” the other day, and then Mel and I were watching “When Harry Met Sally” the other night. We got captured by it. We’ve done a few movies that had the same crew, and they all say he knows what he’s doing and is such a nice guy. A director is also a social director, making everyone feel capable and wanting to contribute their best. If you do that, you’ll get a project that stands the test of time.
“An Evening with Carl Reiner” starts at 7 p.m. at the Santa Monica Public Library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd. Tickets are free and will be released at the library on a first-come, first-served basis one hour in advance of the show. Call (310) 458-8600 or visit smpl.org.