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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Carl Reiner Belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Comedy

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If there was a Mount Rushmore of comedy, one of the faces up there would be Carl Reiner’s. Less than two weeks ago, Reiner tweeted, “Watching Trump methodically implode while having my all-time favorite meal, Pink’s hot dogs, Boston Baked Beans and hot sauerkraut, rounded out an almost perfect day!” Reiner, who died on June 29 at the age of 98 was funny and timely up to the end. 

He created so much comedy that he and his close friend Mel Brooks could have had their own comedy museum. He directed two of my favorite films, “Where’s Poppa?” and “Oh, God!”, along with “The Jerk” and “All of Me” and directed and co-wrote “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” and “The Man With Two Brains.” Those four films helped launch Steve Martin’s career. 

The first time I met Reiner was through famed manager George Shapiro. Shapiro is Jerry Seinfeld’s manager and had been Reiner’s manager. Reiner happened to be Shapiro’s uncle.

Shapiro once phoned me to say that Reiner was hosting a benefit at the La Costa resort and asked if I would like to do a set to help raise money for a children’s organization. I jumped at it and, two weeks later, Reiner was introducing me.

It was an amazing moment to be introduced by this icon of comedy. After the set, he couldn’t have been more complimentary, and asked me to please do it again in the future. To be considered by Reiner to be funny is like telling Moses part of the Torah and Moses saying, “That is really good. I never thought of that.” 

I told him I’d love to take him to lunch one day and chat about comedy. He said of course and then gave me his home address and phone number. Soon after, I called him to make a date. He asked where I wanted to go and I suggested a restaurant called Milk and Honey on Pico Boulevard. We picked a date and met there.

After being seated, he noticed all the yarmulkes around the restaurant. I don’t remember, but he either said it was the first kosher restaurant he’d ever been in or that he hadn’t been in a kosher restaurant for a long time. He asked me if I kept kosher and I replied, “I do my best.” That led us to a discussion about God. I told him I believed in God and he told me that he didn’t. In a 2009 interview with the Boston Globe, Reiner said, “My take on God is that I’m a nonbeliever, as Nat Noland is. Man invented God because he needed it. God is in our head.” (Nat Noland was a character in Reiner’s book “Just Desserts: A Novellelah.”)

All I know is Reiner had a gift. Whether it came from God or from somewhere else, he was coded with the comedy gene his entire life. And wherever it came from, we’re all grateful he had it. After the God talk, like all Jews, we talked about the food in the restaurant, which he seemed to really like. I told him that I knew his son Rob and he asked me if I could help Rob lose weight. Is that not the most Jewish conversation you’ve ever heard? 

Carl, wherever you may or may not be, the world is a lot less funny without you.  Shalom, my friend.


Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.

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