Carl Reiner, Multifaceted Master of Comedy, Is Dead at 98

Carl Reiner, Multifaceted Master of Comedy, Is Dead at 98

Carl Reiner, Multifaceted Master of Comedy, Is Dead at 98

Mr. Reiner was a gifted comic actor, but he spent most of his career slightly out of the spotlight — writing, directing and letting others get the laughs.

Carl Reiner, Multifaceted Master of Comedy, Is Dead at 98
Carl Reiner, Multifaceted Master of Comedy, Is Dead at 98

Carl Reiner, who as performer, writer and director earned a place in comedy history several times over, died on Monday night at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif. He was 98.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Annie Reiner.

Mr. Reiner first attracted national attention in 1950 as Sid Caesar’s multitalented second banana on the television variety show “Your Show of Shows,” for which he was also a writer. A decade later he created “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” one of the most celebrated situation comedies in television history, and teamed with Mel Brooks on the hugely successful “2000 Year Old Man” records. His novel “Enter Laughing” became both a hit Broadway play and the first of many movies he would direct; among the others were four of Steve Martin’s early starring vehicles.

He won praise as an actor as well, with memorable roles in films like “The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming” and, more recently, “Ocean’s Eleven” and its sequels. But he spent most of his career just slightly out of the spotlight, letting others get the laughs.

His contributions were recognized by his peers, by comedy aficionados and, in 2000, by the Kennedy Center, which awarded him the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. He was the third recipient, after Richard Pryor and Jonathan Winters.In his performances with Mr. Brooks and before that with Mr. Caesar, Mr. Reiner specialized in portraying the voice of sanity, a calm presence in a chaotic universe. But despite his claim to the contrary, he was never “just the straight man.”

 

Carl Reiner, Multifaceted Master of Comedy, Is Dead at 98
Carl Reiner, Multifaceted Master of Comedy, Is Dead at 98

“He was a comedian himself, and he truly understood and still understands comedy,” Mr. Caesar said of Mr. Reiner in his book “Caesar’s Hours” (2003), written with Eddy Friedfeld. “Most people still don’t realize the importance of a straight man in comedy, or how difficult that role is. Carl had to make his timing my timing.”

Mr. Reiner was, Mr. Caesar added, “the best straight man I’ve ever worked with.”

As part of a stellar supporting cast that also included Imogene Coca and Howard Morris, Mr. Reiner proved his versatility week after week on “Your Show of Shows,” which ran from 1950 to 1954 on NBC and established the template for sketch comedy on television. He played everything from a harried commuter to a frenzied rock ’n’ roller to an unctuous quiz-show host. But he is probably best remembered as an interviewer, solemnly posing questions to a mad professor, a spaced-out jazz musician or some other over-the-top character played by Mr. Caesar, and adding to the humor simply by being serious.

Mr. Reiner contributed behind the scenes as well. He took part in the frenzied writing sessions that shaped the show, bouncing jokes off the walls of the writers’ room with the likes of Mr. Brooks and Neil Simon.

Carl Reiner, Multifaceted Master of Comedy, Is Dead at 98
Carl Reiner, Multifaceted Master of Comedy, Is Dead at 98

 

“I became a writer because of that room,” he recalled. “I’d say something and somebody would yell: ‘What do you know? You’re not a writer.’ So I became a writer.”

He characterized his later career moves with similar self-effacing humor in an NPR interview: “I acted like a director. I acted like a producer. I sat in front of a typewriter and acted like a novelist.”

Mr. Reiner’s association with Mr. Caesar encompassed three different series: After “Your Show of Shows” the two worked together on “Caesar’s Hour,” which had a three-year run on NBC, and “Sid Caesar Invites You,” a failed attempt to recapture the “Show of Shows” spirit that lasted less than one season on ABC in 1958.

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