Arts & Culture

Comedy Legend Carl Reiner Turns 92 Today

On comedy: “the Jews have been able to do it since Moses’ time.” Read More

By / March 20, 2014

Carl Reiner—comedy legend, avid tweeter, and Hillary Clinton supporter—turns 92 today.

Reiner was born in the Bronx in 1922 to Irving and Bessie, Jewish immigrants from Romania and Austria, respectively. He stumbled into the entertainment industry by accident when his brother told him about a free drama workshop being put on by the Works Progress Administration. (Thank you, Roosevelt!) Originally Reiner aspired to become a serious dramatic actor, but he switched to comedy during WWII, when he worked as an entertainer in the U.S. army. And the rest, as we all know, is history—he went on to star in Your Show of Shows, create The Dick Van Dyke Show, and play the straight man, brilliantly, to Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TGTPPrkgovw

In 1943, Reiner married Estelle Lebost, a visual artist (and later, cabaret singer). They had three children and were dedicated to each other until Estelle’s death in 2008. (Fun fact: director son Rob cast Estelle in When Harry Met Sally, where she famously delivered the “I’ll have what she’s having” line.)

Last year, in an interview with Moment Magazine, Reiner mused on the connection between Jews and comedy:

I think all people who are victims of prejudice, downtrodden people, have two things to do: They can moan or they can make fun, they can lift their spirits by finding the humor in the horror, and the Jews have been able to do it since Moses’ time. Some of the greatest comedians of all time were black: Burt Williams—he was a Broadway star in the Follies—Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby and, of course, Chris Rock.

On God, he had this to say:

I became an atheist after Hitler came. I said, what is this? If there was a God, would he not be hearing 18 million people, 16 million Jews, or 20 million other people, saying, “Please God, don’t do this, make him stop?” God was so busy doing what? Striping zebras or fixing the long necks of giraffes?

And, happily, his friendship with Mel Brooks endures. They have dinner together every night, where they kvetch about their physical ailments and talk about what’s good on TV (they’re both fans of  Downton Abbey). Says Reiner of Brooks, “I’m so in awe of his brain that I flatter him within an inch of his life. And I mean it. There’s nobody like him.”

Until 120, boys.

 

p.s. Bonus clip! Carl Reiner tells William Shatner about his father’s insane but ingenious do-it-yourself dentistry. Amazing anecdote.

Related: The Last Of The Old Jewish Comedians: An Interview With Drew Friedman
Watch the New Mel Brooks Documentary Online