Critic's Appreciation: From TV to Film to Twitter, Carl Reiner Was a Master

Carl Reiner_Photofest -4- H 2020
Warner Bros./Photofest

Carl Reiner would have killed on TikTok.

Carl Reiner would have done all of the best Quibis.

Carl Reiner would have put everybody on Parler to shame.

The legendary — sometimes hyperbole is actually insufficient — comic mind passed away on Monday at the age of 98, and I pity every new medium and social platform to come for giving people a place to be funny, but never getting to showcase the varied talents of Carl Reiner.

It's not something that many people can repeat, but I'm sure we can all emulate what feel like the basic lessons of Carl Reiner's life: Do what you love, do it well, do it for as long as possible, do it in as many different ways as possible so that you're never bored, and do it with as many of your peers as possible so that you're never alone.

See? Easy.

Reiner was a master of the comedy-variety format back when it ruled the airwaves, writing for and appearing on Sid Caesar classics including Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour, where his collaborators included Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Woody Allen and Larry Gelbart, to name just a few.

Reiner was a master of recorded comedy, back when that was a phenomenon. His albums with Brooks, and their on-screen collaborations on The Steve Allen Show and even on-stage, are every bit as funny today as they were 60 years ago. You can check out almost any incarnation of "2000 Year Old Man" and it will crack you up today.

Reiner became a master of the sitcom, creating The Dick Van Dyke Show, a series that — after a slightly bumpy production start — became one of the most influential and career-launching comedies ever produced, letting Reiner cut his teeth as a writer, director and even a supporting actor on one of the most visible platforms imaginable.

Reiner became a masterful film director as well. Between 1979 and 1984, he directed The Jerk, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, The Man With Two Brains and All of Me, about as astonishing a four-film comic streak as any director has ever had. And that's without mentioning other cable TV staples of my childhood like Oh, God! and Summer Rental or the darkly bizarre cult classic Where's Poppa?

That '80s cinematic run showcased his collaboration with Steve Martin, which takes its place alongside partnerships with Caesar and, most of all, Brooks as keys to his longevity.

When Reiner needed to be a straight man, no one was more generous. When you put a scene out there and let him steal it, no one was more precise and stealthy. In writing, acting and directing, his comfort level was equal with zany physical comedy, a sharp one-liner or just a silent and incredulous glance perfectly held. He could crack you up with a voiceover on too many animated shows to count, make you laugh and then tear up in the Ocean's franchise. And he was never smarter, funnier or more perceptive than when he was simply being himself.

Nobody should have been surprised that with all of the other things he excelled at, Reiner was tremendous on Twitter, whether showing love and admiration for Brooks, tearing our current president to shreds or repeatedly celebrating The Net. Yes, Reiner seemed to really, really love that 1995 Sandra Bullock cyber-thriller.

Reiner, constantly being honored by one group or another, was also the most generous of interview subjects. I talked to him in 2016 when he was getting a TCM Classic Film Festival tribute and I asked if he was more critical of his work as a writer, director or actor. He just laughed.

"I didn’t do so many things that I’m not proud of."

I told him that for 94, that was a pretty great perspective.

He replied, "I’ve said a number of times, 'If I go tomorrow, I’ve had nothing but fun in life.'"