Posted On 01 Jul 2020
Carl Reiner, the American comedy master who died Monday at 98, was one of the most staggeringly versatile personalities in show business. In a rich career that spanned the Eisenhower era to the age of Twitter, Reiner rose from variety show “second banana” to Hollywood giant, earning laurels as a stand-up comic, actor, director, screenwriter, author and producer.
Here’s a look — in chronological order — at some of Reiner’s most essential cultural contributions, and where you can watch them.
“Your Show of Shows” (1950-1954)
The legendary comics Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca starred in this 90-minute variety showcase, an ancestor to edgier series such as “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and “Saturday Night Live.” But it was also a launching pad for Reiner, one of the featured performers and writers, alongside lifelong friend Mel Brooks and playwright Neil Simon. (The backstage antics on “Your Show of Shows” inspired the film “My Favorite Year,” produced by Brooks, and the play “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” written by Simon.)
Where to watch: YouTube has select clips and Amazon sells episode compilations on DVD.
“2000 Year Old Man”
Reiner and Brooks became one of the leading comedic duos of the 20th century with this mostly improvised routine immortalized on five record albums. The premise was simple — Brooks played the titular character, a kvetchy fellow who has seen it all (“I have over 1,500 children and not one of them ever comes to visit!”); Reiner played an expertly deadpan interviewer — but the schtick was endless. The last album, “The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000” (1997), won a Grammy.
Where to watch (and listen): YouTube has clips of Reiner and Brooks performing the act on television, as well as a half-hour animated television special released in 1975. Amazon sells the classic albums on CD.
“The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-1966)
Reiner created and co-wrote this Emmy-winning, era-defining sitcom that followed the life and times of TV comedy scribe Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) and his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), with Reiner making occasional on-screen appearances as Alan Brady, the vain and impetuous star of Rob’s fictional show. (Reiner returned to the character on a 1995 episode of “Mad About You,” a guest appearance that earned him an Emmy Award.)
Where to watch: Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, plus DVD and Blu-ray editions for sale on Amazon.
“Oh, God!” (1977)
Reiner made his directorial debut with “Enter Laughing” (1967), an adaptation of his own novel and stage play. But he achieved greater commercial and critical attention for his fourth outing as a director. “Oh, God!” stars country crooner John Denver as a supermarket employee who is selected by God (George Burns, a comedy legend in his own right) to spread the gospel in our modern, media-saturated world. In the year of “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters,” Reiner’s gentle satire was a sleeper hit.
Where to watch: It’s available for rent via iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and a few other video-on-demand services.
“The Jerk” (1979)
The button-pushing humor in this Reiner-directed film — a 95-minute romp about the misadventures of the white adopted son of Black sharecroppers — is no doubt problematic by today’s standards. But the movie, a surprise box-office success that catapulted Steve Martin to Hollywood stardom, has nonetheless found new audiences over the last four decades. Reiner and Martin teamed up on three other movies: “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” “The Man with Two Brains” and the cult favorite “All of Me.”
Where to watch: Starz; also available for rent via iTunes, Google Play and a few other video-on-demand platforms. (“The Jerk” was distributed by Universal Pictures, a unit of NBC News’ parent company, NBCUniversal.)
“Ocean’s” film series (2001-2007)
If you’re of a certain age, Reiner may be most familiar as the cranky but sharp-tongued con artist Saul Bloom in Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” and its two follow-ups. George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon took center stage as the series progressed, but Reiner remained a memorable, soulful presence as an aging crook trying to keep up with his younger compatriots. The first and third installments give Reiner a chance to show off his wry comic chops and fondness for accents.
Where to watch: All three movies are available for rent on the usual VOD platforms, but they’re also on basic cable virtually every day.