Family, friends gather for tribute of comedy titan in one-night-only event

Rob Reiner said that probably the most important thing about his late father, Carl Reiner, is that he was double-jointed.

When he was a boy, teachers at school would steward Carl around to other classrooms, where he would display his talent. He would put one foot behind his head and hop around on the other.

“That was the first show that he put on,” Rob said. 

The story of that talent illustrates the roots of Carl’s lifelong love affair with show business. 

In partnership with the National Comedy Center, Chautauqua Institution will be honoring Carl’s indelible impact on the world of comedy with a one-night-only event. The 11-time Emmy winner, recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, and Television Hall of Fame inductee will be celebrated at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, July 27, in the Amphitheater.

The program, titled “Carl Reiner at 100 — Celebrating a Comedy Legacy,” will feature Rob and his siblings Annie and Lucas telling stories about their father, as well as video tributes from the likes of Mel Brooks, Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin. 

These folks, comedy greats in their own right, enjoyed long and fruitful partnerships with Carl during his lifetime. 

“The caliber of guests participating either live or via video is a testament to the greatness of Carl Reiner’s excellence in comedy and the breadth of his body of work,” said Laura Savia, vice president of visual and performing arts.

Carl, who passed away in June 2020, would have turned 100 years old this year. Savia said that given the timing of Carl’s death in the height of pandemic lockdowns, there has not yet been an opportunity to stage a live tribute to Carl’s career and life.

“Carl Reiner is one of the titans of the last century in the world of comedy,” Savia said. “The National Comedy Center has a relationship with his family and is curating an exhibition dedicated to Reiner’s legacy. They approached us about creating a live event to honor and celebrate his unparalleled contribution to the American field of comedy.”

The National Comedy Center has been compiling archives that provide rich documentation of Carl’s seven-decade career as a revered writer, director, producer and performer. Carl is perhaps best known as the creator, producer and writer of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” one of the cultural and comedic touchstones of the second half of the 20th century.

Rob Reiner, a prolific director who has helmed classic films from  “When Harry Met Sally…” to “A Few Good Men,” has felt his father’s influence throughout his career.

“Most children will look up to their parents as guiding lights, but I can say that my dad, as long as I can ever remember, has always been in my head and guiding me in virtually everything I’ve done in my career,” Rob said. “And even now, two years later, after he’s gone, I still think about what he would do. It informs my decisions to this day, so he still lives with me.”

When Rob had summers off as a teenager, he would spend all day on the set of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” watching his father, his role model, at work. He would observe the way Carl handled every facet of the television-making process, including script rewrites and working with actors.

“To me, that was like going to show business college,” Rob said. “I learned so much from that. Just the way he conducted his career, not just the work he did, but how he handled his notoriety, his fame, and he did it with such grace, and with such down-to-earthness. That, to me, was the greatest advice I could have gotten — to see how he lived his life.”

Rob’s best subjects in school were science and math; he didn’t necessarily plan to go into show business. 

“But you’re around the funniest people in the world, and you want to be part of that,” Rob said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I just knew I wanted to be like him.”

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The author Ellen E. Mintzer

Ellen E. Mintzer is the theater beat reporter for The Chautauquan Daily this summer. She recently earned her Master of Arts in arts journalism and communications from Syracuse University. As a freelance arts and culture journalist, she’s written reviews and features about theater, opera, dance, film and more. Ellen loves weird niche comedy, psychological horror and provocative contemporary theater. (A Strange Loop is the best work of art she saw this year.) She is absolutely thrilled to be spending her summer in Chautauqua and covering its theatrical offerings and beyond.