'Now This is Funny': My Recent Afternoon at Carl Reiner's House

When The Hollywood Reporter's senior film editor Rebecca Keegan was invited to watch 'The Jerk' with its legendary director, she learned that his reputation for self-effacing generosity was no joke.

7/1/2020 6:28:00 AM

When The Hollywood Reporter's senior film editor Rebecca Keegan was invited to watch 'The Jerk' with its legendary director Carl Reiner, she learned that his reputation for self-effacing generosity was no joke

When The Hollywood Reporter's senior film editor Rebecca Keegan was invited to watch 'The Jerk' with its legendary director, she learned that his reputation for self-effacing generosity was no joke.

One afternoon last November, I found myself sitting in an armchair in Reiner’s den for a conversation about his 1979 filmThe Jerk. I had assumed I’d have about 20 minutes with the comedy legend, who was by then 97 and hard of hearing, and I was grateful to get it. But instead, when Reiner arrived and settled into his recliner beside me, he decided we would watch the movie together in its entirety with the sound off. I resolved to keep my mouth shut and my recorder running as the man who had essentially invented TV comedy gave me a personal director’s DVD commentary.

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We were in the unpretentious Beverly Hills home Reiner has lived in for some 60 years, in a room with gently worn furniture, family photos and paintings by his late wife of 55 years, Estelle. Beside us were the TV trays Reiner and his friend Mel Brooks would be using later that day, when they convened for their nightly ritual of dinner together while watching Jeopardy and old movies.

There’s a generosity that characterized Reiner’s work — often the straight man, he enabled the other guy to get the biggest laugh through his deadpan composure. Reiner brought that same spirit of unselfishness and warmth to our afternoon together.Over the next two hours, he covered topics from the upcoming election ("Biden's a good man... He's still young enough to be president") to Estelle ("a criminally good jazz singer"), who is perhaps best known for delivering the line "I’ll have what she’s having" in their son Rob’s movie,

When Harry Met Sally. Steve Martin had once told Reiner he learned how to be a husband from listening to how Reiner talked to Estelle. "He said, ‘You set a template for me,’" Reiner recalled.There was some brief technological frustration over the DVD player, resolved by two women, Judy and Paula, who worked for and around Reiner with balletic grace. "He's pushing buttons," one said, eyeing the comic’s hand on the remote.

As scenes fromThe Jerkunspooled in front of us, and Reiner sucked on Wintergreen Lifesavers, he dropped fun asides, like that Steve Martin had broken the original ukulele that he was to have used to sing the ballad "Tonight You Belong to Me" with Bernadette Peters. Since they were shooting in Malibu at about 4 a.m., Reiner dispatched someone from the crew to retrieve Estelle’s ukulele, which Reiner still keeps upstairs. He reminisced about the dog in the movie — named Shithead — who "really took direction well," and described how he and Martin commuted to set together most mornings, riffing on the script Martin had written with Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias.

Some directors will remember their box office grosses before they remember the names of their children. With Reiner, the business of show business seemed mostly beside the point, the real point being to get a decent laugh. "What’d it make?” he asked me, in response to a question of mine about studio interference. "More than $100 million," I said, "Off a production budget of $4 million." "That’s pretty good," he said. "Oh! Here, now this is funny. Pizza in a cup!"

At one point I steered Reiner toward the question of race in the film, which is based upon the premise that Martin believes he was born a "poor black child." Asked if white and black audiences responded to the movie differently, Reiner said, "It got a terrific response from everybody."

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Reiner appears briefly inThe Jerkas a cross-eyed judge, a victim of Martin’s character’s idiotic invention, the Opti-Grab, a handle to remove your eyeglasses. I asked why he had taken that thankless role, of all the parts in the movie. "Because we couldn’t find people who crossed their eyes good," Reiner said. "I taught Anne Bancroft to cross her eyes. I can teach you to cross your eyes. Put your finger to your nose and look at your finger."

The Jerkis a taut 95 minutes — much shorter than most modern comedies. "You don’t want any hanging threads,” Reiner said. Read more: Hollywood Reporter »

I LOVE “The Jerk” 🥰

Remembering Carl ReinerRemembering Carl Reiner -- R.I.P. Hmm. No word from robreiner about this. RIP Limon Zerga 😉😔🙏🙏 PamplinFilmCo Hope it’s not to hot down there

Carl Reiner Dead at 98Carl Reiner is dead at 98. One of the absolute best. RIP Oh no 💔 sending my deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones And this matters why. Ih because he had money. Lol

Carl Reiner | 1922 – 2020Carl Reiner: Photos of the late comedy legend R.I.P Mr. Reiner was an iconic entity for decades in our culture. I'm fortunate to have been able to contribute to one of his recent books. He fought to the end against trumpism. The least we can do in his honor him with our votes. We owe him. Peace to his entire family. What a legend.

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Remembering Carl Reiner: Rob Reiner, Bette Midler, Alan Alda salute a 'comedy genius''As I write this my heart is hurting,' tweeted Rob Reiner, confirming the death of his father, Carl Reiner. 'He was my guiding light.' If Carl created Meathead robreiner . I could only imagine how big of a pos he was. به اون حرومزاده های مادر کونی بگین از حرم امام رضا دور شن مادرجنده های دروغگو و کثیف...اون مادرجنده ها با دوربین ها و تریبون های کثیف و نجسشون و مجریان حروم لقمه صدا و سیمای میلیشون...گم شن از حرم اقا امام رضا

Carl Reiner Remembered: “He Was My Guiding Light” Says Son Rob ReinerHollywood is mourning the loss of comedy legend Carl Reiner, who died Monday night of natural causes at his Beverly Hills home at the age of 98. His son, Rob Reiner, wrote on Twitter, “Last n… God bless Him .