He tweets. He Tivos. He's excited about the video components included with the eBook version of his new, self-published memoir, I Remember Me. Carl Reiner may be 90, but the comedy veteran who lent his writing, acting and directing talent to seminal titles including Your Show of Shows, The Steve Allen Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Jerk and the Ocean's Eleven trilogy (not to mention fathering actor-director Rob Reiner), remains on the lookout for new projects to both create and appreciate every day.
How are you feeling now that I Remember Me has made it to completion?
I'm very happy to have it out, because I've gotten a little feedback from people who have read it, and they had a good time with it. And my whole thrust in life is to entertain, and I think this book might do that to certain people.
It's really filling in from my very first memories of anything, when I was very young. I'd walk around the block every day on my daily walk and something would pop into my head. I'd say, “Ooh, that's something I forgot about but I oughta write about.” As a matter of fact, when I was ready to send it out, the last day, somebody sent me a photo of something I never remembered there being a photo of. There was Henry Fonda, myself, Barbara Rush, Eddie Fisher, Tippi Hedren, Joan Staley and President Truman. And it was a story I had forgotten about. And so I quickly said, “Hold on; I'll send ya the book a day later,” and I doctored it up and flipped it in where it belonged.
I have stories about every major icon and presidents; I've met an awful lot of presidents — actually I emceed Eisenhower's birthday ball, his 75th birthday ball — so I have a lot of pictures with the presidents. Anyway, I'm thumbing through the book; I'm looking at a picture of Jerry Lewis, George Burns, Jack Benny, Albert Brooks, Jackie Cooper, Hedy Lamarr, right down to Dinah Shore, Sidney Bechet, Judy Garland…
Do you attribute forgetting moments to just a wealth of information? It's hard to know what will bubble up at the surface at any moment?
I've lived a long time, and the only thing that works well is my head. I'm gonna be 91 in about a month, but I just took a major flop in my hall yesterday. I just happened to turn around the wrong way and twist something, and I didn't hurt anything, but I went flying through the air, and I said, “Oh, well this is it!” I have everything working well from my neck up, but the rest of me goes slow.
The funny thing is after I got this book out, I said, “What do I do now?” I woke up every morning with the urge to go to my computer and work, and so I started another book, and it's one that I can't wait to get up to. It's a really crazy one.
Nonfiction or fiction?
This is fiction, but I don't want to tell about it, because it's so original and so crazy that when I finally announce it people will say, “That's nuts!” It really is. I'm two-thirds through it.
Does the writing process get easier or more difficult as you go along?
It's funny, people will throw things at you if you say it's a pleasure. People like to know that you suffered when you write. No, I enjoy writing very much. As a matter of fact, [I Remember Me] flew out of me.
It's a beautiful, hardcover book with a beautiful picture; they're also doing an eBook that will be used on computers, and it's got everything in there, including my singing, dancing, pictures of the kids playing Little League baseball, my wife singing. Luckily I was somebody who took an awful lot of movie photos of my children as they were growing up, you know, with the wind-up 8-mm camera, so they have a lot of stuff of my early days, all our pets, our dogs. It's an eye-opener. So the combination of the book, which is a good-looking book they've put together, and the iPad, it's exciting.
Do you find different parts of your comedic brain to be at work for acting versus directing versus writing versus family life?
I don't compartmentalize my life. I decided recently that I do all these things — I'm hyphenated: I'm a director, writer, producer, you know, talk-show host — but what I really am is a master Master of Ceremonies. I emceed a lot of big events in my time, all those guild shows: the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild, and Producers Guild shows, and I'm able to think on my feet. I never prepare. But the biggest kick I get is to say, “Look at this guy! Watch him work!” to people and they laugh. I feel that's what my job in life is, to point to things that are entertaining.
You're a talent scout?
I'm a talent scout!
Up next: How many Emmys does he have, really?
Having been awarded nine Emmys, a Grammy and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor…
By the way, they keep saying nine. I got 12 Emmys. You can correct that for all time.
Thank you for letting me know. How important do you feel such recognition is?
The thing I'm most proud of is the last thing I do. If it works, I'm happy. Things you've done in the past are gone. And it's wonderful that people remember them fondly. The biggest kick I get, believe it or not, is in the last 10, 15, 20 years, young men will come up to me and say, “I'm a writer because of The Dick Van Dyke Show.” These are kids who watched The Dick Van Dyke Show at 12, 13 years old, and they were funny little kids. They weren't going to be comedians, but they knew they were funny, and they learned…they said they thought the comedians made it up; they didn't know there were writers working and making the comedians laugh. So that was one of the thrills of life, hearing that from so many people. It was an inadvertent thing. I wasn't trying to do that, but it happened.
How has popular-comedy programming changed since Your Shows of Shows, The Steve Allen Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show?
Programming has changed an awful lot. The network shows now…when we were doing The Dick Van Dyke Show and the Show of Shows, it was like a minute and a half every half-hour for commercial. And today you can't get a situation comedy with more than 20 minutes, some of them down to less than that. They don't even do long commercials; they do 20-second soundbites about erectile dysfunction and Cheez Whiz.
But there are quite a few that I enjoy. Anything that Tina Fey does; I love her show. Today I just TiVoed something called Legit. I just read a review of it and it sounds like a good one.
Right, Jim Jeffries on FX, home of Louis CK.
I always watch Jon Stewart and Colbert; they tickle me. New Girl is funny. I love Zooey Deschanel. She's the most charming thing around. There's a lot of shows that have real laugh quotients. I'm trying to think of the names. Isn't that awful? That's one of the problems; you get older, you forget titles.
In recent years you've appeared on House, Two and Half Men, Hot in Cleveland, and even Parks and Rec.
Yeah, I did a couple of those. That was fun. I think my days as an actor are slowly coming to an end. I don't want to go out of the house. It's too far away. I'm going to be 91 in March, and I prefer to do things easy, not have to go to work.
I've heard that Mel Brooks comes to your house every day at 8. Is that true?
Yeah, that's true. He comes every night and we watch television, we eat some dinner, we talk about things. He nods off every once in a while.
Do you remain in close contact with Steve Martin?
Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, one of the happiest moments I've had in the last few years is going to his house about a week or two ago and holding his first baby. He just had a baby! I was supposed to keep it a secret; I knew she was pregnant, but now that it's born… It's his first baby and he's a doting father. I was able to hold that little baby and sing to it the songs I sang to Robbie when he was born, and I got such a charge out of it.
Steve and I are very close. He says the nicest thing about me, and I have only the nicest things to say about him. By the way, he is maybe the most elegant writer I know. He really knows how to put words together. His autobiography, Born Standing Up, is one of the best ever written. It brought a tear to my eye. Many tears to my eye.
And are there are any particular moments that stand out from filming Ocean's Eleven, Twelve and Thirteen?
That was like the fun part of my life! Because no responsibilities, and just saying a few lines, and I hadn't acted in a while when they asked me to do Ocean's Eleven. And those guys! They are not only good actors and handsome men, but their souls are even better than their handsomeness. I mean, they all do wonderful things for the world, from George Clooney going into Darfur and Somalia, Brad Pitt in Louisiana and Cheadle in Rwanda. I mean, these are an extraordinary bunch of guys. They really are. And I appreciate them as people. They're all great and handsome actors, no question about that, but their souls are really better than their faces.
Do you listen to any podcasts?
No, but I do a lot of tweets. Somebody told me about tweets and I made up a couple, and it seems that I have a lot of followers now, so I have to keep doing more, you know. I always have to keep doing more.