"Carl Reiner invented TV comedy," says James Poniewozik. "I’m overstating things, sure: Reiner, who died Monday at age 98, was one of a group of pioneers who defined the medium in its early years. (Several of them, including Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks, did some of their best work with him.) I’m also understating things: Reiner’s legacy extended to comedy albums and film — he was even a lively presence on Twitter until his last hours on Earth. But Reiner’s acting and writing in television’s early days (Caesar’s Hour, Your Show of Shows) helped define what TV would become. It would be playful, experimental, fast-paced. It would be mouthy and expressive, a medium that blew your lapels back. It would also be self-referential. TV was an eyeball that loved to look at itself. It was a cultural force that was changing us a lot in a little time, reconfiguring home life and routines, rewiring our metabolism and creating an entire industry dedicated to making that little box talk from morning to night. TV brought us the world, and that world was increasingly made by TV. And Reiner’s landmark creation, The Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran for five seasons starting in 1961, was the first great TV sitcom about TV. It wasn’t only that — it was also a sophisticated suburban married-life comedy powered by the how-were-we-ever-so-lucky pairing of Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. But the workplace half of this hybrid, about Rob Petrie’s experiences in the pressure-cooker writers’ room of the fictional Alan Brady Show, set the template for behind-the-cameras comedies including 30 Rock and Moore’s own self-titled show in the 1970s."
Carl Reiner packed a lot of brilliance into 98 years -- he would've killed on TikTok: "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," says Daniel Fienberg. He adds: "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....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 was ahead of the curve in knowing when to end a TV show: "The Dick Van Dyke Show was cosmopolitan in a way no one had thought of television comedy before, even though it had plenty of room for slapstick (Rob usually tripped over the ottoman in the iconic opening-credits sequence) and other elements of vaudeville," says Alan Sepinwall. "It was also a huge hit, one that set trends (Laura’s capri pants went from scandal to sensation in a hurry) and even merited frequent comparisons between its stars and John and Jackie Kennedy. The show could have gone on forever, but Reiner had produced more than 150 episodes across five seasons, Van Dyke and Moore both wanted to explore other options, and, as Reiner put it in an interview with the TV Academy, 'We all wanted to go out winners. We were offered a lot of money to stay on for another year, but we knew that if we did another year, it’d be slogging.' As a result, Reiner was way ahead of the curve on the idea of ending a great show on his own terms, and of making an intentional series finale. (In the extremely meta 'The Last Chapter,' Rob decides to make a TV show inspired by his work and home lives.)"
Reiner didn't mind being the "second banana," especially since "the first banana is the greatest banana in the bunch": "On screen, Reiner was most notably a straight man, a supporting player, a maker of cameo appearances, a presence felt, noted, appreciated, but never overbearing," says Robert Lloyd. "For much of his career he was an invisible presence, behind a typewriter or camera, and he brought a similarly light hand to the movies he directed — Where’s Poppa?, Oh God! and four Steve Martin films, including The Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, which he co-wrote, among them — highlighting the performers and the material without calling attention to the presentation. His own indispensable craft was never the main point."
Reiner was an enthusiast, the straight man, the anti-Larry David: "In eight decades as a performer, he almost always seemed to be an enthusiast, a playful maker of comedy rather than a sad clown or misanthropic one. (He was, as a public figure, the anti–Larry David.)," says Christopher Bonanos. "His timing was as good as absolutely anyone’s — watch any interview with him; the man could tell a story as well as anyone — and he was generous with it, because as often as not, he played the straight man, setting up other performers to run free. And when he did step into the comic’s role, he killed. Being a great straight man is an underrated skill, because it’s easy to mistake it for merely facilitating some other genius’s jokes. But it requires at least as much dexterity, because you have to (to appropriate the old Wayne Gretzky line) see where the puck is going and skate there, setting up your partner’s lines while also thinking ahead to your next one."
Reiner never stopped coming up with a good line on Twitter, even in his final weeks of life -- whether funny or melancholy or trenchant: "It does seem odd here, to dwell for a moment on what he was up to in his final days, rather than recite the legendary scope of his career, from Your Show of Shows to his 2,000 Year Old Man routine with (Mel) Brooks, to the toupee jokes on The Dick Van Dyke Show and all the acting, producing, directing, writing and comedy appearances that came for decades on end. The stamina can be startling," says Hank Stuever. "The stamina is the story, along with the laughter. What a gift to laugh as much as he did, and make everyone else laugh too. For the last decade or more, we’ve regarded Reiner and his old friends — these people who directly helped television become its classic best — with a combination of adoration and the awareness that they won’t always be with us. If one of their names starts trending online, for any reason, we all take sharp breath."
Michael Schur remembers writing a 2012 Parks and Recreation episode for Carl Reiner: "Carl saying 'yes' made us feel like we'd been knighted or something — like the emperor of comedy had decreed us worthy of his attention," Schur writes. "I’m not sure if he understood that power he had — though we told him, certainly, when he showed up on the set. We bowed and scraped and genuflected, and in my memory he was lovely and self-effacing and thought we were being a bit silly. But we didn’t care. Adam Scott brought in a movie poster of The Jerk for him to sign. I asked him to tell me stories about The Dick Van Dyke Show, which when I was a kid taught me both what a writers room was and how to make one funny. It also introduced me to Mary Tyler Moore, a crush I never really got over. He told me she was one of the most talented people he’d ever known — I privately noted that he didn’t say 'women,' but “people' — and told me I’d chosen wisely."
Jerry Seinfeld says "We lost an angel today": "His comedy energy was one of pure joyfulness. It’s an unusual quality in our world and I have always tried to emulate him that way," Seinfeld wrote on Instagram, adding: "When I helped present him with the Mark Twain Prize I said, 'Mark Twain was pretty funny but I think he’d be more excited to receive 'The Carl Reiner Prize’."