After receiving a heart-warming thanks from the director of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival Hillary Helstein, Carl Reiner shouted his response with classic comic timing from his seat in the Saban Theatre Thursday night. Befitting the actor’s legendary status as a stand-up comic as well as acclaimed writer, actor, and director, Reiner didn’t miss a beat when a fortuitous moment of quiet allowed him to respond to the career commendation, and then proceeded to replace silence with stories and laughter during his lengthy Q&A, which featured many more A’s than Q’s.
The Opening Night Gala of the 9th Annual LAJFF featured plenty of stars, memories, and two very special tributes to the late Sid Caesar and Marvin Paige. Paige, a casting director, was given a special video presentation of some of the films he worked on, including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” while Caesar was honored with a screening of “Ten From Your Show of Shows,” a rare documentary from 1973 featuring 10 sketches from the 1950s TV series starring Caesar, Reiner, and Imogene Coca.
Held at the newly named Steve Tisch Cinema Center in the classic Saban Theatre, which originally opened for the premiere of Charlie Chapin’s “City Lights,” the stars turned out in droves to pay tribute to the three men of the hour, Caesar, Paige, and Reiner. “Carl was in my home every Saturday night for a couple years,” said Jon Voight, a regular supporter of the LAJFF. “It’s so extraordinary to be able to be with him again. He’s a brilliant director, and he’s still as good as ever.”
“I have great memories of that,” Doris Roberts said of her time spent on the road with Sid Caesar. “We did ‘Last of the Red Hot Lovers’ across the country, on the east coast and into Ohio. We had a great time. I’d have to sit up and talk to him, and he’d tell me war stories, which I wasn’t wild about, but he was great. He was an original. No one was like him.”
Phil Rosenthal, best known for creating “Everybody Loves Raymond,” was on hand to moderate the Q&A with Reiner. “I was about 16 years old when this very movie that we’re going to see tonight, one of my parents’ friends took me to see this,” Rosenthal said. “He said, ‘Why don’t you see something really funny?’ And he took me to this, and I literally fell off my chair laughing. I don’t think I ever laughed that hard at anything. I thought, ‘This is humor to aspire to.'”
Below are highlights from the event:
The “single funniest sketch ever done.” almost killed John Cleese.
The last sketch to air in the documentary was a bit based on an old show where a random regular Joe in a live audience would be “randomly” selected and reintroduced to lost friends and family members. In the sketch, Reiner played the host to an extremely reluctant participant given extra life by Sid Caesar. He resisted being brought on stage so much, the first three or four minutes of the sketch was Caesar trying to escape by running through the audience. When he finally arrived on stage and met his family, he was so overjoyed, Reiner’s host character — and the actual Reiner — couldn’t control him.
“We never saw these,” Reiner said. “We never saw ourselves. Some of the sketches were fair, some were okay. The last one: I remember this and I remember seeing it, I heard a woman’s voice screaming with laughter, the highest-pitched laughter, cackling! And I realized that woman was me. That is the single funniest sketch ever done. John Cleese had never seen it, and someone sent it over to the Monty Pythons to look at it. He said he had to get off his chair, lay on the floor, and not look at the screen because he was afraid he was going to die.”
Reiner went on to explain the sketch was only supposed to be five or six minutes, but the ad-libbing done by Caesar pushed it long. “It ran over because Sid committed to the fact that everybody loved each other so much. None of that was rehearsed. I didn’t know I could pick up Howie [Morris, who played Caesar’s long lost uncle] like a loaf of bread. That was all because Sid decided to go with the thought of screen love. When I went out to get him in the audience […] he decided not to come on stage. That was all ad-libbed. We got him to the stage, and we thought we had him there, and he went back down into the audience.”
“There’d be no ‘Saturday Night Live’ without [‘Your Show of Shows’].”
When asked whether or not “Your Show of Shows” would still work the way it did in the ’50s on modern television, Rosenthal said, “It does. You know what it’s called?” “Saturday Night Live,” I replied. “That’s it,” Rosenthal said. “There’d be no ‘Saturday Night Live’ without it. It was ‘Saturday Night Live.’ It was on every Saturday night, and I believe, I think they did 36 episodes a season. Hour-and-a-half, live, every week. Imagine that. I don’t even think ‘Saturday Night Live’ does 22.”
Why Sid Caesar Was a ‘True Comic Genius.”
“He was a true comic genius,” Reiner said when remembering his friend who passed away this past February. “That word is thrown around. I want to give you examples of what I’m talking about. Sid Caesar invented the sketch comedy, [and he] performed in such a way it was never the same after that. First of all, we all went to some acting schools — Sid never went to any acting schools. He was a saxophonist, but he had sense memory where you pick up something and pantomime it. We wanted to do a funny sketch with it. […] Sid [pretended to] open up a jar of olives, and we said it didn’t work, let’s go on to something else, but his sense memory told him he had an open jar of olives in his hand, so without knowing it, he screwed the lid back on and put it down on the floor. That’s the greatest sense memory I’ve ever seen.”
How Phil Rosenthal Met Carl Reiner:
Rosenthal, who has been friends with Reiner for years, recounted how they first met. “Norman Lear called me the first year [‘Everybody Loves Raymond’] was on the air, and he said, ‘I hear we’re fans of each other.’ And I said, ‘I don’t know if you’re a fan of mine, but I’m a huge fan of yours.’ And he goes, ‘Let’s have lunch.’ I said, ‘Sure,’ and he goes, ‘You mind if my friend comes along? He likes you, too.’ And I got to lunch, and Carl was there, too. I dropped dead. It was unbelievable. Those were two of my favorite people on Earth, and we’ve been friends ever since. That was 1996.”
How Carl Reiner Influenced “Everybody Loves Raymond:”
“The entire way we thought to do stories on ‘Raymond’ was taken from the way Carl did stories on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’ and it’s simply this: he said to his writers every week, ‘What happened at your house this week?’ And I thought, ‘That’s the best way to get real stories.’ So if you worked for me on ‘Raymond,’ I would tell you to go home, get in a fight with your wife, and tell me about it.”
The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival is underway from now until May 8th. Visit the official website for screening and ticket information.