Comedy Center Executive Director Speaks In Remembrance Of Carl Reiner, Creator Of ‘Dick Van Dyke Show,’ And Comedy Center Advisory Board Member
Journey Gunderson needed just one word to sum up her friend Carl Reiner.
“He was passionate in every conversation about the importance of an institution that would preserve the stories of comedy and recognize how badly our society needs it,” Gunderson, the executive director of the National Comedy Center said. “In every conversation and touch with him, he was very passionate about that.”
Reiner, the versatile writer, actor and director who broke through as a “second banana” to Sid Caesar and rose to comedy’s front ranks as creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and straight man to Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man,” died Monday night at the age of 98.
In his later life, he became a ceaseless advocate for the preservation of comedy’s history which made him the perfect partner to the National Comedy Center as a member of its advisory board. Gunderson, who had worked closely with him in that role, said she found out about Reiner’s death early Tuesday morning.
“Of course, we were deeply saddened by his passing because we considered him a friend and active advisory board member,” Gunderson told The Post-Journal when reached Tuesday afternoon. “He has been a very vocal advocate of the National Comedy Center and also a donor to the cause. He will be sorely missed both from the perspective of being an advisory board member to the Comedy Center and from the perspective of culture and the comedy world at large.”
The center and Reiner became connected in 2016 during the early stages of the former’s development.
“My first conversation with Carl was in 2016 while we were still designing and building the Comedy Center at which point just based on all that we shared with him about the vision and the importance of and the intention of building this cultural institution on a national level that we felt was so important,” she said. “He jumped on board and became an active member of our advisory board member ever since.”
Gunderson noted that Reiner’s association with the center was energized by the immense respect he had for Jamestown native Lucille Ball.
“He also brought up Lucille Ball in each conversation,” she said.
“He had such respect and reverence for her as a fellow comedy creator.”
Among the highlights of his involvement included a March 20, 2019 donation–on his 97th birthday–of his personal collection of scripts from his days as creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
“I am grateful that we partnered with Carl on digitizing (the scripts), not just because of the significance of that show to comedy, but Carl himself said it was the thing he was easily the proudest of in his entire comedy career,” she said.
The show was, in essence, autobiographical with main character, Rob Petrie, portrayed by Van Dyke, serving as the head writer for the fictional “Alan Brady Show,” and based on Reiner’s time working with Caeser on “Your Show of Shows.” Reiner made several appearances portraying the fictional Alan Brady.
Reiner had joined the classic comedy revue “Your Show of Shows” in 1950 after performing in Broadway plays. It was there that Reiner and Brooks started improvising skits which became the basis for “The 2000 Year Old Man.”
After the pair performed the routine at a party, Reiner said late comedian Steve Allen insisted they turn their banter into a record. The album, “2000 Years with Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks,” appeared in 1960 and was the start of a million-selling franchise. The duo won a Grammy in 1998 for their “The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000” and Reiner won multiple Emmys for his television work. In 2000, he received the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for Humor.
“He influenced generations of comedic talent and defined the art of comedy in America,” Gunderson added, noting that his endorsement of the National Comedy Center helped bring its mission to fruition.
“When one thinks of the most important influencers on the art form in the last seven decades, Carl Reiner tops that list,” she said. “His legacy in comedy is unmatched.”
Fortunately, the story of that legacy will continue to live in Jamestown.
“His work and his legacy will be honored, celebrated and preserved for generations to come within our cultural institution.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.