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Comedy writer-actor Carl Reiner's life of laughter

EntertainmentTelevisionMoviesSid CaesarMel BrooksThe Dick Van Dyke Show (tv program)Ralph Edwards

Carl Reiner wakes up each morning with the same thought — it's time to start writing.

It's still the top priority for the Emmy Award-winning funny man who created the landmark CBS sitcom "The Dick Van Dyke Show," wrote and directed such comedy film favorites as 1970's "Where's Poppa?," 1977's "Oh , God!" and 1979's "The Jerk" and who, along with his lifetime friend Mel Brooks, performed the "2000 Year Old Man" routines.

"I get to my computer and I either play solitaire or do some tweets," said Reiner (who, for the record, has more than 62,000 Twitter followers). Then after his fun and games are over, Reiner begins to really write.

Two years ago, he published a memoir, "I Remember Me," and he just finished another autobiographical book, "I Just Remembered!," which Reiner believes "is even better. I remembered all the things I didn't put in the other book!"

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Reiner described himself as an "actor without a portfolio" when he did the influential 1950-54 NBC comedy variety series "Your Show of Shows" — he was a regular with Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca and Howard Morris. Among the show's writers were such comic figures as Brooks, Mel Tolkin, Larry Gelbart and Neil Simon.

He was eventually allowed admittance to the hallowed writers' room.

"At the very beginning of the show for the first couple of weeks I had to sit in the hall while the writers wrote," said the 92-year-old Reiner, who despite being under the weather is warm and witty during a recent phone conversation from his home in Beverly Hills.

Then Reiner pitched an idea of spoofing foreign films. The writers not only embraced the idea, they invited Reiner to join the writers room. He didn't hold back. "If I had an idea I would say it," he noted.

He had more than a say in "The Dick Van Dyke Show," which starred Van Dyke as TV variety writer Rob Petrie and Mary Tyler Moore as his capri-clad wife, Laura. Reiner created, produced and wrote numerous episodes of the comedy, based on his life.

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Reiner recalled talking to himself while driving on the FDR Drive one day in New York. "I said, 'You live in New Rochelle, you have a wife and two kids and you go to work in New York. At the office you talk about what happened at home and when you get home you talk about what happened in the office.' I said, 'That's it. I'm going to write what I knew about — the home life of a writer who works in variety.'"

"The Dick Van Dyke Show" is widely considered one of the greatest sitcoms in TV history. On Tuesday, Image Entertainment is bringing out a two-disc DVD featuring 20 episodes that shine the spotlight on Moore. Among the episode are "My Blonde-Hair Brunette," in which Laura goes blond with disastrous results, and "Coast to Coast Big Mouth," which finds Laura announcing on live TV that pompous star Alan Brady (Reiner) wears a toupee.

Though Reiner is in good humor during the conversation, he's reeling from the loss of Caesar, who died last month at age 91. He, Brooks and others are working on a memorial "to give him his just due because without Sid there would not be the kind of comedy that exists today," Reiner said.

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(The American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre is presenting an homage Sunday night to Caesar with a screening of the 1963 comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.")

"He brought the sketch comedy to a level that never existed before," Reiner said. "He was a comedian's comedian.  You have heard that many times about many actors, but as far as sketches are concerned, nobody could ever do a sketch like he could. He had a face that was rubber."

One of the funniest sketches from "Your Show of Your Shows" with Reiner and Caesar was "This Is Your Story," a spoof of the popular radio and TV series "This Is Your Life." In that series, host Ralph Edwards would surprise an audience member with friends and family from their past. Usually tears of joy ensued.

But in the skit, Caesar is a reluctant participant and tries to run when Reiner in the Edwards role approaches him in the audience. Wrestled to the stage by four ushers, various relatives and people from his life excitedly greet him on stage.

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"It is one of the funniest sketches ever written," said Reiner, who once learned that "Monty Python's" John Cleese thought it was so funny that he was afraid he would damage himself laughing.

And Reiner had somewhat the same reaction in 1973 when "Ten From Your Show of Shows," a compilation film of classic sketches, was released theatrically.  He had never seen a clip of the sketch after it aired "because we had so much work to do."

While watching the film in a darkened theater, he heard a woman "screaming with laughter" during the "This Is Your Life" segment.

But it wasn't a woman.

"I said that woman is me!  I didn't recognize the laughter coming out of me. To this day, I dare anyone not to laugh. It was Sid being so brilliant."

susan.king@latimes.com

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EntertainmentTelevisionMoviesSid CaesarMel BrooksThe Dick Van Dyke Show (tv program)Ralph Edwards
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