Carl Reiner on being a comedian and Mel Brooks’ best friend

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular episodes.

Yesterday, President Obama honored Mel Brooks with the National Medal of Arts.

Tonight, we celebrate one of his comedic cohorts, legendary performer and writer Carl Reiner,” whose new book, “Carl Reiner: Now You’re Ninety-Four,” will be out later this year.

CARL REINER, Actor/Writer: I wanted to be an operatic tenor.

My father had these Red Seal records of Enrico Caruso. I lacked one thing — two things, actually, pitch and timing. Shall I sing it for you?

I don’t know how the voice is today, but we will see. We will find out.

(SINGING)

CARL REINER: Those people who have a sense of humor get through life more comfortably than those who don’t.

My influences in comedy started because my parents loved comedy. My parents always sought out comedies. The Marx Brothers were their favorites and our favorites. Couldn’t wait for a new Marx Brothers movie.

I was a straight actor. I didn’t think I would ever be doing that. My brother saw a thing in the paper that said free acting classes, WPA, 100th and Center Street, New York.

I met Mrs. Whittington, an old English woman, who said: “We’re going to all learn something from Shakespeare. We’re going to do a soliloquy from Shakespeare. We’re going to recite Queen Gertrude’s speech on the death of Ophelia.”

And to this day: “There is a willow grows aslant a brook, that shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream. There with a clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke, when down her weedy trophies and herself fell in the weeping brook, pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death.”

It’s pretty close to that, anyway. Applause, applause.

Max Liebman, who was doing a show called “Your Show of Shows,” and he need a straight man for Sid. Sid was maybe the best comedian that ever lived.

I auditioned, and I got the job. There was a young comic called Mel Brooks. I didn’t know who he was, but he was standing up and delivering a monologue about a Jewish pirate.

Delighted to be here on “The Hollywood Palace.”

MEL BROOKS, Comedian: Delighted to be alive, never mind anything else.

CARL REINER: And said to Mel, here’s a man who was actually at the scene of the crucifixion 2,000 years ago. He’s not too — and he said, oh, boy. I said, you knew Jesus? He says, thin lad, right? He wore sandals, walked around with 12 other guys? Yes, he said, they always came into the store. I had a candy store. They never bought anything, but I gave them water. They were nice boys.

Steve Allen, he said, fellows, you got to record this. He had a recording studio, World Pacific Jazz. He said, go there, wail, do whatever you want with it.

For about two-and-a-half-hours, Mel and I ad-libbed. I cut it down to 47 minutes, and the 2000-Year-Old Man was born. We still weren’t sure that it was for everybody, and that only Jews would like it.

Cary Grant popped by. And I said, oh, I have a record I think you’re going to like. And I gave him one of the records. He came back the following day, and he says, could I have a dozen? He says, I’m going to England. He came back and he said, she loved it. I said, who loved it? He said, the queen mother.

Went to Buckingham Palace, played the record.

And I said to Mel, the biggest shiksa in the world loved our record we’re in.

When I’m asked what’s the best time I have had in my life in show business, hands down, creating and producing “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and writing for it.

If you have one good friend, you’re lucky. And I have one good friend. I call him my best friend. My life is fuller because I have had Mel in my life.

If he doesn’t come over, I don’t know what to do with myself. He comes over every night. We love movies. And we said any movie that has three or four lines in it, and we hear those, we know we’re in for a good time. The lines are, lock all the doors, secure the perimeter, and let nobody in and out, and get some rest.

He became an entity. And that entity wrote some of the best and most memorable movies of all times, I mean, to this day. Farting is OK because he wrote a movie called “Blazing Saddles.”

The best thing that ever happened to me was meeting a woman named Estelle Lebost. She raised three of the greatest kids ever lived. And she raised one great husband, because she was eight years older than I, knew everything about everything.

She informed me about life, politics. Everything that I am is because Estelle Reiner, Estelle Lebost, made me who I am today.

Sixty-five years with the right woman, you can’t ask for anything more.

This is Carl Reiner. That was my Brief But Spectacular take on this guy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Carl and Mel, we love you both.

And you can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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