In 1977 Carl Reiner directed Oh, God!, starring octogenarian George Burns, then the elder statesman of comedy. Today, at 96, it is Reiner who is comedy’s elder statesman—still funny and still sharp, despite the inevitable ailments that come with a long life.
“I’m at the age now where you see doctors every day,” he tells Deadline. “Over the last four or five months I saw my hearing aid doctor, my shin—I hit my shin. I had a physical two days ago. They tell me I’m all right, so that’s why I’m talking to you.”
In the past year, Reiner has shot a movie—Ocean’s Eight (his cameo was dropped from the final cut)—and played a starring role in an HBO documentary, If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast, a film about Reiner and people like him who remain vigorous into their 90s.
“This is a real labor of love. My nephew, George Shapiro, came up with the idea of [exploring] vitality after 90. And he went all over the country, followed people who are still doing what they did when they were in their prime,” Reiner explains. “And it was inspiring.”
Reiner not only appears throughout the documentary, he narrates it as well, an effort that has earned him an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Narrator. It has brought him another honor as well—the distinction of becoming the oldest nominee in Emmy history.
“I love it,” Reiner says of entering the record books, adding that the work for which he is nominated comes naturally to him.
“I am an emcee at heart, and so narration is easy for me,” he observes. “When I was young, I was a very successful emcee. I emceed 25 years of the Directors Guild, Writers Guild Awards, all kind of awards. I realized that all you have to do is say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Luciano Pavarotti.’”
In the Outstanding Narrator category he’s up against some sterling talents, including the legendary Sir David Attenborough, narrator of the documentary series Blue Planet II.
“He’s deserving of anything you want to give him,” Reiner exclaims. “He’s a real producer of fine work, no question about his abilities.”
As if Attenborough weren’t competition enough, the category also features Morgan Freeman, narrator of the Hulu doc March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step.
“Morgan is the voice of truth and God,” Reiner declares. “I think if there is a God, he’s going to sound like Morgan.”
When he isn’t occupied with film and voiceover projects, Reiner remains busy writing books. He has well over a dozen to his credit, with more on the way.
“Right now, I’m most proud of the fact I’m turning out one book after another,” he comments. “I’ve got about four books issuing. One is The History of Radio, which is just coming out…I have photos of every great radio show and the artists who were in it. I wrote two volumes of a History of Motion Pictures, from the first motion picture that I ever saw to the present day.”
Reiner also tends daily to his Twitter feed, which currently boasts 245,000 followers. Recently he tweeted in all caps, “For those wh [sic] noticed my misspelings [sic] and my use of caps, let me assure you that my brain is working but I am having a problem with my 86 year old eyes. Working with an eye doctor, hoping to improve my vision.” He soon followed that up with another post, “In my last tweet, either I mistyped my age as 86 or my senility made me forget that I’m 96 and 5 months.”
Reiner lost one of his comedy colleagues Sunday with the passing of Neil Simon, 91, who worked alongside him in the 1950s on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows—Simon as a writer, Reiner as a writer and performer. But many friends and contemporaries are still going strong and appear with Reiner in the documentary, including fellow Show of Shows writer Mel Brooks (92), Norman Lear (96), Betty White (96), and Dick Van Dyke (92), star of The Dick Van Dyke Show, the classic sitcom Reiner created in 1961.
Five of the nine competitive Emmys Reiner has won over his career came from his work on The Dick Van Dyke Show. A win for If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast would give him an even 10.
The title of the documentary comes from a longstanding habit of Reiner’s.
“Every morning I would actually look at the obituaries before I had breakfast. And as a joke I said if I was not in it, I would have the breakfast,” he reveals, adding, “My greatest passion is to read the obits and to see anybody over 100.”
Reaching the century mark, in fact, ranks among Reiner’s personal objectives. “That,” he tells Deadline, “is a goal to shoot for.”