Back in the summer of 2011, I had the distinct honor of presenting Carl Reiner with an award. And it was a little bit terrifying.
Not just because Reiner, who passed on Monday, was a TV legend. He was, of course, the creative force behind “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” And his long career included an incredible list of writing (plays, TV shows, movies and novels), acting, producing and directing credits. He won nine Emmys and a Grammy; he’s in the Television Hall of Fame; and he won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor the year before I was onstage at the Beverly Hilton handing him a Television Critics Association Award.
It wasn’t my first time talking to him. I’d interviewed him two or three times before that night, and I interviewed him two or three times after. And he pretty much overwhelmed me every time.
If there was a question you really wanted to get answered, you had to ask it right away — because his answers were so effusive you might never get a second question in.
Reiner was at the 2011 TCA Awards to accept the Heritage Award for “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” It’s presented to a program that continues to impact and inspire society — sort of a career achievement award for a series. And there’s no doubt that “Dick Van Dyke” was a marvel. It remains fresh and funny 54 years after it went off the air.
And Reiner was a marvel himself. In 2011, he was 89 — and his energy was astonishing.
The man was all over the stage, telling stories and reminiscing. Series co-star Rose Marie (who played Sally Rogers) was in a wheelchair in the audience, and he drew her into his acceptance speech/performance. We got her a mic and they went back and forth for several minutes.
I wish I had a video of it, but the TCA Awards are not televised. (Intentionally.)
Reiner was funny. He was engaging. And he went on and on for … well, I want to say 15 minutes, but that may be because it sort of felt like forever to me.
Keep in mind that Oscar winners are limited to 45-second speeches. Some of them go long, yes, but most are out in a couple of minutes. The longest Oscar speech ever was delivered by Greer Garson in 1943 and, depending on which account you believe, it was somewhere between five and seven minutes.
I’m telling you, Reiner went on a lot longer than that.
Since the TCA Awards are not televised, winners can (and do) say whatever they want and talk for as long as they want. And for the first five minutes or so of Reiner’s acceptance speech, I stood at the back of the stage laughing along with everyone else while he commanded the room. He was unstoppable.
Then I started to worry that there might be a problem — that I was expected to step in and get the awards show back on track.
Hey, members of the Television Critics Association love it when things go off the rails at the awards. It’s frequently downright hilarious. But … Reiner was showing absolutely no signs of nearing the end of his remarks and I was sweating. Nothing like this had happened before (as far as I know), and I hadn’t been briefed on what to do.
So I was starting to sweat. The idea of little ol’ me trying to step in and stop Carl Reiner seemed utterly ludicrous. And, quite frankly, I thought he’d simply streamroll me.
At the 15-ish minute mark, I thought I had to do something. Maybe if I took a step or two forward, he’d see me and remember that there were other winners waiting to collect their awards. (That year, they included Ty Burrell, Jon Hamm, Oprah Winfrey, “Sesame Street,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Game of Thrones.”)
I swear to you, just as I worked up enough courage to take a step forward — just as I made the slightest movement and before he could possibly have seen me behind him — Reiner wrapped up his remarks and turned to me so I could point him in the right direction to exit the stage.
The man had impeccable timing.
I was a fan. I was in awe of him. Of his talent. And I was sad to hear that he passed away at the age of 98.
He lived an incredible life. He left an incredible legacy. Long after I’m gone — long after my children are gone — people will still be laughing at the comedy he left behind.
That’s one of the greatest legacies I can think of.