‘The Jerk’ Star Bernadette Peters Pays Tribute to Carl Reiner: ‘Thank You For All You’ve Given Us’

Carl Reiner Bernadette Peters

With the passing of comedy legend Carl Reiner, tributes have poured in from all over the world. Bernadette Peters spoke with Variety about her memories of growing up watching Reiner on television in Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” and in “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” then getting to work with him on the seminal 1979 comedy “The Jerk,” which Reiner directed.

We’d watch Sid Caesar every Sunday night. Still there’s nothing better than that kind of comedy that was so raw. And it was live television! It was Sid, Imogene Coca and then Carl Reiner. I remember Carl’s presence. He was tall, he was authoritative. And apparently he became a writer during that show. He was an actor, but became a writer because he had kept coming up with ideas.

On “The Jerk,” he and Steve Martin would rewrite the scene on the way to the set every day in the car. So it was all very spontaneous, because that’s what you want up on the screen. He would just tell Steve to do things without telling me, like when Steve went in to kiss me and Carl told him to go and lick my face. And that’s the take they used! That’s what you want. You want to capture surprise. You want to capture spontaneity on the screen. I remember Steve improvising with Carl’s idea — the scene when Navin tells Marie it feels like they’ve been together for two years even though it’s been two weeks, because the first day was so wonderful it felt like three days and the second day was like three months and the third day like a year and so forth. And that was all from Steve’s mind but it was Carl’s idea and Steve just ran with it.

I just knew that listening to them was a privilege, watching two comedy geniuses batting back and forth with ideas, and I was privy to it. I just kind of got quiet as a mouse. I knew something special was happening in that moment.

In recent years, I so enjoyed reading his Twitter. That would be there every day and I would go ‘Wow, look at him still going.’ I just enjoyed that he was there on Twitter every day at 98 years old. I expected him to be there continuously.

If I could say anything to him now, it would be thank you so much for all you’ve given us. All the joy, all the compassion. I would say thank you for that and for your talent. It sounded like he came to a very lovely place at the end of his life. He sounded very satisfied and pleased and grateful. And I hope we all can be grateful by the end.

As told to Joe Otterson