- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2000

Normally, Carl Reiner's body of work speaks, or should we say laughs, for itself.

Tuesday night, a troupe of performers who drew inspiration from Mr. Reiner's inexhaustible wit spoke for him. And told jokes. And ribbed him. And, mostly, thanked him for influencing their careers and those of so many others.

The celebration, the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American humor, provided equal measures of humor and praise for a comic artist whose work served as the launching pad for a million yuks. The event will be shown Feb. 28, 2001 on WETA-TV, Channel 26.

It's hard to argue with Mr. Reiner's credentials, given the impressive lineup of stars who feted him not that you'd get a word in edgewise with this garrulous group. Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore were among those who paid homage to their friend and colleague.

Backed by guitarist G.E. Smith and a tight four-piece ensemble, the evening began unceremoniously with a technical glitch. But given the show's theme, the snafu turned out to be a setup for the guest of honor to slam dunk.

"Does anybody have four double-A batteries?" Mr. Reiner bellowed from the balcony.

Mr. Seinfeld, who Mr. Reiner introduced during Mr. Seinfeld's big break on an HBO comedy special, recalled how the first "Seinfeld" episodes were shot on the same set as Mr. Reiner's "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

"I have the guts to say it. I think Carl Reiner is funnier than Mark Twain," Mr. Seinfeld said. "Twain would be lucky to be typing script changes for Carl Reiner."

In between the comic testimonials, clips from Mr. Reiner's work reminded the audience just why he earned the third-ever award.

Fuzzy kinescopes showed a younger, more hirsute Mr. Reiner shuffling through slapstick routines as deftly as he danced around delicate dialogue.

Mr. Van Dyke, eponymous star of Mr. Reiner's hallmark television program, emerged from backstage, served up a practiced stumble, then blew his old friend a kiss.

His co-star, Miss Moore, did a similar misstep then thanked Mr. Reiner for giving an unproven 22-year-old actress a chance to make people laugh.

"He saw a glimmer of the comedic spark [within me]," said Miss Moore, her smile as illuminating as always. "He sure helped this woman, and a whole lot of others … to get a fair share of the laughs."

Comic Richard Belzer trumpeted Mr. Reiner's often overlooked improvisational skills.

"You couldn't take your eyes off him. He had a coiled energy," Mr. Belzer said, dressed all in black up to his trademark shades.

Of course, if you gather enough comics in one room, it's bound to resemble a nightclub routine. Those assembled couldn't resist pitching in some delectable jokes.

George Wallace took a swipe at the District during his allotted time.

"The crime is so bad [in D.C.] they're trying to change the emergency number to 9," he said.

"I know it's the Kennedy Center, but lighten up," barked Mr. Belzer when one of his gags fell a bit flat.

Mr. Martin turned in a blistering five-minute set, easily the evening's comic high point, before settling down to the business at hand.

"Tonight, we're here to honor [Carl Reiner] … for scale," Mr. Martin said.

"He brings out the best in other comedians," he said of the man who directed in four of his better screen roles. A bawdy clip from "All of Me," the pair's fourth film collaboration, followed. The scene, set in a men's urinal with Lily Tomlin's spirit tormenting Mr. Martin's character, made the silver-haired comic's argument for him.

Two taped appearances by Ray Romano, whose show Mr. Reiner said earlier evokes his belief in wringing comedy from everyday life, and longtime collaborator Mel Brooks rounded out the affair.

"Half of my life now is being part of the Carl Reiner award ceremony," Mr. Brooks joked via tape.

Lifetime achievement ceremonies can be antiquated affairs that capture little of the honoree's spark. This night's proved an exception, if nonstop laughter is the measure.

It helps that Mr. Reiner, 78, seems in no hurry to retire. He's currently working on a novel and recently earned an Emmy nomination for a guest role on Showtime's "Beggars and Choosers."

The only time the laughs subsided during the celebration was when Mr. Reiner thanked each of his family members for their love and support.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Reiner called the Mark Twain Prize "the award of awards in my life."

"When I saw the red carpet, I said, this is a serious award. I've fooled a lot of people," he said.

If the laugh is on us, then Mr. Reiner is still doing what he does best.

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