Beef Stroganoff with the Two Thousand Year Old Man.
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This is a story I told a year ago on twitter and people seemed to like it there. This week was the one year anniversary of the death of comedy legend Carl Reiner and I thought I’d share it again here to honor his legacy.
I have a Carl Reiner story that I hold very dear to me. I figured I'd share it now because I hope it will bring some other people some joy the way it does me. Growing up my dad and his twin brother fell in love with Sid Caesar's Your Show Of Shows. It is the show that made my dad fall in love with storytelling and comedy. They worshipped Caesar along with castmember/writer Carl Reiner. Caesar, Reiner, and the other writers on their show, including Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart, and Woody Allen, all made my dad and uncle want to be writers when they were growing up, which they both ended up being.
My relationship to Your Show Of Shows begins in a different way though. My whole life my dad ate the same thing for dinner on his birthday every year. Beef Stroganoff. Why did he eat Beef Stroganoff on every birthday for his whole life? Because of a joke on Your Show of Shows.
When Charlton Heston was a guest on the show they did a cold war spy sketch where Reiner was told to go to a restaurant and “ask for Beef Stroganoff.” He sits down and the waitress comes over. Reiner says "I'm here for Beef Stroganoff." She leaves and a short while later Heston walks over to the table and asks Reiner “can I help you?” Reiner responds “I asked for Beef Stroganoff,” and Heston pauses and then in his deep voice deadpans “I am Beef Stroganoff.” The joke made my dad laugh his whole life.
Around 20 years ago my dad had his yearly birthday call with his brother (they're twins). My dad mentioned having Beef Stroganoff and my uncle asked why he always had that on his birthday. Confused my dad just said “because of the sketch.” My uncle had no idea what he was talking about. It turns out he remembered the sketch clearly but was convinced Heston's name in it was “Sauerbraten” not “Beef Stroganoff.” They ended up arguing about this for years.
My dad bought every DVD and VHS of Your Show of Shows he could find. He watched every clip online and every documentary, but there didn't seem to be any surviving tape of the sketch. Jump ahead 10 years and Carl Reiner writes a new book. He announces he will be signing and giving a talk in NY at the 92nd Street Y. My dad sees his chance. He buys tickets as fast as he can. My dad was desperate to ask him about the sketch in person. But knowing that he may not get the chance, he also wrote up a letter to hand to Reiner in case there was no time to ask.
When it came time for the signing my dad waited in line and when he got in front of Reiner he told the story of how his whole life he'd loved the show, and the sketch, and Beef Stroganoff, but then he got in the fight with his brother. Carl listened. When he got to the part about how they couldn't remember whether it was Beef Stroganoff or Sauerbraten he asked Carl point blank- which was it? Carl Reiner stared at my dad, laughed, and simply said “That was a long time ago.” My dad thanked him anyway, got his book signed, and then decided to hand him the letter he'd written too, just because he had said some nice things in it about how much he appreciated Reiner's work over the years.
Two months later. My dad is out for a bike ride. The phone rings. My mom answers. A man asks to speak to my father. She tells him that he's out. The man says he'll try back another time. She asks who it is and he says “Carl Reiner” and hangs up. No number. No caller id. Obviously we are all in awe that he called and we wait for him to call back. And we wait. And we wait. Finally a week goes by and the phone rings. My dad answers it excitedly, like he'd answered every call the past week. But this time it's Carl Reiner again.
Carl says he read the letter my dad gave him at the signing and he found it so touching that he wanted to share it “with the others.” Then he puts the phone on speaker and Carl Reiner is having dinner with Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar. They are calling my dad to answer his question about a sketch from 50 years ago. They all make some jokes and then admit they have no idea whether Charlton Heston was named Beef Stroganoff or Sauerbraten in the sketch. But they all agree Beef Stroganoff is funnier, so they give the victory to my dad over my uncle.
This was literally one of the best days of my father's entire life. His heroes called him up to chat and make jokes and thank him for caring. It meant the world to him then, and it means as much to me now that they would do that.
As a sidenote a few years later my dad went to the Museum of Television in New York and decided to watch some stuff from the archives. There they had some episodes of Your Show of Shows that aren't available anywhere else. My dad sat down and watched them all. On the very last episode they announced a special guest- Charlton Heston. My dad held his breath. The sketch begins just as my dad remembers it. And then Sid Caesar tells Carl Reiner “Go to this restaurant and ask for Saurbraten.”
So even your heroes get it wrong sometimes. But I love that my dad made the joke funnier. Thanks Carl for inspiring my dad to be a writer. And thanks for being so kind, generous and warm. He tried to follow in your footsteps in all of those things and I'm trying to follow in his.
If you’ve never watched Jerry Seinfeld’s brilliant Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee episode with Carl Reiner it is well worth your time. You can watch it on Netflix or maybe on this link here. Or maybe not. Facebook is weird.
Either way, “They’re charging for butter?” is an all time great line and if you ever eat a meal with me there is a 50% chance I steal that joke.
As promised, your weekly dose of my adorable and very real cat Shutterstock. Boy he takes a pet like nobodies business.
Never let the other newsletters tell you they offer more cat content than we do here at… whatever I named this thing.
The amazing artist Jeffrey Veregge is in the hospital and his family could really use all the support of the comics community. If you aren’t familiar with Jeffrey’s work, he is a brilliant Native American artist and writer whose work has adorned everything from the covers of Judge Dredd, G.I. Joe, and Marvel comics, all the way to the walls of the Smithsonian.
If you’re interested in seeing more of his work or purchasing prints or shirts from his shop you can go here- jeffreyveregge.com.
And if you’d like to donate directly to help pay medical bills and help his family while he is unable to work and in the hospital there is a gofundme set up right here. Any support you can give would be appreciated, even if it’s just sharing the link.
Thanks for reading. And I feel like answering more questions. That was fun. If you got any, send them my way. Otherwise…
Stay safe. Take care of each other.