Epic Journey

Lessons from the Legends: Norman Lear, Carl Reiner and the Connection of Comedy


“If you really want it, don’t be afraid to be a pain in the BLEEP.”

It really does boil down to a pretty basic mix of raw talent and an intense desire to make a life pursuit out of anything worth doing and achieving (particularly when the life pursuit is unusual) and it applies to so much in life. But in this case, we were talking about comedy and making a career out of connecting through comedy. And we – the “Stand Up Planet” production team, Hasan, his international comic friends, and his comedy posse from the U.S. – were talking about it with two of the legends: Norman Lear and Carl Reiner.

In the interest of disclosure, I was lucky enough to spend many of my professional years working as a producer and project director for Norman Lear, the man who practically invented the concept of social impact and cultural change through entertainment. He did it through comedy, no less, through his TV shows and activism – and what I came to know as his “Norman-ness,” his unique spirit, desire and ability to uncover and spotlight human connections. As Norman has said in the past, “tears are not so far from laughter,” and his genius – back then and today – exists partially in his forward-looking understanding that there might be a pathway from TV’s reflections to the “real world” we might really create if we stopped being afraid of change and one another. There’s so much of Norman’s spirit and way of looking at the world in “Stand Up Planet,” which is how we knew he had to play a role in our series, and not just as one of our advisors. He was showing and talking about social issues 20 and 30 years before their time – gay rights, racial equality, abortion, prejudice – and finding ways to make us cry and laugh at the same time. Connection.

So, in true Norman fashion, when I called to ask him to meet with Hasan and the other stand-up comics featured in “Stand Up Planet” – to talk about making it in comedy, the power of comedy for social consciousness, and frankly, to sit around and be funny – he not only agreed to do it, but he called back the next day to say he had invited Carl Reiner to come along.  What?! Carl Reiner, father of Rob Reiner, legendary Mel Brooks’ collaborator, and one of the most brilliant original comedy legends? Yes, that one. Want to know how funny he still is? Check out his performance in a Comedy Central special from last year. Hilarious. (Here’s what I learned at lunch with Carl: He did not prep that material in advance. In fact, all of his funniest work – including the “2,000 Year Old Man” – comes out of his ability to size up the scenario in the moment with no prep. True improv.)

The legends with the young comics

The legends with the young comics

And this is how we found ourselves spending the day in Los Angeles – on and off camera – with Norman Lear and Carl Reiner, two originals who helped invent American television and comedy. Unforgettable. You’ll have to watch “Stand Up Planet” later this fall to find out what happened.


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