The role of straight man in comedy is a dying art. It grew out of vaudeville and moved to movies, radio, and television as the vaudeville artists moved to new mediums. Bud Abbott, Dean Martin, and Margaret Dumont are 3 of the most famous and successful straight men in comedy history (with “men” in this instance being a catchall akin to “mankind”). One could argue any of those 3 were the best and could back up their assertion with multiple clips. I, however, have always held Carl Reiner as the greatest straight man in history because he was able to do the role to perfection for two very different performers: Mel Brooks and Dick Van Dyke.
Carl Reiner passed away on June 29th at the age of 98. To say he was one of the most influential comedians ever understates the impact he had on humor both here and around the world. If he had only done The 2,000 Year Old Man he and Brooks would have influenced an entire generation of stand up performers.
If he had just been one of the writers on Your Show of Shows he would have helped shape the entire idea of sketch comedy.
If he had just created The Dick Van Dyke Show he would be considered a pioneer in the art of situation comedy.
ANY one of those three things would make him a legend in the field. He did ALL of them.
I think it’s no coincidence that he died the day after Mel Brooks’ birthday. Carl Reiner was so much a professional that he couldn’t let his own death upstage the Wise Guy.