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Reiner Red Hot For Roasting

By Barry Dougherty

The Friars are looking for A Few Good Men, preferably funny ones (oh, and women also) to make mince meat out of Friar Rob Reiner’s ego. It’s nothing personal, of course, Reiner is just this year’s Guest of Honor at their annual Celebrity Roast. “Guest of honor” might seem a quirky turn of phrase considering the Friars Roasts have never made the Roastee feel terribly honored in the usual sense of the word. But, ironically, it is the highest praise the Friars can bestow upon a person and Reiner is due the tribute.
            On October 6, 2000, Reiner will be led into the Grand Ballroom of the Hilton Hotel and proceed to spend an evening of unbridled side-splitting, humiliating humor–in other words, three hours of sheer Misery. If being called “Meathead” for seven years got under his skin, then Reiner should be crawling out of it in no time. Roast Co-Producers, Friars John Schreiber and Mark Krantz will see to that.
            This time-honored tradition ranks as the greatest fraternal hazing of all time and now that the Comedy Central cameras are rolling it has that extra dash of public flogging you want at a Roast. In any event, for Reiner The Sure Thing is, “The fact that it’s on television will make it tamer than it otherwise would be,” he initially surmised. Upon a little more consideration he wavered a bit, “They can’t get too brutal with me, right?” When told they certainly can, he tried to justify it, “They’ll just do it in a non-dirty way.” When the reality of what he had done by accepting the honor hit, he finally caved, “I have to have my head examined.”
            Reiner will be Roasted by a dais of his peers, close friends and admirers who respect his work and–better yet–know the most intimate details about his life. Second thoughts notwithstanding, he’s ready to face the challenge, “I remember those old Dean Martin Roasts that George Schlatter used to produce. I just hope that they don’t cut to me and I’m pretending to laugh. I hope it’s actually funny so I’m actually laughing instead of faking laughing like they used to do with those shows. Everything was hysterically funny. Everything at the same level of funniness. Of course, that was George Schlatter with a machine too. They don’t use a machine for this do they?” He can rest assured, there’s no laugh track–a bleep or two maybe, but no machine.
            Since his Emmy Award-winning portrayal of Michael Stivic–Archie Bunker’s liberal son-in-law–Reiner’s has been a household name. While he has continued to act in films such as Primary Colors, EDtv, Sleepless in Seattle and The Muse, among others, it is behind the camera where he has received critical acclaim as a director. He is also a principal and co-founder of Castle Rock Entertainment and in addition to directing feature films, he is involved in all phases of their creative activities. Castle Rock’s first feature film release was Reiner’s highly successful When Harry Met Sally, starring Billy Crystal. (He’s made some others but I’m not sure what I did with that list. It’s around somewhere.)
            One wonders if Rob will remember Billy’s pleas to Stand By Me when he served as Roastmaster at Crystal’s Roast in ‘92. Did he stand by his bud? Well, at that Roast Reiner said, “What can I say about Billy. He’s my best friend. I think sick, twisted Jew just about sums it up.” Doesn’t sound like he heeded any pleas. Guess now is as good a time as any to remind Rob, “what goes around comes around.” Another reminder might be This Is Spinal Tap time–a Roast can be very painful.
            Reiner admits he enjoyed his role as Roastmaster, a very different experience than the one he is about to take on, “That’s an easier side to be on. Because if you’re a performer that’s what you like to do. You like to get out there and you tell jokes and you make fun of people and that’s what you do. Sitting there is hard because you want to jump in. But it’ll be ok,” he says, amused at the prospect of being a sitting duck at the upcoming event.
            For Co-Producer Friar John Schreiber, who heads up The Schreiber Group–a firm that produces concerts, festivals (such as the Toyota Comedy Festival and Marshall’s Women in Comedy) and television programs–producing his first Friars Roast is, “Like a dream come true. It’s a thrill. I have very vivid memories, as a child of eight, sitting in the living room in my house and my dad and my uncles crouched around a reel-to-reel tape recorder as my uncle played a bootleg of one of the Roasts from the early 1960s and feeling very much like an insider. I was hearing language like I never heard before spoken by Frank Sinatra and Alan King and characters like that.” Sounds like someone was destined to helm a Friars Roast.
            That destiny also seemed to lead to the guest of honor as well, “The first Roast I ever went to as a Friar was the Billy Crystal Roast,” says Schreiber, “Rob Reiner as the Roastmaster was hilarious, disgusting and just perfect for the Roast. So to have him as the Roastee this year, you couldn’t have a more appropriate target for the comedy.” Rob Reiner disgusting? You mean the man who directed the much-loved fantasy The Princess Bride was actually saying things The American President does to interns in intimate office settings? Who knew?
            Co-Producer Friar Mark Krantz is also ready for his mission, “I think we can go places we’ve never gone before with Rob and he’s thrilled to be a part of it, which is great.” If anyone can make this Roast a success, it’s the hardworking duo of Schreiber and Krantz, “We’re used to producing big events,” says Mark, who notes, “we produce the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize. We recently produced the Songwriters Hall of Fame Gala with Paul McCartney, James Brown, James Taylor and Carole King. We’ve been fans and attendees of the Roast throughout the years. We’ve also worked with Comedy Central throughout the years. We’re thrilled about the process and we’re confident about the result.”
            Reiner brings to the Roast that special career-quality that spans multi-generations. While his early television work may be somewhere North of the MTV generation, his current hits have been enjoyed by both young and old. His audience allows for the perfect blend of the Friars traditional comedy greats as well as the new faces of comedy club comics. Schreiber looks forward to “octogenarians and twentysomethings Roasting with equal venom!”
            If you think that Reiner is deserving of such intense mockery for negative reasons, then you surely have much to learn about the Friars Club. Even Abbot Alan King would be the first to acknowledge that The Story of Us Friars is, “We only Roast the ones we love.” Sure, it may sound like a back-handed compliment, but he will defend that quote to the death. Along with being proud of Reiner’s highly successful career, the Friars also seek to honor his humanitarian endeavors as well. Reiner, along with his wife Michele, has been a motivating force behind a national public awareness and engagement campaign to communicate the importance of the prenatal period throughout the first three years of life. As a result of their work, President Clinton and the First Lady launched the “I Am Your Child” campaign. This work has culminated in Reiner’s co-producing, co-writing and directing an hour-long prime time special entitled, I Am Your Child. Hosted by Tom Hanks, the program aired on ABC-TV.
            (Oh, I just thought of another movie Rob directed–Ghosts of Mississippi. That would have been awkward to not have mentioned at least a few of his many film directorial accomplishments.)
            He is also an enthusiastic supporter of the National Resources Defense Council. The council is a national non-profit organization which combines legal activity, scientific research and citizen education in a highly effective environmental protection program. They work to preserve and protect the public health and to ensure the concentration and wise management of land and natural resources. This may be a good point to start the Roasting–what the hell does all that mean? Guess it’s proof that Rob is not only a good citizen but is a friend to trees and gas.
            So there is much more to Reiner and his honor than meets the eye. But a good heart and a brilliant career won’t stop the Friars carefully chosen and caustically funny comedians from ripping his ego to shreds. And they surely have no intention of heeding his own personal plea, “Just that they not make any jokes about my penis, that’s the only thing I require. No penis jokes.” That request will be first on the list to ignore. Don’t panic though, for these Friars, joking and Roasting is All In the Family.