'If you start thinking about what's funny, you won't be. It's like walking. If you start thinking about it, you'll trip."
That's Carl Reiner's philosophy on comedy. But he's not above tripping for a laugh.
Tuesday night, his early life story -- leaving out the last 60 years or so -- musically unfolds at Sag Harbor's Bay Street Theatre, where "Enter Laughing" opens for previews.
The Joseph Stein play, adapted as a musical in 2008, is based on Reiner's autobiographical novel. It tells the story of an actor-wannabe from the Bronx trying to free himself from his old-world parents and two too many girlfriends. How closely does the novel / play / musical resemble Reiner's life as a struggling-to-get-noticed thespian with a day job?
"The only difference is that I gave the hero a sister," Reiner, 89, said from his Los Angeles home. "The young girls he had an interest in were accurately based on young ladies I knew at the time."
CARL IN LOVE Chief among the ladies in Reiner's life was Estelle. They were married 64 years at the time of her death in 2008. She's best known for delivering the line, "I'll have what she's having," from son Rob's 1989 film, "When Harry Met Sally . . . ." According to Carl Reiner, it was ad-libbed on the set by Billy Crystal. "Rob flew in his mother," he recalls, "knowing she'd be the best one to deliver the line."
Reiner's career took off in 1950, when he was cast on Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows," appearing in skits and writing with Neil Simon and Mel Brooks, with whom he'd later collaborate on "The 2000 Year Old Man" comedy albums. Has there ever been a comedy laboratory to match "Your Show of Shows"? "Yes," he said, "Carol Burnett, absolutely the most talented comedian-actress-singer TV has ever known."
REMEMBER ALAN BRADY? No, he wasn't in "The Brady Bunch." He was Dick Van Dyke's boss on that eponymous series. Reiner first proposed the show with himself in the lead. But "Head of the Family" never aired. "I was nowhere near as good as the actor I finally cast," said Reiner, who created, produced and wrote the 1961-66 sitcom.
As for "Enter Laughing," which runs through Sept. 4 at Bay Street, Reiner plans to take it to Broadway next year.