Carl Reiner has an incomparable show business resume. It includes more than seven decades as a comic actor, director and writer, which has earned him 12 Emmys and one Grammy. He was part of the cast and writing team of Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, straight man to Mel Brooks’ 2000-Year-Old Man, creator and co-star of The Dick Van Dyke Show, and director of Steve Martin vehicles like The Jerk and The Man With Two Brains. And that’s just a fraction of his accomplishments, onstage and off.
These days, the 92-year-old Reiner is more of a full-time author. He just released a new memoir, titled I Just Remembered, on Lawrence O’Flahavan’s Random Content imprint, which Reiner financed. It’s the follow-up to last year’s I Remember Me, which O’Flahavan also produced, though he used AuthorHouse since Random Content hadn’t been created yet. And there’s more on the way. Reiner is already 100 or so pages into his next memoir, tentatively titled What I Forgot to Remember. He’ll expand the label’s reach in December with his children’s adventure book, The Secret Treasure of Tahka Paka, and publish two children’s books—Penelope’s Pearls and I Am Lilly—by his daughter, Annie Reiner, sometime next year.
Reiner keeps a pad at his bedside to capture thoughts when he first wakes up, and he keeps to a daily writing schedule, working three or four hours or more. “I’ll do it after breakfast and then I’ll come back before dinner,” he says, “and then if Mel Brooks comes and visits and leaves, I go up and do another two pages. But I have to play my solitaire before I go to bed.”
All of that work will keep the imprint well stocked over the next year or so, and Reiner is thrilled to have the freedom to publish whatever he wants, regardless of the financial risk. “I have nobody to judge me but me,” he says. “I don’t think in terms of making a profit, I think in terms of turning out product. Whatever happens, happens, but I love the fact that they’re out there. I don’t think about profit and loss and all that. And if I went to a publisher, they would.”
Reiner isn’t a newcomer to publishing. He released his first book, Enter Laughing, in 1958 and over the years has published short stories, memoirs, novels and children’s books. He has nothing against the traditional publishing route, and had some success there, but felt he needed to move in another direction. “I was OK when I had publishers,” he says. “As a matter of fact, in all my books, I thanked the editors and the people who helped me, because they really did. I had no problems with that. Times are changing, and I change with them.”
O’Flahavan, a filmmaker by training and trade who once worked with the iconic graphic designer Saul Bass, says thatRandom Content has five employees, including himself. The operation covers graphics, printing, marketing, publicity (O’Flahavan set up his interview himself) and social media. He thinks for a second when asked his title. He calls himself the executive director, although he jokes he could also be called “CEO, maybe the ‘chief editor officer,’ if there’s ever such a thing.” He has some plans for the imprint that might not include Reiner’s writing, but without Reiner’s financial backing and insight, Random Content wouldn’t exist. “When it comes to advice, you couldn’t have a better partner,” he says.
Random Content will look to distribute to the big chains like Barnes & Noble and Target, but O’Flahavan says he’ll work with indie book stores like Book Soup in Los Angeles, near Reiner’s Beverly Hills home, and BookPeople in Austin, on promotional appearances. “I think what the bigger publishers miss is really going after the small independents,” he says, “and really getting to know those shops.”
Reiner’s memoirs are charming and offbeat, not following a chronological, or even logical, outline—part of why the imprint is called “Random Content.” They are reflections on and ideas about the daily existence of a man who has lived an extraordinary professional and personal life. I Just Remembered contains chapters on Jack Paar describing castrated dissidents under Batista’s regime in Cuba he had witnessed firsthand and a poem called “Ode to the Buttocks Bountiful” that Reiner wrote while he was in the Army during World War II.
There is also an entire chapter of Reiner’s entries on Twitter, a technology he adores. It keeps him thinking in short bursts, and he enjoys trying to work within the character limit. “I always find myself wanting to send out a Tweet and not knowing what to say,” he says, “so it’s usually when I’m working or when I’m eating. So it’s very personal and silly.” When it is pointed out that the line between personal and silly is strange territory to tread, Reiner says, “Yes, but that’s who I am, personal and silly.”
For the new book, he’s working on a collection of what he calls “Randumb Thoughts,” like a short bit on the origin of the word “titillate.” Another chapter is written completely in homonyms, and another explains the concept of a “selfishie,” a concept he came up with during an appearance on Conan. As Reiner explains, it is “where people take a picture of themselves and a more important person but the more important person is barely seen.”
Reiner is proud of the books but manages a bit of self-deprecation in praising himself. “I must say that I Just Remembered is my favorite thing I’ve done to date,” he says. “It’s a great toilet book. It’s short chapters, a lot of pictures. There’s almost 200 pictures in it. And when you’re on your toilet, you’re entertained.”
When asked if having so many different kinds of books on one imprint helps Random Content, Reiner stops to think as though he has never pondered that question. “I guess it does,” he says. “It can’t hurt.” He believes people will know the imprint isn’t a “fly-by-night” operation, even if its output is a little unconventional. “Books don’t happen without somebody working really hard.”
Nick A. Zaino III is a freelance writer based in Boston covering the arts for Kirkus Reviews, the Boston Globe, BDCWire.com, TheSpitTake.com and other publications.