Carl Reiner's son Rob has an amazing ability to memorize. A fact for which Bill Cosby, of all people, is grateful.
"Because he has that memory, Bill Cosby exists today as a big star," Carl Reiner said.
"That's right," his son added in a resigned deadpan. "I'm responsible for Bill Cosby's career."
But even as Carl Reiner admitted it "sounds crazy," he insisted it's true. At least to some extent.
Events were set in motion one night in 1963 when Rob was only 16 years old. Carl and his wife, Estelle, returned from an evening out to find their son still awake at 1 a.m.
"He's all excited," Carl said. "I said, 'Rob, what are you doing up? You've got school tomorrow.' He said, 'Oh, no, Dad, on 'The Tonight Show,' they had a comedian on named Bill Cosby.'
"Now, I knew the name because I had seen a review of him. I didn't know who he was. I said, 'Get to bed.' And Rob got out of bed and . . . he did what Cosby had done, the Noah routine."
"And the karate routine," Rob added.
The elder Reiner was so impressed, the next day he got hold of a tape of Cosby's "Tonight Show" performance and showed it to producer Sheldon Leonard.
"We said, 'Sheldon, we've got to use this guy,' " Carl said. "And Cosby came in and spent the whole day doing things for us. Ruined the whole Wednesday, but we were so entertained."
Leonard was similarly impressed, but he asked if Reiner thought Cosby could act. "I said, 'You just saw him do Noah. Two characters, he did God and he did Noah. Sure he can act.' He says, 'I've got this thing called 'I Spy.' One of the guys, it doesn't say whether he's white or black. You think we can use him?' And that's the way he got 'I Spy.'
"However, if Rob had never seen this guy, I feel that Cosby would have made it."
And the younger Reiner agreed.
"He would have made it, but maybe not that route," Rob said. "He might not have had 'I Spy.' "
Still, Carl attributed the whole incident to his son's uncanny ability to hear Cosby's routines once and repeat them nearly verbatim.
"Robby, being a performer at 16, he had the ability," Carl said. "He has a very good musical ear, which he got from his mother. And when I heard (Cosby's) album, I said, 'Rob did it as well.' Didn't look as good as Cosby doing it, in his underwear."