Dick Van Dyke spent his Saturdays injecting The Dick Van Dyke Show with unscripted physical humor
From tripping on footstools to precariously hanging upside down in an elevator shaft, Dick Van Dyke's physical humor sets The Dick Van Dyke Show apart.
Rob Petrie was basically the Buster Keaton of Sixties sitcoms and episode after episode, we watched Van Dyke up the antics across five seasons. There seemed to be no end to Van Dyke's seemingly reckless ambition, which he once confirmed at least once came close to actually hurting him.
Most people know that the pilot episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show wasn't specifically written for Dick Van Dyke, but for series creator Carl Reiner. It makes sense then, that the earliest scripts for the show didn't include the physical humor that the show is so beloved for. Reiner would have certainly played the part very differently, and we never would've met the Rob Petrie we know so well.
So if all these physical gags weren't coming from the creator or the series writers, who do we have to thank for the show that repeatedly toppled its towering star?
None other than that star himself! Van Dyke told PBS in an episode of Pioneers of Television that not only is he responsible for this key aspect of the show's success, but he also worked overtime just to get it right: "I’d sometimes come in on a Saturday and work out my [bits]," Van Dyke said.
He'd also work the physical humor out during rehearsals where the TV star described a very improvisational atmosphere with his castmates. Van Dyke said, "We did a lot of improv during the week of rehearsal, physical pieces that I would put in and by the time it got to show time, we were so excited to present it.”
In the segment, Van Dyke's costar Mary Tyler Moore also appeared, adding her perspective on what made Van Dyke so special, "He will break into a tap dance at the drop of a hat, and he can do card tricks, and he can do impressions. He’s just wonderful, but he doesn’t flaunt it.”
Watch the video at the top of this post to see highlights that show off for the humble star how much extra work he put into each and every laugh on his cherished classic sitcom.
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