Burnett Talks Five Decades of Funny Before 'The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special'

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02 December 2017

CBS, Dec. 3, 8/7c

By Lori Acken

In 1967, Carol Creighton Burnett stepped onto CBS Television City’s Stage 33, chatted up the audience, performed sidesplitting skits, tugged her left ear and made history. Surrounded by a crack ensemble of laugh-getters — Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman and Lyle Waggoner, plus frequent guest star Tim Conway — Burnett made The Carol Burnett Show must-watch, feel-good TV that earned the weekly series 25 Emmy awards. Fifty years later, it lives on in reruns and DVD box sets.

To honor the show’s timeless good humor, CBS presents The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special, returning Burnett (84), Lawrence (68) and Waggoner (82) to Stage 33 alongside a host of actors, singers and comedians — including Jim Carrey, Kristin Chenoweth, Stephen Colbert, Jay Leno and Bernadette Peters — who share what the show meant to them.

“It was just a plethora of goodies,” says Burnett of the two-hour special, which bows Sunday.

She shares more here.

Your thoughts on the show’s lasting appeal?
Carol Burnett: My answer is “Funny is funny.” I dare anybody to look at the dentist sketch with Harvey and Tim and not double over with laughter — and it’s 45 years old! We were never topical, so what was funny then is holding up now.

How quickly did you know the cast was something special?
I never thought we were anything particularly special. [Laughs] I thought we were good, but I guess when I realized we were doing something right was when we got picked up for another season.

What did Bob Mackie mean to you and the show?
Do the math: 276 shows over 11 years — that’s a little over 17,000 costumes he designed. Sometimes I didn’t know how I was going to do a character until I knew what he was going to dress me in. It was like where a little boy puts on a pirate outfit or a cowboy outfit, and they become that. That’s what Bob did for me.

Was cracking each other up part of the fun?
We didn’t break up as often as people think; it’s just that they remember it so much! I averaged out how much we broke up, and it comes to 7 percent of the time. Usually it was Conway that caused it — and Tim wasn’t a regular on our show until the ninth season!

Whatever happened to the singing Bea Arthur lookalike?
I got a letter a few months ago from someone who knew her! She died recently at age 100, and they played that clip at her memorial. … I’d never seen her before in my life. We just happened to know the same song!

Tell me about the upcoming Netflix series A Little Help With Carol Burnett.
I am the host and we present adult dilemmas to children ages 5 to 9 and they come up with solutions. It’s so cute, because at that age, they don’t censor themselves. They just blurt it out, and it’s just total honesty … and sometimes very profound!

Rumor is you’re a big Vince Gilligan fan. You and Bob Odenkirk together on Better Call Saul is a bigger dream than even I can dream. Would you?
I would love it! … Vince came to our show. We have the same driver — his name is Jason, he’s a great guy, and he drives Vince to events — so, I said, “Oh, please tell him how much I just so admire him.” Next time I saw Jason, he said, “He’s crazy about you, too!” I got his email from Jason, emailed Vince and said, “Can you come to our 50th?” I got to meet him at the party afterward. I’m going to try to figure out when we can have dinner.


“I loved doing Eunice [in “The Family” sketches]. She just spoke to me, because she was such a pitiful character.”

Mrs. Wiggins
“Tim was always trying to crack me up with a line that he hadn’t had in rehearsal, and I realized that I can’t laugh as Mrs. Wiggins, because she’s just so stupid and people who are that dumb don’t have a sense of humor.”

Nora Desmond
“I was raised in the ’40s and early ’50s going to movies with my grandmother. It was a given when we got the show I would want to do a takeoff on Double Indemnity, or The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

Stella Toddler
“It was like a cartoon with the physical comedy. I got beat up all the time doing this poor old lady, but I loved physical comedy so I enjoyed her.”
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