Some time with Carol Burnett
May 18, 2010
Some time with Carol Burnett
Comedian’s one-woman show interactive with audience
By Nancy Sheehan TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
TV icon and comedienne Carol Burnett has booked an audience at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts Thursday. Her show, “Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett,” echoes the title of her new book “This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection.” The show follows a question and answer format, with the house lights turned up, a time to ask whatever you might want to about Burnett, her life and her eponymous multi-Emmy-winning show, which ran on CBS from 1967 to 1978 featuring an ensemble cast that included Tim Conway, Lyle Waggoner, Vicki Lawrence and the late Harvey Korman. We recently got a head start by asking Burnett, 77, a few questions in a phone conversation.
QWhy did you decide to go out on tour again?
A“It’s important to keep busy and also going out and doing these evenings with questions and answers with the audience, it’s all random. I say ‘OK the lady in red.’ I don’t know what the lady in red is going to say or ask or how she’s going to be. So it is a little nerve-wracking at first, but then it does keep the old gray matter ticking. You have to be in the now. You can’t let your mind wander to tomorrow or what happened yesterday. You’re right there at that moment and I think that’s healthy. It keeps you going.”
QWhat do people ask?
A“Over the years a lot of the questions are the same like ‘How did you learn to do the Tarzan yell and where did that come from?’ Then I have a story about that. Or ‘Is Tim Conway really that funny in real life?’ I’ve got about three Conway stories I can tell. ‘How did you find Vicki?’ and ‘What was it like when Harvey would crack up?’ It leads me, which is great, to some funny stories about them.”
QYour show was known for a lot of ad-libbing. How did you and the cast carry it off so easily?
A“We would tape two shows on Fridays, one at 5 o’clock, which was a dress rehearsal, and it would be taped in front of a live audience, and then we would do the second show at 8 o’clock with a different audience. From the 5 o’clock show to the 8 o’clock we might make some changes: a funnier line here or let’s make a cut there or whatever to make the second show tighter and better. Tim would always do the first show right to the ink of the sketch. Then he’d go to our director, Dave Powers, and say ‘Did you get all the shots you need?’ And he usually did because Dave was always on the ball. So Tim would say ‘OK , in the hotel room sketch, when I go over to the window this time instead of being on a waist shot be on a head to toe of me’ and that’s all he would say. But he would have thought up some little business and everybody would have to wing it and that was the fun of it. I would say 90 percent of the time when things like that happened, that would be the one that would go on the air.”
QI have heard the cast was really close.
A“It was a great family. We really loved each other. We would share the laugh. Nobody would hog anything. If it was a sketch that mainly featured Tim, Harvey and I and Vicky and Lyle, we would be his supporting cast in that particular sketch. If it was about me as the central character, they would be the supporting group. It was really an ensemble piece, which is why, I think, that the show worked because everybody on the show got a shot at being funny.”
QWill we ever see a show like that again?
A“No, I don’t think so. At one point we had about nine variety shows on the air. There was us, ‘Smothers Brothers,’ ‘Sonny and Cher,’ ‘Flip Wilson,’ ‘Laugh-In,’ ‘Dean Martin’ and ‘Glen Campbell’ and on and on and on. And that was a very popular format at that time. But now it can’t be done, I don’t think, because whenever you ask a question like that about show business ‘Why can’t they do that anymore?’ the answer usually is money. Our show — and the other shows — had huge orchestras and dancers and singers and guest stars and costumes and lighting. You couldn’t do it today. The networks would not spend that kind of money.”
QWould you do a weekly show again?
A“I’m at a good point where I can do things that really interest me, but I don’t have to do them. I get scripts and if one of them appeals to me I’ll say ‘OK. Let’s go do that.’ But it’s not that I would want to come back and be on weekly TV unless it was really out and out fun. But I’m not thrilled by the way they do television shows today. I did guest shots on some sitcoms a few years ago and a sitcom is 22 minutes — the part that is the show. The rest is commercials and stuff. And sometimes they would take five or six hours to do 22 minutes. It made me crazy. It drove me nuts.
“We had an hour variety show. I would usually go overtime with the Q& A’s so we could get the funniest ones, so maybe an hour and 15 minutes in front of a live audience, with all of the sketches, with all of the costume changes, scenery changes, musical numbers, all of that, we’d be out of there in, maybe, two hours.
“We were so organized and then we’d just go with the flow and lots of times when we were leaving Television City and walking down the hall where a lot of the other shows were taping we’d see their red lights going and we were on our way out to dinner. Even then some of the shows would be doing pick-ups and retakes til 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, but we were long gone. We were out of there. It made the show more spontaneous. It didn’t have to be perfect. It had to have a sense of danger about it and we certainly did. When Conway got on a roll it was very dangerous.”
QDo you sing your signature farewell song (“Time Together”) on this tour?
A“I do close it with the closing song. We have a little clip to show and then there’s a little orchestration underneath so then I have that support.”
QDo people get a little misty-eyed?
A“I don’t know. By then it’s dark in the audience, so I don’t see too many tears but maybe it brings back some nostalgia to them. “