I first discovered The Carol Burnett Show around the year 2000, when I was 12 years old. I loved watching those half-hour reruns every weekday after school, admiring those greats of comedy from the 1970s: Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, and of course, Carol Burnett. Mention the show to anyone who has seen it and there’s a good chance you’ll be reminiscing together the Gone with the Wind parody, the Tarzan calls, Mama’s Family, and other scenes.
The show’s leading lady came to the Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland, for two evenings of Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett last weekend. I had the pleasure of attending the Saturday performance, but the format was the same on both nights: the award-winning comedian took questions from the audience. The session was broken up by montages celebrating the best moments from The Carol Burnett Show. Burnett turns 83 next week and she’s still got it in a live show: wit, charm, and even the Tarzan yell.
The Q&A was a bit of a mixed bag because some fans in the theater weren’t actually asking questions. Their “questions” amounted to saying in effect, “I loved meeting you 30 years ago, Carol” or “Thank you for that reply to my fan letter years ago.” While such remarks were greatly appreciated by Burnett, it detracted from her time to shine in her extraordinary flair for comedy. Letting fans write on slips of paper before the show might have reduced the number of non-questions.
Many attendees were doubling over with laughter during some of the exchanges with Burnett. Should she find herself on a deserted island, she’d pick the company of George Clooney over Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway. She would cast Angelina Jolie to star in a film about her own life. Donald Trump would probably call dopey secretary Mrs. Wiggins “a loser.”
“It’s about time,” the comedian replied to another politically-minded fan. “I would someday love to see a woman [as president] in the White House.”
Someone asked her about the possibility of hosting Saturday Night Live. “I would consider it,” Burnett answered. “They haven’t asked me.”
However, the most intriguing part of the evening was the time that Burnett spent giving a behind-the-scenes look at her old show. American fashion designer Bob Mackie developed 60-70 costumes per week. If you extend that figure over 11 years or 276 episodes, it totals out to over 17,000 costumes for the main cast, guests, and extras! After hearing these fun facts and stories, you might want to go back and watch those classic episodes again.
Burnett also shared a lot of praise for her co-stars. She paid tribute to the late Harvey Korman. Korman was “serious about his craft until it came to Tim Conway,” she mused about their on-screen chemistry. Discovering Vicki Lawrence through a fan letter (from Lawrence herself) and a subsequent meeting led to a truly memorable collaboration between the actresses. “Vicki was very raw [in her auditions],” Burnett recalled about the pivotal casting decision. “But something was there.”
I highly recommend that you attend one of Carol Burnett’s live shows this year. Be sure to have a good question ready!