Several weeks ago, I had the great good fortune of going to Carol Burnett: An Evening of Laughter and Reflection. A signature part of The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978) was when she would have the stage people “bump up the lights” and she would warm up the crowd before each taping. This stage show was 90 minutes of that kind of thing.

The stage show began with clips from past sessions, projected on a big screen above the stage. The first clip showed an audience member asking Carol for the way to the ladies’ room. So Carol earnestly invited her up and directed her to the ladies’ room backstage. (When she returned, Carol led the audience in the chant “We know where you’ve been – ! We know where you’ve been – !”)

Then, from house left (stage right), Carol herself came onstage into a spotlight – of course, to the melodious strains of “Carol’s Theme (I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together).”

(I'm going to call her "Carol" throughout this retelling. Journalistic remove would require "Ms. Burnett," but that seems too stuffy, and she is very much as much of an old friend one can have through the airwaves.)

The first thing Carol did was a tribute to dear, departed friends Tim Conway, whom we lost just last May, and Harvey Korman, gone since 2008. She told us that Tim made it his mission to “destroy” Harvey. As proof, she showed a bit of that classic sketch “The Dentist.” Not much, maybe 30 seconds – the bit of business with the hypodermic needle full of novocaine – but that was enough to have the whole house in hysterics.

Consider -- we all were watching it at the remove of time and distance, but poor Harvey was sitting right next to Tim during all this tomfoolery. “Tim said he thought Harvey wet his pants,” Carol told us.

She also told of another Tim moment where he destroyed everyone else that had to wind up on the cutting room floor. They were doing a “Mama’s Family” sketch in which the family was playing Charades, and when it was Tim’s turn, he said “elephant.” Tim proceeded to spin a shaggy dog story that had all of them breaking up, that it was actually Siamese twin elephants conjoined at the trunk, and the one elephant got a cold and sneezed and blew the other elephant’s brains out.

Vicki, as Mama, gave the capper, which landed the bit on the outtake reel. (Find it here on YouTube: "Carol Burnett Show Outtakes -- Tim Conway's Elephant Story")


From there, Carol began to take questions. Ushers were stationed around the hall with microphones and flashlights; when she noticed a light, Carol would invite an audience member to speak up and make their query.

She’s been doing this a long time, so there are some questions that must come up over and over, but she didn’t seem to mind telling those stories again and again.

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ClarkKent_DC said:

Your humble correspondent couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask a question, and she called on me. I said, “Miss Burnett, you’re revered as a comedy legend, but you’ve also done a fair amount of drama in your career. Could you speak to that? In particular, could you tell us about the time you were on Law & Order?”
(That was “Ballerina” on Season 10, Episode 16 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
She said that’s a great question. She loves playing villains, like Miss Hannigan in Annie, because it’s different, because the villains always think they’re right. “They think they’re right, and everyone else is wrong.”

Coincidentally, a few days ago we watched that episode on one of the rerun channels. Her character was a truly horrible person, to Carol’s credit.

One thing she learned, however, from working on The Garry Moore Show, was to put the show first. If a joke would get a bigger laugh from one of his co-stars, Moore would gladly pass it off to Carol or Durwood; his ego didn’t demand being the center of attention at every moment. Likewise, that’s how she ran The Carol Burnett Show; she didn’t mind if Harvey or Tim or Vicki or Ken Berry or one of the guest stars got the big moment instead of her.

In my early teens I would watch The Gary Moore Show with my parents. They all did a great job. Carol’s show continued in the same spirit. Durwood Kirby was so well known that The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show poked fun at him with a storyline involving a special hat called the Kirwood Derby.

There are no words for how envious of you I am right now. Carol Burnett is a national treasure, and quite probably my favorite performer of all time.

"Envious," yes. That's the word I was gpoing to use. those were some great stories. The Carol Burnett Show was a staple in our house for as far back as I can remember. I "graduated" from The Carol Burnett Show to Saturday Night Live (with some overlap), and in recent years I have re-watched both series on DVD. One thing Carol did better than SNL is that she and her writers knew how and when to end a sketch. speaking of pre-show Q&A, I rememeber one episode in which she caled on a young boy and he asked, "Is this show a repeat?" In that instance, he cracked her up!

Like all long-married couples, the Good Mrs. Benson and I have our private observances.  One of them is the idea of "we would have them at our dinner table".  It's our highest accolade for someone famous; that one is "on our list" to be at our dinner table.  That's because such status comes not from the individual's level of fame, or source of it, but from from our estimation of what kind of personality and character the notable has---and that, we've usually gathered from viewing the person in serious interviews or some other objective barometer of his character.

Carol Burnett is at the top of both of our lists.  For one thing, because of all of the reasons you folks have stated above.  Her kindness and generosity to her fans is legendary.  She's the caring, considerate neighbour lady who's always first to step forward in friendship---except that her neighbourhood is composed of a few million fans.

For me, the Q & A sessions at the beginning of each program were the best part of the show.  I was always disappointed when a particular episode ran overlong and the Q & A got cut short, to maybe one question, or none at all.  Yes, Carol was on camera during the Q & A, and she could have played to it, but one always got the impression that, during those moments, we saw the real Carol Burnett---I'd stake my pensions on it---and, although it would be many years before I met and married the GMB, that was when she made it to my list.

The Q & A session I remember best concerned a question from a young man in the audience named Dennis Amick, who told Carol that he was a struggling singer, and he wanted to know how he could get an audition to sing on her show.  "You want to sing?" replied Carol.  "Well, come on up!"

Mr. Amick came up on stage.  It was obvious the young man was excited and self-conscious at the same time.  Carol asked him what he would like to sing.  Make it something simple, she recommended.  He chose "What I Did for Love", the signature song from the then-hit Broadway musical A Chorus Line.

"Oh, that's an easy one," replied Carol, rolling her eyes.  Then she added, "Eydie's going to love that!"  Eydie Gormé, a guest-star performer for that night's show, had recorded a hit record of that song.

As for what happened next . . . well, I'll let you see for yourself:

Everything about that bit underscores what makes Carol Burnett such a treasure.  She gave a young talent a shot out of the goodness of her heart, and mind you, without knowing if he was any good at singing or not.  She helped him along and at the same time, mined good-natured humour out of the situation.

I remember thinking at that time I saw it, forty-two years ago, the same thing I thought when I viewed the recording I've linked above:  no matter what Dennis Amick did with the rest of his life, Carol Burnett's gesture will be the high point, something he will never forget.

Other than on television, I have yet to see a Carol Burnett show myself.

I have heard her answer to the "when will a program like yours be on again" and I think that's sad, considering the state of "reality" television nowadays.

Two questions I would love to ask her if I ever got the opportunity are:

1. What do you think of the state of comedy today, compared to when your show was on?


2. When are you supposed to be the guest host on Saturday Night Live?

That has been a rumor for years with no activity on the subject.

I tried to make this a comprehensive recounting of An Evening With Carol Burnett (although I wasn't sitting there in the dark taking notes; this is all from memory), but I forgot to mention a couple of things. 

One was that Carol brought up her long friendship with Jim Nabors. For good luck, he made a point of being in the audience for the first episode of every new season. And Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. was filmed nearby on the Television City Studios property, so sometimes he would come by when The Carol Burnett Show was taping.

Likewise, The Carol Burnett Show was right down the hall from The Sonny and Cher Show, and Carol mentioned that often when she had a break she'd go see what they were doing, and they would look in on her, all in fun.

I also forgot to specify that she said when she does these evenings -- and she may come to your town, who knows? -- it's all spontaneous and unrehearsed. She doesn't know what questions are going to come up and there's nobody planted in the audience to feed her stock questions so she can give stock answers. 

Lee Houston, Junior said:

Other than on television, I have yet to see a Carol Burnett show myself.

I have heard her answer to the "when will a program like yours be on again" and I think that's sad, considering the state of "reality" television nowadays.

Two questions I would love to ask her if I ever got the opportunity are:

1. What do you think of the state of comedy today, compared to when your show was on?


2. When are you supposed to be the guest host on Saturday Night Live?

That has been a rumor for years with no activity on the subject.

I think she touched on the first question in her answer about the female comedians she likes the most; it's all good because there's so much more today. Granted, a lot of today's comedy isn't what she did, but I don't get the sense that she's against what anybody else does because it's not what she would do.

I also get the sense that since she did what she did on network television during the so-called family hour, what she produced might have been somewhat different under different terms and standards. Not drastically different, but I think some of the stuff that's in The Carol Burnett Show blooper reels might have made it to air. 

I've never heard anything about her hosting Saturday Night Live. But, hey, if they could get Betty White to do it, why not Carol Burnett? 

Another thing I remembered I forgot to mention: The ushers with flashlights who signaled Carol to take questions were stationed all over the concert hall, and she was very good about taking questions from all parts of the room, the balcony and the floor alike. Although the night didn't last indefinitely, I got the sense everybody who wanted to raise a question got their chance and got it answered.

Carol Burnett was part of my routine as a kid when I got old enough to distinguish good TV from the rest of it. It's been a long time, but I seem to remember shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show as contemporaries, all on Thursday night. That was some great television, but I guess everyone says that about the first good TV they experienced.

But I do think The Carol Burnett Show was exceptionally good, even with that decidedly biased viewpoint. Before it arrived I was already familiar with Tim Conway from McHale's Navy reruns, and her sketches and skits and songs were always so well wirtten and, of course, hilariously performed (I got the impression there was a lot of ad-libbing, and it seemed Conway's mission was to crack Corman up and take him out of character). Often they were enlightening as well as entertaining, teaching me about etnertainment  tropes and long-standing routines and characters and movies I otherwise knew nothing about.

For example, The Carol Burnett Show was -- as I've mentioned on this site before -- the first time I saw Captain Marvel. It was a skit about superheroes, and I knew all of them -- except for that guy in the Pirates of Penzance cape. (I had just learned about Pirates of Penzance in music appreciation class. I bet they don't do music appreciation class any more.) I asked all of the adults I knew, and none of them knew who he was. Who was this model of a modern major-general?  It became a quest, and I learned as much as I could about him before he finally appeared in (then) contemporary comics, first as an homage/pastiche in Roy Thomas' Captain Marvel, and then his own book at DC in 1972.

Thank you, Carol Burnett!

"Tim Conway's Elephant Story"

I remember watching that first run, and I remember watching it more recently. I didn't thin it was all that funny when I was a kid, but I'm here to tell you now... I just didn't get it! when I saw it on DVD just a couple of years ago and realized he was ad libbing, it cracked me up. I just watched the clip again, and believe me, there are tears in my eyes right now.

Oh, yeah! The fun is in realizing just how much he's torturing the others, waiting to hear what he's going to say next and wondering if they'll be able to keep it together.

For quite a while, Saturday nights were just as good TV wise as any other night of the week, with the three main networks of the day (ABC, CBS, and NBC) seriously competing against each other for viewers and ratings.


IMHO: Between reruns, sporting events, and whatever else they can throw on to kill a couple of hours before the late news... 

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