November 13, 2019

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Carol Burnett reflective but relevant at 85

Comedian's live show an interactive affair

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/9/2018 (414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/9/2018 (414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It has been more than four decades since Carol Burnett last ended her legendary TV variety show by tugging her left ear and crooning a few lines of a sentimental tune.

Yet in concert halls all over North America, fans of all ages still show up by the thousands for a chance to have some time together, have a laugh and maybe even sing a song.

"It’s just a conversation with the audience," says Burnett, 85, during a lively telephone interview from her California home. "I don’t do standup or anything like that; it’s like we’re out to dinner and we’re having a conversation — they ask a few questions and I give a few answers.

As was the case with her television series, which ran from 1967 to 1978 on CBS, Carol Burnett's live, audience-interactive evening is about laughter and reflection, not about being topical or edgy. (Tyler Golden / Netflix)

As was the case with her television series, which ran from 1967 to 1978 on CBS, Carol Burnett's live, audience-interactive evening is about laughter and reflection, not about being topical or edgy. (Tyler Golden / Netflix)

"I don’t like to know what the questions are going to be. I never did, even on my (TV) show, way back, because I wanted to be honest. People raise their hands and I just call on them at random. I never know what they’re going to say or ask; as I’ve said before, it keeps the old grey matter ticking."

The show, appropriately, is called Carol Burnett: An Evening of Laughter and Reflection (with the added subtitle "... where the audience asks the questions"), and the TV legend brings it north of the border to the Centennial Concert Hall on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

As was the case with her beloved series, which ran from 1967 to ’78 on CBS (as part of a powerhouse prime-time lineup that also included All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show), the live, audience-interactive evening has no inclination toward being topical or, heaven forbid, edgy.

"I don’t get any risky questions from the audience," she offers. "I might eventually, I don’t know — knock on wood — but it’s really just about laughter and reflection and what they might remember about the show. I will steer it away, if somebody asks me what I think about what’s going on in the world these days, because that’s not what this show is about."

Burnett received a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a comedy for the 1981 film The Four Seasons, written and directed by Alan Alda. (Universal Pictures)

Burnett received a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a comedy for the 1981 film The Four Seasons, written and directed by Alan Alda. (Universal Pictures)

What’s interesting about the "they" Burnett refers to when describing the Q&A interaction that is central to the show is that her audiences range in age from teens or younger to older than her own four-score-plus years.

"Because of the show being on YouTube and our selling DVD collections — which I’m thrilled about — I’m getting audiences that literally range from nine to 99," she says. "I just love that. And I’m getting fan mail from kids, too. It’s a family-type show… and I don’t mean for that to mean it’s dull, because it’s actually a lot of fun."

The dominant topic of conversation, of course, is The Carol Burnett Show and its rock-solid ensemble cast, which was led by comedy veteran Harvey Korman, announcer/performer Lyle Waggoner, (at the time) showbiz newcomer Vicki Lawrence and insanely funny mischief-maker Tim Conway.

"I was looking for what we had on Garry’s show (The Garry Moore Show, the comedy/variety series that gave Burnett her TV debut in 1959) and what Sid Caesar had — a true rep company, where the might be one person’s name in the title but that person shared (credit and laughs) with the other cast members. That was imprinted on me at a very early age, so that even though it was called The Carol Burnett Show, I wanted to be surrounded by the best comedic actors I could find.

Carol Burnett plays against type as the cruel Miss Hannigan in 1982's Annie. (Sony Pictures)

Carol Burnett plays against type as the cruel Miss Hannigan in 1982's Annie. (Sony Pictures)

"And so what developed was a show where you could see a sketch and I would be supporting Tim, or Harvey would be supporting Vicki — it was all of us together, and I think that’s one of the reasons the show still holds up today."

While Burnett has clearly embraced the nostalgic warmth that greets her at these live shows (she has been touring with "Laughter and Reflection" for more than 25 years), she does keep abreast of current entertainment trends and is open to the possibility of TV guest appearances — even ones that are far outside what her long-faithful fans expect.

Recent series in which Burnett has appeared include Hawaii Five-0, Glee, Desperate Housewives and Law & Order: SVU (she earned a 2009 Emmy nomination for her performance as a former Radio City Rockette who assists in a murder investigation). When asked if there are any current titles she’d like to add to her long list of credits, the TV legend is quick to respond:

"I swear, I would love to do a guest shot on Better Call Saul — I love (creator/producer) Vince Gilligan; I’m a big fan of anything he creates."

She’s a bit too far down the road for her closing-theme line, "Seems we just get started, and before you know it..." to be applicable, but Burnett seems to be in absolutely no hurry to say, "So long."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @BradOswald

Carol Burnett received the Screen Actors Guild life achievement award in 2016. (Jordan Strauss / Invision)

Carol Burnett received the Screen Actors Guild life achievement award in 2016. (Jordan Strauss / Invision)

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives Editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Tuesday, September 25, 2018 at 9:29 PM CDT: Corrects age.

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