Carol Burnett calls her eponymous landmark show “appointment TV.” Families stayed home on Saturday nights to watch her program, along with All in the Family, M*A*S*H and The Bob Newhart Show.
Thanks to YouTube, The Carol Burnett Show is experiencing a resurgence. So when she tours with her show, An Evening of Laughter and Reflection, she’s amazed at the fans who ask questions during the question-and-answer portion. The show comes to Comerica Theatre on Sunday, December 17.
“I get audience members from 9 to 90,” she says. “It’s a real thrill that the show still holds up.”
An Evening of Laughter and Reflection continues one of Burnett’s trademark bits. She “bumps up the lights” and takes random questions from the audience.
“I used to open my shows with Q&As,” she says. “I never know what anybody’s going to ask or say. It was a little scary at first. If the audience comes prepared, I get some fun questions.”
Some, however, are downright startling. So are her answers.
“I’ve told this one before, but it bears repeating,” she says. “Nine or 10 years ago, I was in Texas and a woman in the balcony raised her hand. She asked, ‘If you could be a member of the opposite sex for 24 hours and then pop into being yourself again, who would you be and what would you do.’”
She was stumped—and then she prayed.
“I said, ‘OK Lord. I’m going to open my mouth and whatever comes out is going to be your fault.’ I had no idea what I was going to say.”
Her answer? Osama Bin Laden and she would kill herself.
“The audience went crazy, laughing and applauding,” Burnett says. “I said under my breath, ‘Thank you, Lord. That was a pretty good answer.’”
Besides her Comerica Theatre appearance, Burnett is anticipating her TV special, The 50th Anniversary of The Carol Burnett Show. Airing on CBS Sunday, December 3, the two-hour program will feature stars like Vicki Lawrence, Bill Hader, Lyle Waggoner, Jim Carrey, Jay Leno, Kristen Chenoweth, Stephen Colbert and Martin Short sharing their memories of the program.
“On the special, we show a long clip from the dentist skit that Harvey (Korman) and Tim (Conway) did,” she says. “Tim played a new dentist who was so nervous that he kept hitting himself with the Novocain. It was brilliant, and the audience was screaming and laughing. That sketch is 45 years old. It holds up.
“People ask me why my show is still happening after all these years. My answer is, ‘Funny is funny.’”
And she’s still funny. Burnett has a slew of projects on her plate, including the 12-episode Netflix series A Little Help with Carol Burnett. The original, unscripted comedy stars Burnett and a panel of straight-talking 4- to 8-year-old kids who help “solve” life’s biggest dilemmas.
In each half-hour episode, the children will face real-life issues brought before them by celebrities and everyday people. They will offer their advice in front of a studio audience. The series is slated for a 2018 premiere.
“It is so cute,” Burnett says. “It’s out of the mouths of babes. They haven’t reached the point where they censor themselves yet. Some of it is pure gold. They are so cute.”
One guest said she was marrying a man with two young children. She wanted to know how to make them like her. A little boy on the panel answered, “Bribery always works. It works for me every time.”
“They’re real kids,” Burnett adds. “They’re not actors.”
Burnett is still revered, 50 years later. During a recent appearance on the Emmy Awards, the crowd gave her an extended standing ovation. Many audience members tugged their ear in honor of The Carol Burnett Show.
“I didn’t see it on stage, but I recorded it,” she says. “There were people in the audience pulling their ears. That was really sweet. It touched me. I spoke to people like Kaley Cuoco and Tracee Ellis Ross who said they grew up watching The Carol Burnett Show. It’s so flattering to know these wonderful people watched the show.”
At 84, Burnett still loves her career. There’s no real secret to her longevity, she says.
“I just enjoy it,” she says. “I’m still having fun and I hope that translates.”
Carol Burnett: An Evening of Laughter and Reflection, Comerica Theatre, 400 W. Washington Street, Phoenix, 800.745.3000, 602.379.2800, comericatheatre.com, 7 p.m. Sunday, December 17, $88.50.