Elfman: My mom was great at introducing me to the Carol Burnett show because my mom was a huge fan and so my mom introduced me to it so we would watch it together because my mom really enjoyed the humor, too. And I remember. Just appreciating so much. How free Carol was. With her choices, her. They were just having so much fun. And I was I was a child. So for me, everything they were doing, they just look like what I was doing in my imagination. Having fun, too. You know, they just like big kids being goofballs, having a great time, which is sort of what I would do around the house or with the guys across the street that I grew up with, like I was a ham in my family to. So I really related with their silliness and their frivolity and levity, and I just could watch them for hours and I just remember I don't know, I just would relate to Carol because I guess I always felt like a big, silly, crazy girl. And she was the silly, crazy girl. And I just really related to that. And it's hard it's funny, you know, when something's magical is hard to put your finger on and articulate exactly what it is because magic is hard to articulate. But I just remember having that feeling of relatability.

Interviewer: Do you think there was anything about a woman? Do you think it was a woman doing lots of physical comedy? Always?

Elfman: Yeah. I mean, from my perspective, at the time when I first start watching the show Burnett Show, I was young. So I didn't necessarily have an appreciation for a woman doing comedy because I didn't have a political kind of sociological point of view about women versus men and their presence in comedy. But I did know that it was first Lucille Ball for me. And in Carol's the Next Generation. And then from there, you know, Goldie Hawn isn't quite as much of a generation jump from from Carol. But those were sort of the women for me. And I say I loved watching Tim and Harvey. And totally appreciated Vicki as well. She was hilarious. And I think I was just too young to have any kind of sociological viewpoint about the value of a woman in comedy. Having your own show now, I very much understand the value and the specialness, especially at that time and what a big deal that was. Now we take it for granted a little bit. But even so, still now it's still not equal, I don't think. But it's we've come a long way, thanks to women like Carol Burnett.

Interviewer: What you imagine Lucy being another favorite, what was different about Carol from Lucy? I mean, did she sort of take it the next step or what?

Elfman: I think the difference between Carol and Lucy might. I mean, Lucy, so much was the I Love Lucy show. So she was sort of that one character and then she ended up doing her variety show and, you know, a couple different versions of a variety show where she got to be silly. And I don't know if it was the era. But Carol got to be way farther out. You know, she got to just. Push the marker way farther. And I think maybe that's just because of the era women were it was more OK to be a little wylder. And it was the era. Women were more it was safer for women to be more wild or more outlandish, even though Lucy was outlandish for her time. But Carol would come out in these costumes. Are she you know, you can have sexual innuendo more in a freer manner than probably Lucy could. But still, it's the same bold choices. It's the same brilliance. I mean, different, but same magnitude of brilliance that made them so special in such landmark comedians in our time.

Interviewer: What about her face?

Elfman: It was like it was like Carol's face could do anything. I mean, it was rubber. And. I think that's it was so liberating watching her because she could become any persona completely freely and. She didn't have any. And this is what I so appreciate about her and what I think is subliminally inspired and affected me and my comedy is she was willing to be anything and look in any way. And that included not being beautiful. And I think that is a huge bottom line in doing comedy, especially as a woman. You can't worry about being beautiful. You have to be willing to be the fool. You have to be willing to be ugly, random, you know, and that base has got to move. So you can't be a big, hilarious comedian. Have Botox.

Interviewer: What about her skill?

Elfman: You know, her Carol's physical body matched her physical face in terms of it being able to move and become she was totally willing laser just she was so willing to assume any identity and assume the full proportions behavior. And also always with that improvisational ability running right next to it. So she could go off in any direction at any time. And. I think that also because I love fiscal comedy and love doing physical comedy, I don't feel like I'm at work when I'm doing physical comedy, I feel like I'm in the sandbox in my backyard. And you could tell she was relishing it and she was so comfortable doing it. I think she would probably. She seemed more comfortable and more free the more physical she got. And I think her comedy tended to come greater. The more the more she engaged herself physically. And that's a gift. And it's something when people do it well, you take it for granted. But it was just in her it's so organic for her. And I think that I just love watching say, you never know what she's gonna do next. And also, as an audience member, you don't want to know the person is going to do next. Otherwise, why watch? And I think that's what that that improvisational ability, that engine running right next to the rehearsed sketch. They could go off in any directions. You you never knew. You know, what choice she was going to make. And I know they filmed two shows, too, so they could have the rehearsed bit and also improvise. And she was so smart in casting. Extremely talented people around her. Which also shows you how smart she is and how confident she is.

Interviewer: Did she. Was she one of the ones that you remember looking at her as she inspired you to do what you.

Elfman: Yes, I think, Carol. Inspired me to do what I do. I appreciate, you know, how conscious it was for me becauseI may have just innately wanted to entertain even before I knew who Carol Burnett was, because that was always very instinctual for me, too. But I have to say, watching her taught me. How to do it subliminally, like I was so young. You know, I wasn't thinking watch to learn so that when you later do you know? But I would just that's that's just what I soaked in. And I was a sponge for it. And between her and Lucille Ball, that physical comedy, the rubber faced, the rubber body, the willingness to play and be a fool and get yourself into trouble. And the more trouble you get yourself in, the funnier it is. All of that. Her special abilities, I think, just soaked in to me. But it's definitely a my point of reference like. That's just what I. I naturally go there myself. And I think it's from just absorbing that for so many years.

Interviewer: In retrospect, when you look back, feel like you can not only appreciate now that she's not just funny, but like you said, like the way she created characters, as you said, that she was really an actress.

Elfman: Well, yes. You know. If you can't assume an identity, at will, a persona at will. Wholly. You're not an actor. Acting is not just walking around being pretty and saying lines acting. I mean, look at Meryl Streep. That woman assumes an identity in every way. And Carol in her comedy did the same thing. So I think that definitely helps me. I know I'm better dramatically because of having the ability to do comedy. And I think some comedic actresses are stunning in drama because in comedy, you have to believe to the same degree that you have to believe and commit in drama, but you have to take it to some other echelon to make it funny. And in drama. But you have to assume an identity either way. So that's why I think comedy is much harder if you do comedy. You can do drama because it's the same degree of belief, but without having to, like, actually make it funny.

Interviewer: Talk about what it takes to to I mean, she wasn't just doing one or two parts, you know, she wasn't doing one part through all those years in the rain. It's just the incredible range of characters that she could pull off.

Elfman: Yeah. Carol, when you think about Carol Burnett and her range of comedy, a million images flashed by my face and it's thousands. And they're all funny and charming and you could watch each sketch forever. Because she so became that character and so lived it. And. So I think. You know, there wasn't ever a character that Carol did in any of those sketches where I was like a fence for. You know, I was like, what is she going to do with this? Where is this character going? Oh, my gosh. What is going to come out of her mouth next? And to make each care that many different characters, that interesting is a real testament to her talent.

Interviewer: I think a lot of times I'm sure, you know, I mean, people said, well, this is these are the types, right?

Elfman: Yes. Obviously. She was doing six hours a week. Yes, many. Actresses and actors, there's like a handful of personas. You kind of see them do. And what's what's great about a sketch comedy is you just get to dive into these characters. And also, if you have great writers that really helps establish these scenarios, establish these characters. I would love to do a sketch comedy show because I would love. I would just love to do something in the same vein as The Carol Burnett Show because it just looks like they're having so much fun. And to be able to use your imagination in such a broad range. Every week, I think would be highly stimulating in a very comedic fun way.

Interviewer: Favorite character.

Elfman: There's many skits that I love, like I said, many images start flashing through my head. There's several characters she did. There were different characters, but they had one thing in common, which was these big saggy boobies. And there's one one where she's more heavy set. And then there's one where she's in this red sequins outfit playing like this character. Charles is mother. He was Tim comany, playing a character named Charles, and she's his mother. And she's there doing these crazy physical gyrating moves and she has these big swinging breasts. And you could just tell those breast came up in more than one skit. So clearly, they're working for her comedically, because if I had something that funny, I'd bring them in. And. But I it's great to have a prop that's physical. It's part of you like that. Yeah. You can have a lot of fun. And then I also loved the characters that led into Momma's family because I totally watched Mama's family and. Just the the ignorance of those characters, but their commitment to being right about being wrong. Was genius.

Interviewer: And actually, we've been talking about it's kind of interesting if you in many ways they are hysterically funny, but they're also like Tennessee Williams almost totally, you know, and just like that, she she could bring talk about how I mean, being able to bring. Vulnerability or whatever it is underneath.

Elfman: Yeah, I think one of the other great things about Carol was you never felt like she was a diva. You know, there is a relate ability to her and that I think. Having the quality of being relatable and being able to be outlandish, to have those two being actually in harmony somehow is a real gift. And it made her very watchable by many generations because he never felt disconnected from her. He felt like you could relate to her. And that just made you appreciate what she was doing even more, because you knew there was like a like a real human being there, doing it, enjoying himself.

Interviewer: Do you think it was that she conveyed that? I mean, I don't know. I mean, for example, I know like she opened all those shows with the Q and A..

Elfman: Yeah. Yeah. I just think since the woman she is. And whoever raised her raised her with enough down to earth qualities that just made her appreciate her audience and appreciate being valued and knew that. The audience was hugely important because they're the ones laughing. And you can't be disconnected from those that are admiring you and, you know, you can have someone standing in the room. Who's the king? You have a king of a country or a queen. But unless all the people are there saying, yes, you're the king. Maybe you're not necessarily the king, you know. And so for a performer to know that their audience helps them also make them who they are. You know, in terms of. That's who you do it for and the appreciation of creating that effect on another is a big part. As in from my point of view, that's a big part for me in front of a live audience and knowing hearing them laugh and creating that effect is why I get up in the morning. You're not going to create some effect on the world. And laughter is really, really therapeutic. So I think she knew that and valued that and always granted her audience the importance that they they had.

Interviewer: One of the things to know for me that I love so much about the show was watching them try not to crack up and I'm just got.

Elfman: Gold. Gold, gold, gold, gold. Gold. My mom and I would sit there and besides appreciating their talent. It was all about whether or not they were going to laugh. And there hasn't been anything like it since. And I love it. It's a huge it's like having, you know, outtakes built into the program. You know, you don't need, like, Dick Clark's show on the side to do outtakes. It's right. Built in. And people love that. And, you know, when you see people can't stop laughing, makes you laugh. It's like when you're in school and you're all supposed to laugh and makes you have to laugh harder. Oh, my gosh. Goals when they would make each other laugh. Oh, I loved it. I still love it.

Interviewer: It seems like things like why people?

Elfman: A big part of the show. There's a big part, I think, of people enjoying watching the show because there's salt. All of them were so talented that they would make each other laugh. It wasn't just because they were irresponsible or unprofessional, because they were also brilliant, that they totally cracked each other up and then crack themselves up, too. And that's a great feeling, you know. And so that's very, very pleasurable for the audience to share.

Interviewer: And it seems like part of what made her relatable, making us laugh.

Elfman: But they're they're laughing, too. And that's very relatable to see them get to themselves like that. I met Tim Conway and Harvey Korman at a party once. I would not leave them alone. I was like stalking them. You don't understand. No, you don't understand. That's the first time I met Carol. I was at a party and she's across the room. And I was like. I do want to be like I was staring at her, but I've since had the lovely opportunity to meet her and she's so sweet and wonderful.

Interviewer: What did you talk to her about?

Elfman: I tried to keep my cool because I can become very few if I didn't want to overwhelm her with my big blonde enthusiasm. But I just acknowledged her. I want her to be acknowledged for basically teaching me everything that I knew. And wanted to know how appreciated she was for that. And what a huge influence she had on me. And making it safe. And just by setting the example. Totally making it safe to be as crazy as you want to be when you're doing comedy. And because it just established. The playing field and I never, ever, ever, ever, ever have a concern when I'm doing comedy, what people think or what I look like. And the crazier I am, the more committed I am, the freer I feel, and the more the audience tends to respond. And. That's because of her setting that example for me. So my success in comedy and my pleasure, I take in it and the freedom I feel in it is a huge part of her doing what she did. And she set that example on that hugely influenced me. And I'm completely grateful. And I really wanted her to know that I think it's important for people who create big effects on others that they know.

Interviewer: Do you think she will open the door for other women?

Elfman: I think she I think Lucille Ball in the 50s in that housewife era. Opened the door for women to be portrayed, not having to be perfect. And then the next era in the 70s and 80s and feminism was a big movement. I was taught, but I definitely heard my mother talking about it and looking back now, understand that that's also portraying being a woman and portraying with delight and a full rainbow of colors your talent. And I think that it was not even necessarily comedy. I just think it's a woman being everything that she is to her best of her abilities. And I think that is what led the way and set such a great example that specifically in comedy, it definitely made it so women didn't have to be in a sort of. We're pretty girls, Lala. You know, it's like, you know, you get to really let yourself loose artistically and. Yeah, and then Goldie Hawn from Mayor and Private Benjamin, I just remember loving that.

Interviewer: I mean, she was doing a lot of political stuff or about sketches or something, but somehow but just being for her.

Elfman: Yeah. Wasn't like Carol was doing big political, you know, taking some big platform on her show politically for feminism or anything like that. And I actually appreciate what she did more than someone who would take a platform, which is just do it. Just win. Just do well as a woman and be wonderful and let your talent fly and be competent and be able and win. Just win, win, win it what you do and inspire other people, men and women. And I think that's just being a great human being. And then that just sets a great example. Whether you're a man or a woman that is best, especially as a woman that I think creates the biggest effect is to just do well at what you do, do it well and a lot.

Interviewer: What about of the movie spoofs.

Elfman: I remember a couple of those, but I wasn't familiar with the the movie spoofs. I don't think I as a child or a young person, knew it was a movie spoof because I don't think I'd seen the movie. So to me, it was just all skits, you know? And so I didn't necessarily I always thought they were funny, but I didn't necessarily see they're funny because they're attached to a movie.

Interviewer: Have you watched?

Elfman: I've watched some of the skits myself and seen the movie set stills, stills, get to me any of the other characters as well. When Lily Tomlin was on when I think this was a movie spoof in the jail cell. Yeah, and Lily Tomlin was hilarious. And Vicki Lawrence, when she would break into song. Cut. And Carol was cruel. And that's like three brilliant women together. I love that skit. I thought that was awesome. Yeah, she'd, like get too emotional or so I mentioned. Oh, I'm sure. Just break into it. It was so arbitrary and so brilliant. I have a question. Am I getting shiny because I'm just hot? I just want to check that you can be really hot on my answering your questions with enough answers.

Interviewer: I'm just wondering if you had a show on for many years, and can you just sort of talk about your appreciation for the fact that to have one show on for 11 years and just how rare that is and how hard that is to span an entire decade?

Elfman: To have your own show on for 11 years. I could only dream would happen in this day and age. Now, it was on for 11 years because was brilliant, but to do that many skits have that many wonderful guest stars. Have the cast work that well together for that long to have the network and the producers and the studio permitting you to play. And and become what you are in your full glory for that long. That is a dream come true. And it was rare, especially a skit variety show. And thank God she was on that lawn because she brought so much joy and laughter to so many of us and taught us, those of us who do this, everything we know. And. I wish the entire all of the year was on DVD, and it's not yet because I've tried to get it. And I want it. I'll be the first person to buy the entire set. It's hard to do. It's hard. In a great way. Obviously, I've not done it for 11 years, so I can only imagine how hard that would be for the writers and to keep coming up with great ideas like that. And to just keep the show running that well and have it be that consistently funny is such a testament to her talent and the cast talent.

Interviewer: I mean, does it say something about what it was timeless in a certain way.

Elfman: It's is totally timeless. You watch those skits now as you can find them, you can find them in random stores on things, crusty videotapes, which I've done. If it could be on the air right now, those skits could be on the air right now. And they are funnier than some of the sketch comedy going on right now. And that's what makes me want to do a sketch comedy show and just get some great, funny people together and do another one. I just feel like I'd be so much fun. I can only dream of doing a show like that, but it's inspiring. Is my point. And it is absolutely timeless. Talent is timeless. True talent. And this is what I appreciate about Cabernets. Humor is she never was cynical. The humor was never based in insults, like real insults, bitterness, cynicism. It was purely based out of humor and the ability to mock situations and take them to a level of ridiculousness where you saw the ridiculousness of the situation. And it was never out of taking shots at people. And I think a lot of comedy nowadays comes out of taking shots at people in the public like public personas. And I just think that that's an easy way out. And I think also trashy, cheap humor. It's so easy and it really speaks nothing of talent, in my opinion. And I feel true talent. It's what's still on the air today. And that's why we're still watching I Love Lucy. So we still watch The Carol Burnett Show. It's true. True. Pure, pure talent and true comedy.

Interviewer: And it's kind of amazing you mention that, that it wasn't cynical when you think of the fact that it was on during the 70s when Vietnam was raging on. And yet it just didn't have that. It didn't it didn't feel. Did it feel sort of quaint or something? It wasn't.

Elfman: It never felt. It never felt cutesy. And it never felt political. It was just humor. And life is funny. I mean, let's face it. I mean, every one of us can just just go back to your puberty for a while and you can find some funny skits. I know I can. And I think.Also, because Vietnam and whatever was going on in the world, which we still have going on today. I mean, come on, you could take a newspaper from that era and newspaper from this era, change some names around. It's the same dramatization. And people. Well, I will make that generality, I'll just say from my own point of view, I wouldn't tune into comedy to watch more of what's going on in the world. I tune into comedy to laugh, to get some relief from the world. And that's always been my perspective on comedy and its role in our society. I think it has a therapeutic role and a job and a duty. And I think that you can transcend life's current difficulties by being extremely talented and delivering comedy to the people, not to a select few of elite cynical people, but to the masses, the people who work everyday to make a living, who are raising their families, that are exposed to the news and the newspapers that it upsets. It's upsetting, you know. And it's. Around us. And I think Carol brought a lot of relief to a lot of people for 11 years.

Interviewer: It's sure there's something to be said for just life really doesn't have to be. That's your house. I'm wondering if you thought it was on partially while you were on the air as well. If you watched her on mad about you at all.

Elfman: I had seen her right and watched that many episodes, I don't think I had enough to comment.

Interviewer: Or her when she was on the Larry Sanders show. I don't know if you.

Elfman: Didn't have HBO at that time.

Interviewer: No problem.

Elfman: Just got it.

Interviewer: Well, that's it. Unless there's anything else you feel. Just sort of. Was was a. I guess I'm just. Was there anything in particular that was sort of groundbreaking about her?

Elfman: We'll just, you know, in watching the episodes and skits again today. It's still I was reminded and inspired equally as I was when I was young and still equally having the experience I have now as an adult and as an actress and as a comedian and entertaining audiences from a comedic point of view. I was again. Blown away at how talented she is. And my appreciation for her willingness to be weird, ugly, funny, crazy, rubbery. Her willingness, it's a willingness. I can't tell you how many sets I've been on where I hear. Oh, this actress, well, she didn't want to look ugly, you know, and I'm like, then you're not going to be funny because you can't be worried about being pretty and be funny. They don't go together at all. Like, you just can't. And I think that was a huge still, you know, for me watching her now. That is one of the biggest points of inspiration for me, is just be willing to be the fool and be willing to be and do anything. And that's when you can find the comedy, because as soon as you're worried about how you're going to Lucker, you're not can be pretty. It's not funny. And audiences perceive that if you're holding back. And she did not hold back. And the more she let herself go, the funnier she was. And that's a huge point of inspiration for me.

Interviewer: It was also the I mean, she was hilariously funny, but also glamorous.

Elfman: Well, yes. Then when she you know, she also then would get in front of the audience and was beautiful. I mean, there's many of these skits where she was beautiful, but then she would break into, you know, whatever hilarity she would break into your style. She's a beautiful woman. So wasn't that I'm not saying you have to be ugly to do comedy, but I'm all for, you know, trying to look good. But it's just when you're in it, you know, and to be able to have beauty and grace and elegance as you wish and be willing and able to be as ridiculous as you wish to have that. Calibrated. The way she did. And Vicki Lawrence, beautiful, too. Beautiful women. And I think that's partly why I appreciate it even more is that they're beautiful women going the distance. And I think that says even more for women as women.

Jenna Elfman
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
"Jenna Elfman, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 29 May. 2007,
(2007, May 29). Jenna Elfman, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Jenna Elfman, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). May 29, 2007. Accessed January 18, 2022


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