Speaker Carol Burnett came to my attention when everybody else noticed her, that was on The Garry Moore Show. Who is this girl? How can she get a laugh out of everything she does? I mean, she was extraordinary. There was no question about her being a star someday. The fact that she lasted there for years, somebody wasn't paying attention. Somebody should have plucked her much earlier than four years. I mean, she had it all.

Speaker What can you describe her kind of comedic style?

Speaker Well, she had like all great comedians. And by the way, she is a very handsome, pretty woman. And she tried desperately not to be. And but when she was in repose, you realize you you were looking at a very pretty woman with a good figure and good legs and cutting up.

Speaker And she did she didn't take herself seriously. She took it. She knew she was a comedian. She I don't know where the self self-esteem disappeared, where she didn't know she was as pretty as she was.

Speaker Was it unusual to see? How unusual was it to see a woman doing such hard physical?

Speaker Well, there were there were a lot of. There were a lot of great male comics.

Speaker But the amount of great female comics are very sparse. I mean, we talk about Lucille Ball, who is a physical comedian, Imogene Coca, who, by the way, was probably one of the reasons Imogene Coker's I mean, the Carol Burnett is with us today because I didn't know this about her, but I heard the story later and I said, oh, of course. Of course. Because she had the same sensibility about sketches and sketch comedy that we had on the old show shows with Sid Caesar and Imogene Cochran, Howard Mars, and then later, Nana Fabray. What we learned that this little girl from California had come to New York and was livid that the robot was the name of that place, a studio. Well, and this young lady lived at the rehearsal club. And her favorite thing in the world to do when I heard this later and I said, of course, of course, that's why she is who she is, was to go and watch. She had a friend who is a member of the company, a guy named Milt Cayman, who is a wonderful comedian, but also stood in for Sid. So Sid could watch what he was going to do and where we'd sketch a block a scene. And so he invited Carol to come to watch the rehearsals on a Saturday afternoon. And she was for rehearsals. There was a dress rehearsal was the final one, but the three rehearsals leading up to she sat there all day in the back. Never knew she was there, never knew.

Speaker And one of the stories she tells and you really her dedication to becoming a media and to learn how to do sketch comedy, of course, she was born with the ability she didn't know it was. She talked about having tickets to see My Fair Lady, which was the hardest thing in the world to get. And she handed to somebody else. She is I have to go see the change from the dress rehearsal to the from the block, new Isolda, the dress. Then she ran home and saw the show. And so she she was a real student of what she wanted to do. And when she became the star of the show, I'm sure a lot of people thought they were telling her what you know, though. They thought they were directing what nobody had a director.

Speaker She knew what she needed to know because she wasn't trained in physical comedy.

Speaker But she was training herself in a way that no question, no question about the fact that we all watch. We all learn by watching. And she watched the best when she had Sid Caesar image and Cocker has her mentors without them knowing it.

Speaker How was she different, though, than Imogene Coca, for example? Because she was different?

Speaker Well, the difference between Imogene Coca and. And Calvin, I'm trying to think the differences, the similarities are more than the differences, imagine Coke was more of a gamma gamma and but they both could do wonderful physical comedy. They both can sing and they both can dance. And so that they were, you know, something that they cut from the same cloth.

Speaker Is there something about Carrolls, though? You know, sort of that all American girl next door thing that she had that made people audiences really respond to her?

Speaker There was something about Carol that everybody felt that she was a relative. She was their relative. She she if she wasn't somebody in their family, somebody you wanted in your family, somebody would make Thanksgiving dinner more fun than it would have ordinarily been. No, but she had the ability. She also had another ability. She was a very good ad libber. And nobody knew that because she stuck to the script.

Speaker But and she got more out of rehearsals than anybody have ever done. She has her shows where the most organized I've ever been on. And I don't know who did it, but was her having to go back and make sure she she could be a mother to her kids. So she had very strict times set up for rehearsals and doing the show. And this was something I was surprised how effective and affecting it was to come in and know what you're going to do.

Speaker Rehearsals run smooth and. And it was because she was organized. She was a very organized person. You would not know it from the wildness of her. But what I was saying about her sense of humor, you really got to know it. When she did her entourage or end of the show, a question and answer from the audience never failed to get a laugh out of whatever question it was. You just had a way of doing and acted as if it were a surprise to her that she was being funny.

Speaker Do you think that was part of why? Because audiences. We're just seeing her as characters in sketches. They were also seeing.

Speaker Yeah, The Carol Burnett Show is about. Well, it was the reason the show lasted eleven years because it was the best. There was no question about it was the best four. And at that time, there were no other variety musical variety shows. As a matter of fact, she was the last of a dying breed when the dick when the show of shows ended. I was at a loss of what to do. I was offered situation comedies. And finally I did the Dinah Shore show, which was the last of that where was musical and sketches. And I was a writer and then not so special guest star every week. And that's how I was built. And but when that left the 1960, there was a big void. And until Carol Burnett came, there was no good variety musical variety shows. And she held it single handedly. She kept the genre alive. And boy, did she keep it alive for eleven years. Of course, she also was very clever to get some of the most talented men to work with the men that to this day are considered the funniest, the funniest guys ever.

Speaker Harvey Korman. And the little guy who nobody never recognizes.

Speaker I know Tim Conway. Matter of fact, I saw Tim Conway in his first incarnation when it came from Cleveland. And Rosemary, who worked on The Dick Van Dyke Show, told us about a guy she met in Cleveland who was a radio announcer, disc jockey, and she said he was interviewed by and she said this funniest man ever.

Speaker And she's the one who brought him out to California. And so we know of Tim before she got all one of the contributions I made to Carol Burnett that she.

Speaker She would have guessed herself what before the show began. Before the first year I had I being one of the people who knew little about situation, about the sketch comedy. She asked me if I would come on, come on the show and be some something I don't know. Coproducer Do whatever. And I had just had, you know, had my whole life with that. And I was now going on to other things. I think I was the Van Dyke Show. I was just starting I'm not sure but but I said no but I.

Speaker Anything I can do, you know, is as far as if you want to talk about. So I said I have one thing I think you've got to get. You've got to get Rock Hudson out every week. And I wasn't meaning Rock Hudson. I mean, I knew how she how funny she is when she's mooning over somebody. Very. And so and I said, you gotta have a guy like that. And that's when they found Lyle Wagner. But I felt responsible. They would have gotten it anyway. But I said he should be a regular on the show because you're sure anytime you feel like moving, you have the moon over the sky, because she was very funny as a an unrequited love. She just know how to do it. Tell your heart out. Making love at the same time.

Speaker What were there kind of stereotypes for women in comedy?

Speaker Well, there weren't a lot of them and there weren't a lot of women comedians working when she was working. I mean, there were Phyllis Diller was always with us.

Speaker And what a great comedian she is. I can't remember. I mean, I we always go back to Lucille Ball, who really wasn't a comedian. She was a comedy actress, but could really do physically what Carol was more.

Speaker What's the word I'm looking for a very simple word that I've used a thousand times. When you have when you can do more than one thing, that's the word.

Speaker Carol was really the most versatile of all comedians, Lucille Ball, physical comedy. Nobody could do better, but she couldn't sing, but she could dance. But I mean, she didn't have a singing voice. She could sing. But Carol would really I sing a Carol could sing any kind of song can tear your heart out with a ballad. She could sing. And she had that, you know, the Tarzan on operatic voice if she needed it. And she was really a of full rounded musical comedy performer. Well, she was in you know, in her incarnation as a Broadway performer. She did, you know, the mattress in. And what was the other one?

Speaker She didn't say yes.

Speaker She did quite a few shows. The matches fade out, fade. But she was.

Speaker I got my water. There's no way I can get it from here.

Speaker Leave that in. Yeah, it's, uh, it's it's it's human.

Speaker Yeah, exactly. Unusual wasn't you remember when she told you that she was going to be hosting your own show?

Speaker Did it seem like, well, this is this is kind of a big thing that a woman when Carol came and actually she came to my office, asked me if I want to be part of the show. It was not a surprise at all. I was. And what did they wait so long? I mean, no question about the fact that she not only could handle the show, but she should have had a show. I mean, the fact that they waited four years or with Gary more before they offered the show because nobody had. There were never any talent as big as ours believe in mud and nobody figured. You mean she can do almost things that they never thought of her as a. Soon as they put a gown on and they had to come out and say an audience, they knew they were right. But at that point, she was a supporting comedian, Garry Moore, and doing funny shtick. But she was a lady. She could be a lady. And boy, did she prove that when she did those those wonderful duets with the great singers of her time. I mean, I look forward to those. I would like to have a real or those to make me smile because they were all always great.

Speaker And her relationship with Julie Andrews was just so warm and winning. I mean, I waited for those two girls to get together.

Speaker Was it groundbreaking, though, for a woman to be hosting?

Speaker I guess you would you would have to say it was groundbreaking for her to have her own show, because up until that time, I don't remember any woman who had her own variety show there or born any.

Speaker There weren't a were a lot of good female guests. Oh, no, no. Sullivan Show ripped it off on his own show, but she.

Speaker She was gracious and she was. She was a lady and she and a lady who could scrub floors, I imagine she had these this wonderful arsenal of people she could do. I mean, and and the mother and I mean.

Speaker Oh, yeah.

Speaker The family. I mean, the the such. What an actress. What an actress.

Speaker You said Lucille Ball was not really a comedian. Iconic actress.

Speaker How would you classify Carol, Carol, as a full born full bore meaning like a big rifle, like she was never a bore.

Speaker Actress, entertainer, comedian. She was see all the hyphenates work. If you want to say, Carol, you're not a lot of do another pratfall. You're not a lot of sing another song. I want you to do a serious movie without any.

Speaker She will produce it for you. And if you want to do just pratfalls. You can do that. All of the things she does, she doesn't do them one better than the other. She does them equally well. That's what's the shock. She can be as she can be a low class, but not low class. Well, they call there low comedian. They provoke me. And the elegant comedian who does a drawing room comedy, she can do both and various and very believe in believe in Bill.

Speaker That's that the word had very poorly for people here.

Speaker Carol, can can appear to be. Whatever you need, because she's got it.

Speaker It doesn't fake it. She is all of the things she does. She's a great singer. I don't know. No, no. I'm just thinking how good she can huff. I forgot she does off, but she doesn't feature that too much. But she can always. She would always need it when she needed to. That she did. But everything else she ever did. Low, low and high comedy is the word I was looking for. She was. She is a. If she were just told you got to be a low key meeting, personal life, she could have done it. Or a like comedian. She just has it all. She has more. She's an organ. She has all those stops. And she has organ.

Speaker You didn't hear that?

Speaker How was just thinking about trying to get the context of comedy. How comedy was changing at that time anyway? Can you just talk a little bit about comedy in the 50s and 60s?

Speaker Well, comedy has changed as comedy has not changed so much. In other words, you can't make the human person laugh unless there's real good risk. You have to write a good joke.

Speaker And what happens is that.

Speaker We go through stages. There was a long time when when the sketch comedy was king and now a sketch comedy has disappeared. I have a feeling it will come back someday. There are places that do. I mean, the improvs are still stand up. Comedy is now the thing. We get up. We get up. One guy gets up in good brains, are talking to you and telling you things in a different way. But right now, television comedy's changed because of the exigencies of commercialism.

Speaker The the half hour situation comedy that I did in 1962, 65 was 6th was 27, 28 minutes. It's now down. It was last year, down at twenty two. Now it's down to 20. So how do you get a laugh fast. 22 minute. Well, let's talk about sex. Let's talk about things that you can. One line, one joke. And there are some very, very funny shows on. There is. I mean, the other day somebody asked me and I, they were at my house and I said, what? And I just happened to have a tape. One of my name is Earl. That's a really funny show. I don't know how many minutes I have, but whatever minutes they have, they make work.

Speaker So you can be funny in 20 minutes, but it doesn't allow for certain kind of creativity that takes a little longer to develop.

Speaker Looking at 50s, 60s, 70s, Carol's first. Her variety show was on. With comedy, it seemed like he was going from somewhat more of a slapstick comedy to a more intellectual. Carol was able to ride both of those.

Speaker Oh, come on. There is always been slapstick comedy and intellectual comedy and wit. Going back from two Oscar Wilde to from Shakespeare. Right on. So it's always been with us. And it depends on who's doing it. And our Carol has the ability to do both. I mean, I was just thinking of Carol in what was hey, Alan, all the picture for four seasons. I mean, that was that was as good a performance as a serious performances I've ever seen. Talk your heart out. I mean. But that's not your question. Your question was about you. We were talking about it's not what we're talking about. We're talking about comedy has changed now. There's always been room for all kinds of comedy, has always been room for the wit, the slapstick. And and sometimes that combined sometimes are a witty person will do slapstick. I mean, you've got Robin Williams who goes, my God, he did it. He puts the old wall up at once and juggles it and makes you laugh many, many ways at a high intelligence in his work and slapstick and silliness.

Speaker Also, Carol, has that ability to why was the variety show popular?

Speaker Well, early television, every every medium borrows or or sucks the air out of the medium. Before it, there was a thing called vaudeville and vaudeville was a matter of variety shows, was a matter of sketch comedy.

Speaker And then a guy named Ed Sullivan came around and decided that was the variety show he would you would have a comedian or you'd have some people doing sketches once in a while, but it was mainly jugglers things and the vaudeville show. And then came the your show of shows, which was a combination of Broadway, Broadway and.

Speaker I call them, you know, gee, I'm losing wars.

Speaker Reviews here from vaudeville came the Broadway reviews, the Broadway reviews, they went all the way back to the 20s, Schaller's review and and Imogene Coca wasn't one of those back. Way back, I said, was one quote, Make my mind happen.

Speaker I did my call. Call me mister. And then with the television set, that's a great thing to be able have. Just take it on a button, an outdoor your review.

Speaker So every every new fund, a new development in in actually electronic development is uses the things that started way back in the days of the minstrel.

Speaker So why? Why do you think the variety show made it out eventually?

Speaker I think the variety show was a very.

Speaker Let's see, why did the variety show favorite? You know, I think that becomes a time. We say enough. We've seen it. We've seen it. We've seen a variety. Do show me another bear. You know, show me another sketch. So then situation comedy took over, which was the most accessible to people who were watching themselves in a situation. Calm was usually about people married, people living and relating to themselves in the world about them. So that was very easy to to make the transition of watching that and whether variety shows will ever come back. I don't know. I don't know. What do we got now from variety shows? We have reality shows. We do have amateur shows which are we're going way back to Major Bowes when we were young on radio. We listen to the amateur shows to see you find a new star. Now we've got these. So you want to be a star and American Idol. So those are variety shows of a sort. The one with the one that I was saying that we want to be a star. I think that's a variety show. You can come in and juggle. You can come in and shave your hair, whatever you want. And as long as you entertain. So there is a need for it because people are tuning that in. They want to see people make Scioli.

Speaker Let's do a variety show right when her show was on. It was on from sixty seven to seventy eight. And I'm just wondering if you think at all that it reflected the time period.

Speaker I mean, it wasn't a political you know, every every show that is on reflects the times. And if it's apolitical, that reflects the times too. You're afraid to talk about politics, so you don't because you get thrown off the air, because the powers that be on the air, which they shouldn't, which is a terrible thing. But today, thank goodness we have a thing called cable. Well, you can say things that have to be said that the networks will not say because they don't want to offend their their commercial sponsors. But that was one of the problems when when there was no cable, there were the their hands were tied by many. And the show shows we never did anything political. And they certainly were political things going on then. McCarthyism was in those days. Don't you think it would be wonderful? I've done a sketch against Mr. McCarthy and what he was doing to American Constitution. Anyway, we have those people now. We have thank goodness we have our Bill Mar's who were able to use language even that people use in the street, but not necessarily acceptable to certain people, say, you know, trying to not have cable, you have to pay for cable.

Speaker Do you think that one of the writers that we talked to said that he feels like they were more topical and got away with more than people realize?

Speaker Where's that literals? I would I would argue that I don't think they got away with very much. You might be able to wink at the audience and have a double entendre that will get past the censors. But for the most part, we we we were very apolitical in those days. A show of shows was apolitical, as was The Carol Burnett Show.

Speaker Do you think, though, in the end that in a way it was smart because you think that contributed to the fact that lasted?

Speaker Oh, I don't think so. I know it. Things. Things like fall of their own weight after a while and the performer's saying, Oh, I'm going to do another sketch about the performers, get the idea that, hey, we've done this before. And I'm sure Carol must have felt that there wasn't anything she didn't try or trust. And all of a sudden, you're you're filling forms and you're filling the forms you've done many, many times. When she found the family, that was a wonderful new development. Then they went to that many, many times and always were happy to see them. But the actors themselves and the writers themselves, I think come to a point. They say, think we've done that, maybe we should better. And everybody wants to go on to other things anyway. Ultimately.

Speaker What about also during the 70s women's wars?

Speaker Do you think girls who are the women's movement have a big effect on everything, on every kind of show where you were started? I think politically correct by women and well, those of us have always had that in our heads. No, it's true. I when I did The Dick Van Dyke Show, I was very much aware that I was reflecting my wife and I who had as a symbiotic relationship, we were not to against each other. We were two against the world. So it reflected that.

Speaker But the television always reflects the world. If it's going to work, if it doesn't reflect what's going on in the world, you're not gonna watch it.

Speaker And you think.

Speaker Do you think this is a woman and the fact that Carol was a woman and terribly talented and had such wonderful people around her and was a pleasant oasis, you wanted to tune in and see what you want to miss. You got so used to seeing her that you waters so you Polari and there was nothing else you're saying. A lot of kids. But I mean, I never miss a carbon nurture.

Speaker I knew there was something, something that I was going to really laugh at, whether it was Tim Conway or Carol or Harvey Korman. But there was something I was going to laugh.

Speaker You were on your show several times. You remember.

Speaker I remember a couple of them that I did with Carol. And I was so happy to have done them because I didn't get a chance to sketch comedy in those days. I was doing other things. And it was like a like a vacation. I came in and went back to my roots. And I remember well, one thing I remember play, I never did cross dressing. I didn't wear women's clothes on the show. The show was not going to have a cross dress. There was one of Milton Berle was always wearing women's clothes. And I remember playing in a Spanish operetta. I was playing Abuelita, which is the grandmother and a woman dressed her feeling so silly in it. But I enjoyed it. I know that's a dress. I enjoyed doing this. And I did a sketch with her where the two of us were the the the models for a writer who was writing wise. He wrote we we performed what he was writing and then stop. And that was a sketch that had been done, actually. The premise was really done in a movie called Holiday for Henryetta. And we had of course, television does that a lot borrows from all over.

Speaker How would she work in those situations? Was stripped to the written things carols.

Speaker I think Carol's strength is making what's on the written page seem not to be on a written page, making it hers. She was she wasn't born from ad libbing. And I think more important, why she probably could ad lib any time she wanted, but she had a schedule that she wanted us stick to have. She said the script is OK and they worked hard to make the scripts OK. She knew that we can rehearse from sonnets on songs or put it on the screen and then she can go home and be a mother. So she she had loving was not one of the things she cared about doing. She could feel as witness the fact when she had talked to the audience. That's all I.

Speaker What was her role? I mean, Joe was executive producer.

Speaker What were their roles role on the set? Was he a pleasant star? And she took she fill that role very beautifully. She was a mother.

Speaker She's a motherly person, you know, so everybody felt welcome. And every everybody was always amazed how down to earth she is. You know, she could have been a harridan.

Speaker She had that kind of power to imagine running a show for 11 years. And the. And the networks, how much money they must have made. They were she could have she could give them a hard time. She never did.

Speaker She has said before that she was always more comfortable seeing other characters.

Speaker So while most actors are much more comfortable being the characters themselves, except for myself or being myself right now, I have no primary role. No, really, nobody's ever themselves. I'm acting like I'm being interviewed and like I have more intelligence and I have it for as it comes across that I'm much more intelligent than I really am. But everybody has that. And because you hide you if it doesn't work. Blame that character you're doing. Don't blame me. I know. That's why we become actors. We've become actors to get approval. But also because wherever we are is not enough of where we're in love. We wouldn't be an actress. There's another thing, too. There's one thing. There's one imponderable. It's called talent. If you've got talent, sometimes, whatever the reason, you're an actor, you have to be on whatever it is or painter because you have talent and people will notice that and say, come over here and do that over here and we'll pay it forward. And with Carol, I'm sure that many people say come over here and do that if he has money, even if you don't want to do it.

Speaker There's that adage that comedy is tragedy plus time, and I'm just wondering if you think, Carol, that's true. Is there.

Speaker Does it help comedy to have comedy is tragedy. Plus, time was true. But Mel Brooks, his description is much better. The difference between comedy and tragedy. Comedy is if you'll be walking down and you'll fall in a manhole. That's comedy tragedy if I get a paper cut on my finger. That's the difference. If it's happened to somebody else, it's comedy. If it's happened to you, it's tragedy. Yeah.

Speaker Do you think I mean, I know you're a close friend of Carol's and she's she's had she had a difficult time.

Speaker She has had a share of terrible times and in her life. And nobody ever gets her way. Without having something babits in her case, she had a couple of really things you'd never want. Parents should never have to see your child go.

Speaker And that's one that's I can't it's incomprehensible. But you you carry on because there's no alternative. You just carry on. And thank goodness there are things you can do to make yourself more comfortable. And you would be if you didn't have those those talents. He has the talent to carry on. There was a there was a show I did, which I almost forgot about. It was called a Carol Call. Curtain was called Carol Caro, Robin and WAPI. And I love the best part of that whole show is that my name was in a title with those three other names. And as a matter of fact, I haven't seen it in years. And if you're looking now, send me a copy. I want to see that show. I was very important in that.

Speaker Do you think Carol has opened the door for, I guess, women in particular?

Speaker There's no way that you're a performer and I've made a mark on the country by your performance that you're not influencing somebody. Some place out there. Somebody is what has watched you and said, I can do that or I don't know if I can do that. Maybe I can steal that. Maybe. Look how she's doing. How did she do that? There is no way that Carol did not influence. I mean, you'd have to go around and ask every comedian in the world if they saw Carol Burnett and what they think of her. And I think you'll get back. Oh, you're kidding. That's why I'm a comedian. I'm sure I'm sure that she's made at least 60.

Speaker I'll say six. Sixty two, which. Sixty three. She's made 63 comedians who. I thought. Yeah. I forgot one. Yeah. Sixty three. Sixty four. Oh, I forgot. Yes. OK. Sixty four comedians. And so there may be more. So call. And if you're a comedian and not in the sixty three I mentioned.

Speaker Thanks, Carol. Did you ever meet Manny?

Speaker No, I never met her nanny and her nanny never met me. Which is a shame for both of us.

Speaker So sad. Yeah. I guess just lastly, what what? Why do you think her show lasted so many years?

Speaker Was the reason Carol Burnett Show lasted so many years? Was. Well, let's see.

Speaker Ten letters or 15 letters, see a r o l a b, you are an e t t.

Speaker How many letters is that? That's the reason at last. There was a person named Carol Burnett who had the ability of Calor Carol Burnett and was a matter of fact was Carol Burnett. And that combination of the name and the ability put together and somebody noticing it is why she's remembered.

Carl Reiner
Interview Date:
American Archive of Public Broadcasting GUID:
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"Carl Reiner, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). 25 Jun. 2007,
(2007, June 25). Carl Reiner, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character. [Video]. American Masters Digital Archive (WNET).
"Carl Reiner, Carol Burnett: A Woman of Character." American Masters Digital Archive (WNET). June 25, 2007. Accessed January 20, 2022


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