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BWW Interview: Carol Burnett Reflects on THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW Experiences, Talks Upcoming Tour, and More

She's a legendary comedienne. She hosted a long-running, hit variety show on which she welcomed countless stage and screen greats like Maggie Smith, Bing Crosby, Lucille Ball, and Carol Channing, to name just a few. She has been given some of the most prestigious honors in the industry, including the Hollywood Walk of Fame, KENNEDY Center Honors, Television Hall of Fame, and many more. And she's touring to theatres across the US for an intimate night of conversation with local audiences.

Carol Burnett recently gave me a call to discuss AN EVENING OF LAUGHTER AND REFLECTION WITH CAROL, her new six-city tour in which the audience asks the questions. Below, see what this beloved star has to say about her current show and of course, THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW.

We're so excited to see you in cities across the US soon! What can you tell us about your upcoming show?

Well actually, it's called LAUGHTER AND REFLECTION WITH CAROL where the audience asks the questions. So it's really not a new show; I've been doing this for about 20 years. So what I do is I do 90 minutes of Q&As where the audience is my partner, and so I have no set performance or anything like that. I have a few stories that I've told over the years when people ask questions about Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway, or Harvey [Korman], but there are no pre-planned questions in the audience at all. So the audience members just raise their hand, and I call on them at random. We have ushers there with mics, so people just ask questions and I just answer. So we start off with about 8 or 9 minutes of clips from [THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW] of my favorite questions that I got when I was opening my show, to let the audience know exactly what the evening is going to be about. So it's really not a one-woman show, because the audience is my partner.

That sounds so fun!

Yes! Well, it keeps me on my toes, I have to say, because I never know what anybody's going to say or ask. It'll be me and maybe some other clips [from THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW] but not a lot. It's mostly me and the audience.

What an intimate idea!

Well, it is. It's a little scary at times, but so far, I'm knocking on wood. It's worked out and the audiences have always been kind of wonderful.

Switching gears a little bit, let's talk about THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW. How did you and the cast keep each other on your toes during your show?

Well, I think we were professional. We learned everything, and we were rehearsed. You know, a lot of times when you do a show, they do a lot of retakes and you're there til all hours of the morning, but we were out of there in time to go to dinner when we taped the show. I didn't want to keep our studio audience waiting, so I said, "We're going to do it as quickly as we can like a live show." So the studio audiences, you know, if they're laughing and they're with us, that makes us better.

I did some guest shots on shows that were just half an hour long, but they'd take five, six hours to tape in front of a studio audience. It's terrible! Audiences are just tired, and bored, and- oh! It's like they were making a movie. You don't have to do it that way. We would tape about an hour and ten minutes with the Q&A and everything, and we'd be out of there after a little over two hours, with all the costume changes, all the musical numbers, all the sketches- everything! The cast would be going out to dinner, and all the other shows in the building were still taping til 1 or 2 in the morning. But I think that made a difference.

You know, you look at some of the shows, you can see sometimes a microphone coming into the shot, but we never stopped. Ok, so it's in there, so what? It would be that way if it were a live show. So we just kept on going. If the scenery fell in and knocked us out of course we'd stop, but that never happened.

Yeah, that would have been very awkward.

Yes, I think so.

And you had some awesome guest stars on your show as well.

Oh yes! One of my favorites, the first person we ever asked to do the show was Bernadette Peters. She wasn't on the first show, but she was the first person we asked. And then Steve Lawrence was one of the best sketch players. People think all he was was a singer, but he was also one of my favorite comedic partners in our sketches. He was brilliant. We did "Double Indemnity" together, "Postman Always Rings Twice," "The African Queen," "From Here to Eternity," "Laura," all those movie parodies we did with Steve.

One of my favorites of your guest stars was Maggie Smith, whom we know these days as the Dowager Countess in DOWNTON ABBEY.

Oh yes! She was on two or three times. Yes, she's a brilliant comedienne! She was in one of THE FAMILY sketches as a school teacher. It's wonderful. Eunice, Ed, and Mama are called into the schoolroom where she's the teacher of Eunice and Ed's son Bubba, whom we never saw, because Bubba is a bully, and she's talking to us about it. Of course, after she interviews us, she realizes why Bubba is so dysfunctional! It's a brilliant sketch.

And then Ken Berry was another favorite. We had some really good ones. I was thrilled to get Bing Crosby! I mean, movie stars that I grew up watching as a kid, I got Bing Crosby, Rita Hayworth, and Betty Grable, people that I never thought I'd ever meet, let alone work with.

Carol Burnett will bring AN EVENING OF LAUGHTER AND REFLECTION WITH CAROL to Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh over the next several months. On September 13, she will release her new memoir, IN SUCH GOOD COMPANY.


May 17, 19, 20
Chicago Theatre 800-645-3000

June 3, 4
The Orpheum Theatre / 888-746-1799

September 16,17
The Beacon Theatre 800-745-3000

October 5, 6
Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts 562-916-8500

October 25
The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center 800-745-3000

October 27
Heinz Hall 412-392-4900

Carol Burnett, award-winning actress and best-selling author, is widely recognized by the public and her peers for her work on stage and screen, most notably The Carol Burnett Show. Named in 2007 by TIME magazine as one of "100 Best Television Shows of All Time," The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 years, averaged 30 million viewers per week, and received 25 Emmy Awards, making it one of the most honored shows in television history. But it is Ms. Burnett's artistic brilliance, her respect and appreciation of her fans, and her graciousness, integrity, warmth, and humor on and off screen that have made her one of the most beloved performers in entertainment and one of the most admired women in America.

As a highly acclaimed actress, Ms. Burnett has been honored with Emmys, Golden Globes, People's Choice Awards, the Horatio Alger Award, an Ace Award, and the Peabody. A KENNEDY Center Honoree, she has also been honored with the KENNEDY Center Mark Twain Prize for Humor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Carol Burnett was honored with the 2015 SAG Life Achievement Award on January 30, 2016.

Follow Sally Henry on Twitter for more Carol Burnett love and general fangirling: @BwayGinger.

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