It was a royal night of comedy at Beverly Hills’ Saban Theater on Tuesday night when legendary comedienne Carol Burnett took the stage to interview actor Tim Conway about his new memoir, What’s So Funny?: My Hilarious Life, which made The New York Times best-seller list its first week on sale.
The Writers Bloc event boasted a celebrity-studded audience with comedy royalty of its own, including Queen Latifah and Bob Newhart, whom Conway called a personal inspiration.
After Conway walked the audience through some charming childhood anecdotes from his book, he and Burnett soon turned to reminiscing about the more hysterical moments of working together on The Carol Burnett Show. The long-running program, which aired on CBS from 1967 to 1978, not only made Conway a household name, but also gave Burnett the distinction of being the first woman to ever host her own variety show.
Wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, Burnett recalled how “Tim’s goal in life was to destroy Harvey Korman,” Conway’s frequent sketch partner whose own work on the show won him four Emmys and a Golden Globe.
As they told it, Conway was a consummate prankster, and Korman his favorite victim, often on-air. During one of their famous “Dentist” sketches, Burnett swore that Conway’s unrehearsed improvisations pushed Korman so far to the edge of breaking that if you look closely…
“Harvey wet his pants,” Conway proclaimed proudly.
One of Burnett’s favorite Conway performances was in an “Oldest Man” sketch. She could barely contain herself describing how Conway threw himself down a staircase in slow motion, hitting every step along the way, landed at the bottom of the stairs, then slowly rolled himself up in a rug across the floor so that the actors had to be careful to step over him during the rest of the sketch.
“I had a hard time dating people because I did things like that,” Conway quipped.
Though it was technically Conway’s night, the audience was just as excited to pose questions to Burnett, who first got the performing bug as a UCLA theater student and earned her stripes on Broadway and in variety programs such as The Garry Moore Show before helming her own.
“I was told it was a man’s game,” she recalled when asked about running such an elaborate and successful show for over a decade. Noting that during its heyday the airwaves were filled with variety shows, Burnett lamented that such a production would never be green-lit today.
With a full orchestra, singers and upward of 60 new costumes produced each week, plus two live broadcasts to air on both coasts, The Carol Burnett Show was truly a hallmark of a bygone era. In fact, she and Conway were hard-pressed to name anything currently on TV that they find funny. “I think the news is funny,” Conway joked but added that he thinks modern comedy just “misses.”
Earlier in the evening, Burnett had spoken fondly of the wisdom imparted to her over the years by the grande dame of comedy Lucille Ball, so it was particularly surprising that she didn’t recognize any of her own successors, such as Tina Fey or even Lena Dunham. But then again, Burnett doesn’t exactly come off as someone who watches Girls.