How I'm Living Now: Carol Burnett, Comedian

Carol Burnett - Getty - H 2020
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With the coronavirus keeping Burnett at home in Santa Barbara, she opens up about the classic films she's rewatching, her favorite dessert and the satirical newscaster she adores so much that she got Vicki Lawrence hooked.

With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense for how, The Hollywood Reporter is running a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood's top writers, actors, directors, executives and more are living and working in these challenging times.

Carol Burnett had recently returned from Hawaii and was looking ahead to a spring and summer filled with tour dates for her interactive show, Carol Burnett: An Evening of Laughter and Reflection, a 90-minute Q&A performance during which she fields audience questions about her legendary career and nothing is off limits. There were dates set for Cincinnati, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Milwaukee, all of which have been postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic. She offered the same format to THR — clocking in closer to 20 minutes — to discuss what her life is like today, isolating in Santa Barbara with husband Brian and their cat Nikki (born on Christmas Day and named for St. Nicholas). 

Let’s start easy: What does your day look like now?

I get up in the morning, make the bed, have breakfast and feed the cat. I have a treadmill, so I walk about a half hour to 45 minutes every day. We live in a gated community and it's possible for us to go out, take a walk and any neighbors we see, we wave and social distance. When some of our friends go for walks, they call us to say they’re in the neighborhood. We open the door and have a meeting on the driveway with everyone standing six feet apart. It's so nice to see other human beings but, you know, it's a shame we can't hug them. We're thinking of bringing some lawn furniture out to put it in the driveway and just have people sit and talk six feet apart.

You sound well. What's been the toughest adjustment?

Not being able to socialize and see my family, that's tough, but we keep in touch. I talk to my sister and my kids almost every day and everybody’s doing as well as can be expected. I think back to World War II and even 9/11, we could all bond together. I was in New York right after 9/11 and we’d be on the street and you’d see a stranger and just give each other a hug. We can't do that now. On the other hand, they're asking us just to stay inside and that's a small price to pay when you think of the people during the war who had to go and fight and everything that they sacrificed. My heart goes out to the people who have lost their jobs, and all of the first responders, doctors and nurses who are putting their lives on the line. It's not much of a sacrifice, at least for me right now, just to sit on the sofa.

What have you learned about yourself during these past few weeks?

I've learned that I can do it, you know. I miss seeing friends and I miss going out to dinner or whatever but that's a small price to pay. And I've always been grateful but I'm even more grateful now.

What are you watching, reading, playing or listening to as a reprieve?

My husband and I watch old movies, play Scrabble, do crosswords and go for walks. We've watched Singing in the Rain, which I know by heart, but I can always watch it again — and again and again. And I watch the news. The newscasters I watch the most are Jake Tapper and Rachel Maddow. And Randy Rainbow.

Wait, who’s Randy Rainbow?

Oh my God! If you’re on YouTube, look up Randy Rainbow. He’s the best. He's so terrific and funny. He makes up parodies and songs about what's going on today and he does it all in his apartment. Even Stephen Sondheim has said that he's a genius. Oh my God. Chris, you've got to watch it.

I'm a little embarrassed I hadn’t heard of him.

He’s just now starting to be known. I discovered him a few months ago and he's right on top of everything. He’s got such a fan base now. You don't trust the word genius when it gets thrown around so much, but he's got a bit of that genius disease. Vicki Lawrence just had a birthday [March 26] and I talked to her about Randy. She didn't know him either and then she glommed onto him. I'm having the best time watching him.

What else are you watching?

We watched The Music Man with Robert Preston. Then we got a little bit dark to watch the wonderful movie with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer called Gaslight. It's so suspenseful and very Hitchcock-like. There are so many great things [to watch] and we're in for the duration. 

What have become your go-to comfort foods during the quarantine?

I love enchiladas. I was born in Texas and that’s the first food I ever remember eating, when I was 3 or so. But I’m pretty good with food. I'll have a bite of dessert and then I’m fine, I don’t need to eat the whole thing.

What’s your guilty pleasure when it comes to that one bite?

Key lime pie.

Have you found yourself stockpiling anything?

Not really. We bought some canned foods but I wasn’t too concerned. Where we are in Santa Barbara, the restaurants are doing takeout and I feel it’s important to help support the restaurants, so we’ve done a lot of that.

Any favorites?

In Montecito, there's Lucky's and an Italian place called Tre Lune. There’s also the new Rosewood Miramar club that recently opened. Those are my favorites.

Is there a cause that's most important to you right now?

Any organization that helps to support the frontline hospital workers with protective equipment, I'll certainly donate to those. It’s just ridiculous that there's a problem.

And what’s atop your to-do list once this is all over?

I'd like to have a party — break open the champagne, say hallelujah and hug each other.