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Carol Burnett: Icon on Joan Rivers, Betty White and her '70s show
NUNN ON ONE
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2012-01-25

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The Carol Burnett Show made television history, running for 11 years and receiving 25 Emmy Awards. Burnett's winning streak didn't stop there with 12 People's Choice awards, eight Golden Globes and the Kennedy Center Honors.

More recently, she has made appearances on Mad About You and Law & Order: SVU—she received another Emmy nomination for the latter.

She has played Sue Sylvester's unforgettable mother on Glee and now pops up on Joan Rivers WE tv show Joan & Melissa where Joan Knows Best.

Whether it's yelling like Tarzan, pulling her ear on Broadway or writing another New York Times best-seller, Ms. Burnett continues to entertain crowds for generations.

Windy City Times: Hello, Carol. I heard you are going to be on Joan Rivers' reality show. How did you get involved with that?

Carol Burnett: She called me—easy as that. This was through a friend of mine, Kenny Solms. I don't know if you know him but he is a great comedy writer. She is best buds with him and I am, too. I have known Joan forever because she was on our show as a guest three times.

WCT: I didn't realize that.

CB: Oh, yes—way back. She asked me to do it and I said, "Sure, what the heck?' They rented out tables in a restaurant near where I live. We just had a little scene in a restaurant together. It was very easy and we kind of improvised. We knew where we were going with the plot, we shot it a couple of times, and that was it. She sent me the most gorgeous bouquet; there were roses, and I don't know what all—there was a forest! It lived a long time and was just beautiful.

WCT: In the past I told Joan I would bring her flowers to thank her for an interview and she said since she is getting on a plane just bring chocolate!

CB: [ Laughs ] Well that makes sense if she is getting on a plane.

WCT: I actually told her that you are my dream interview.

CB: Well thank you, Jerry!

WCT: So what do you think of reality shows?

CB: I don't watch that many. I had watched Joan's because I know her and Melissa so I got a kick out of what they were doing. That is actually the only one I have watched.

WCT: Do you watch shows such as Law & Order?

CB: I do have shows that I watch each week that I TiVo. Actually, I had Joan on my TiVo, which was funny. Reality shows in general I am not thrilled about only because they are so inexpensive and putting good writers out of business. Where there could be some good shows they are slotting reality shows. Why? Most of the time it is money. That is too bad because people are not getting what they used to get when there was more quality television. There is room for certain reality stuff but I feel it has gotten out of hand.

WCT: Would you want to be on Glee again?

CB: Oh, sure.

WCT: That was such a great guest spot.

CB: It was fun. I love Jane Lynch. She's a hoot to work with. Boy, do they work hard.

WCT: Do you prefer comedy or drama?

CB: Either one. When it is live and I am going to be on stage I like comedy because I like the feedback and the laughs. When you are doing drama, unless you are terrible, hopefully they won't laugh at you. I enjoy doing straight stuff, too.

WCT: People enjoy watching you do both.

CB: I am glad for that.

WCT: Would you ever do more Broadway?

CB: Not really. I live in California with my husband. He is based out here with his career—maybe a real short run or something, but not open-ended. It would depend on what it was.

WCT: I heard you have never refused an autograph.

CB: No, I haven't and I answer my mail.

WCT: Do you go out to many events?

CB: No, I don't. I used to when we had a show but it's like been there, done that. I would rather sit home and watch it on television, like the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes, in my fuzzy slippers and just vote on who I think will win.

WCT: Did you know you would still influence people's shows today? Rosie O'Donnell just talked about you and wanted a Q&A at the beginning of her show to be like yours.

CB: I am very flattered.

WCT: No one has really been able to do a variety show since.

CB: Well, people ask why but, again, the answer is money. We couldn't do today what we did on my show before. We had a 28-piece orchestra, no synthesizers, nothing filling in; it was a real sit-down with an orchestra, violins and harps. We had 12 dancers and singers with at least two guest stars a week. We had a rep company. Bob Mackie—let me put it to you this way—designed 50 costumes on average a week.

WCT: As a gay boy, I loved those shiny costumes growing up.

CB: Did you? I would wear maybe seven or eight costumes for sketches, finales, and duets with the guests. Today this would be prohibitive. I don't think a network would pay that kind of money these days. It would have to be a hybrid or some other type of variety show that wouldn't cost that kind of money. The V word has become a bad word. Before variety, it was. "Vaudeville is dead."

When we were on there were about nine variety shows on at the same time. There was Dean Martin, Sonny & Cher, The Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson, Laugh-In, and on and on. That was a great time for television.

WCT: What's your reaction to the canceling of All My Children?

CB: Well, boo hiss! That is all I can say. I am not knocking the show that replaced it; they could have put it on somewhere else. It is just too bad. Everybody loved that show and I loved the characters. I got to be on the show so I miss it selfishly, for myself, and I know I am not alone.

WCT: How do you pick projects these days?

CB: Just if they appeal to me, from one level to another. If they can make me laugh, then I will say okay. I don't like to work long hours and I talk to them about that because after eight or 10 hours one starts to fade. With our show we never worked that much! [ Laughs ] We just rehearsed, do it, then go home.

WCT: Do you still keep in touch with people from The Carol Burnett Show?

CB: Sure. Tim Conway and I just saw Vicki Lawrence the other night because we there to celebrate Betty White's 90th birthday for NBC. That was televised [ Jan. 16 ] . Her birthday is actually Jan. 17 and she [ turned ] 90.

WCT: Wow.

CB: She is like the Energizer Bunny.

WCT: She was so sweet when she was at a book-signing recently in Skokie.

CB: She is sweet, funny, sharp, healthy—she's everything. Ninety for her is like today's 65, as far as I am concerned. You see how she takes care of herself and still as sharp as a tack.

WCT: I noticed your daughter Erin has a big gay following, as far as her dance music.

CB: Yes, she does.

WCT: Do you have a website where people can purchase Carol Burnett items?

CB: No, I don't do that. There is one that someone does for me but I have never really been in touch with them. It is called All Things Carol Burnett. There is a lovely gal that runs it and has been doing it for forever. It is really sweet.

WCT: Your latest book can be purchased on there?

CB: I am not sure about that; you might have to go to Amazon.com .

WCT: Do you want to do more writing?

CB: Oh, yeah; I am in the middle of writing another one. It is letters and e-mails that Carrie—my daughter who passed away 10 years ago—and I wrote to each other. She was on the road going to Graceland doing research for a story she was going to write. The emails were amazing and she was an amazing human being.

She did all kinds of things. She directed, and she was on television a lot. She had one of the leads in Rent, the musical, for the first national company. She played Maureen. She was just coming into her own when she died, unfortunately, from cancer.

WCT: Are you coming to Chicago anytime soon?

CB: I would love to someday. We are trying to figure out what theatre. What I do is I go on the road and do a Q&A.

WCT: I gotta be there!

CB: Well, if we come to Chicago, please come, darlin'.

Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?—where Burnett appears—is back for a second season on WE tv Jan. 24. Visit www.wetv.com for details and listings.


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