Fifty years ago, the world was awakened to the comic force that is Carol Burnett. You could spend a day listing her accolades and accomplishments, all of them justly deserved.
She arguably changed the landscape of sketch comedy, although as she herself has said, she didn’t do it alone.
Her chief comic conspirators were the late Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, and the great Tim Conway.
Conway came to the club late, as he was not part of the original cast. He had been on television sitcoms and variety shows before, but his time on Burnett’s show allowed him to flourish.
He became known for his ability to never break character while going through over the top bits that caused his co-stars to double up in laughter.
In fact, in one of his more famous sketches, where he plays a dentist attempting to help a patient, played by Korman, Conway was so outrageous that he caused Korman to laugh so uncontrollably that he wet himself.
Korman, ever the consummate professional, continued on with the sketch until the very end.
People loved to watch the show for moments like this. Not just to see professionals “break” but to see people truly in love with what they do and who they do it with.
Conway’s most lasting character on the show may have been “The Old Man.” (Off the show, was it perhaps Dorf?)
The Old Man was exactly who he sounds like. A doddering, shuffling, often silent character who tries his hardest but always ends up…well…perhaps it’s best to see for yourself.
Conway’s total commitment to the idea is impressive. It’s a masterclass in comedic acting.
He had an impressive ability to turn a small bit into something more. And it’s a credit to Burnett that he was given the freedom to do so.
Burnett has said that they would often film segments twice, once scripted and once more open to allow the actors to improvise.
These were the moments when comedy gold would happen.
Over the course of its eleven-year run, the show parodied movies, television shows, commercials, and other topical items. Some of its most popular sketches, though, were more familiar.
Such as the “Family” sketches that eventually spun off onto their own show – Mama’s Family. An 80’s sitcom if there ever was one.
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