One would be hard pressed to find a more formidable ensemble of comedic talent than the cast of The Carol Burnett Show. For eleven seasons, Carol and her cohorts took sketch comedy to hilarious new heights, thanks in part to each actor’s devious desire to make the others crack up on camera. The tactics usually worked, leaving the cast, and generations of viewers, in stitches.
Carol Burnett got her start performing in nightclubs and theater, finally moving into the genre of television in 1959, as part of The Gary Moore Show. She won an Emmy on that show, as well as another for a television special featuring her and Julie Andrews. Other television roles followed, such as guest-starring on The Lucy Show, before Carol was finally given the green light for her own variety show in 1967.
In the early years, the show consisted primarily of Carol, Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman and Lyle Waggoner, plus an assortment of weekly guests that read like a who’s who of Hollywood. Lucille Ball, Mickey Rooney, Lana Turner, Art Carney, Mel Torme, Sid Ceasar, Liza Minelli (in the first season alone) and hundreds of others all took turns singing, dancing and performing in various comedy sketches. The first guest ever to appear on the show was Carol’s close friend Jim Nabors (The Andy Griffith Show), and for the remainder of the series, he would always appear on the first show of each season.
While there was certainly some notable musical talent on the show over the years, most people tuned in for the hilarious comedy sketches, which were often brought to a grinding halt once the actors started to get the giggles. And when Tim Conway joined the cast in later years, it became that much more difficult for the actors to keep their composure, as he had a particular fondness for doing the unexpected and bringing his cohorts to their knees in uncontrolled laughter.
Fondly-remembered sketches included their popular ongoing soap opera spoof, “As the Stomach Turns,” as well as frequent movie parodies, such as the unforgettable “Went With The Wind.” Based on the film, Gone With The Wind, the sketch featured Carol as Scarlett O’Hara, dressed ridiculously in a garment made from a set of window curtains. Another recurring segment called “The Family” would later become the catalyst for a spin-off series in 1983 called Mama’s Family, which starred Vicky Lawrence.
For their efforts, The Carol Burnett Show collected 28 Emmy Awards and eight Golden Globes. After going off the air in 1978, the show would continue on in syndication for many years as Carol Burnett and Friends. It was the last great variety show, one that showcased a cast of characters whose chemistry is unparalleled. But the heart of the show was always Carol, who not only made audiences laugh but connected with them on a more personal level , such as at the beginning of each show by involving them in a question and answer session. And at the finish of each show, she would give her trademark tug of her ear (a message to her grandmother that she loved her) and then end with her trademark song, which seemed to perfectly sum up the feelings of everyone watching.
I’m so glad we had this time together
Just to have a laugh and sing a song
Seems we just got started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say, ‘So long.’
If you grew up giggling at The Carol Burnett Show, perhaps have some favorite sketches of your own you’d like to mention, we hope you’ll share all of your thoughts and recollections in our comments section. Meanwhile, a tip of the hat to all involved for providing some of the truly funniest moments in television.