Carol Burnett loved the variety format because it gave her a place to be silly

Carol Burnett could make just about anyone laugh; she just needed the right format to become a star.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Carol Burnett accomplished a lot during her long career in acting and performing. At 90, Burnett is still working and is a relevant name in almost any circle of people.

She could be seen onstage, in recording studios, on Broadway, making many public appearances, and onscreen. With all the places she's been in her career, it was television that gave her the start she needed. 

The Carol Burnett Show, for example, was a variety program whose format allowed Burnett to shine and gave her the creative freedom to be as silly as she wanted onstage.

In a 1968 interview with The Grand Island Independent, Burnett said variety was the spice of her life. The variety format was perfect for her talents and she wasn't afraid to show the world her song and dance — even if it was while in a chicken outfit.

She said she loved the variety format for two reasons: 

"I'm still kind of starstruck, just like a kid in a candy store, when I work with guest stars," Burnett said. "And the hours are so much more sane than being in a nightclub or on Broadway or in films so that I can spend more time taking care of my two little girls."

At the time of this interview, Burnett had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old at home. She needed a lot of time in order to be the head of her show, and the head of the family at home.

Being the star of her own variety show is great fun, but also a huge responsibility that many wouldn't dare to take on. When you're name is in the title of the series, there is a lot of pressure to keep it afloat.

Burnett was one of the only female stars on the variety front — something she was proud of. She loved to work, and the variety program format kept her working for years on end. 

Between writing, dancing, singing, answering tricky audience questions, and wearing some of the best costumes in the business; Burnett had no choice but to love it, it was her way of life.

"My humor is more physical than intellectual," Burnett said. "I would love to be able to do more satire, but I'm a throwback, a nut, that's it. I should have lived when there was vaudeville because that's what I feel most comfortable doing."

In the 1967 season, Burnett wore a curtain on her head, she was knocked into a plant by a swinging kitchen door, she had her face buried in ice cream and pies and she had the ceiling cave in on her head.

She did all that without getting hurt, but how? Even Lucille Ball was a bundle of bruises on her 1951 sitcom, I Love Lucy, from being a physical performer.

"It's a miracle," Burnett said. "I'm really on the clumsy, accident-prone side. But I just take the falls and hope for the best."

The variety format wasn't made for many performers, but it was perfect for Burnett. Throughout 11 successful years of The Carol Burnett Show, she was at the center of it all. 

In the interview, she credited the cast for helping make The Carol Burnett Show something special. Not only were they variety show survivors, but they did the impossible each week they went on-air. They could be silly and make people laugh — even the critics.

Watch The Carol Burnett Show on MeTV!

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3 Comments

ncadams27 2 months ago
I wonder what is more difficult - playing a character in a sitcom (think Lucille Ball), or doing comedy in a variety show (think Carol Burnett). Both great, but which is harder to do?
cperrynaples 2 months ago
I believe the photo on the left is The Gary Moore Show! Speaking of Gary, i'm sure all fans remember the first season scene where Durwood Kirby "accidentally" knocks Carol through an open window! It got a big laugh!
Runeshaper 2 months ago
Making people laugh is a great talent and a true gift. Burnett ROCKS!
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