A signal system with her grandmother caused one of Carol Burnett's earlobes to be longer than the other
Because she couldn't say ''hi nanny'' on TV, Burnett and her grandmother came up with another way to communicate through the screen.
If you were a fan of The Carol Burnett Show when it was originally on the air between 1967 to 1978, you know how big of a role the studio audience played. The endless amounts of laughter was carried through millions of television screens every week, and that "live" feel was the heartbeat of the show throughout its run on television.
While most tuned into the show for the laughs surrounding Burnett, her guests and the sketches, those weren't the only reasons a fan would want to be in the studio audience.
When Burnett took the stage, often in a bright and loud show-stopping outfit, she generally gave the audience a preview of what was coming up that night, along with which celebrity guest would be featured. She herself, though it wasn't originally part of the plan, would warm up the crowd and take their questions.
Not long after the show began, the interactions between Burnett and her audience became a segment of its own, as Burnett told stories and answered questions, which of course varied from episode to episode.
In the timeless show that featured Tim Conway in "The Dentist" sketch, widely considered to be one of the best of all-time, Burnett was asked "What time are you on in Chicago?" Burnett actually wasn't sure herself, but thankfully another fan was able to give her the answer, which she happily relayed back.
For the next question, Burnett had a better answer. A fan asked her why she could so often be seen pulling down on her ear when she was on screen.
"That's a signal to my grandmother, who raised me," Burnett responded. "When I first went to New York... and had my first job [on TV], she said 'will you say hello to me?'"
"I explained to her that we're not allowed to say 'hi nanny' you know, on television, so we worked out this signal of pulling the earlobe which meant 'hi, I'm fine, you're check is on the way,'" Burnett told the audience with a laugh.
While telling the story to her audience, Burnett revealed her left earlobe was measured by a writer from Life Magazine and it had actually stretched longer than the other from pulling it so much over the years. After a while, Burnett's earlobes may not have been symmetrical anymore, but she wasn't worried about it, and she made an effort to get that tug in.
"Everytime I was on TV I'd find a place to do this when I was on camera so that she would know I was thinking of her," Burnett told the Television Academy in 2003.
Burnett clarified she only pulled at her ear when she was on TV.
She laughed, "I didn't go around pulling my ear just for the heck of it!"