Vicki Lawrence credits this famous blooper as ''unleashing the monster'' of Mama's character
"I don't know if they were relieved that Vicki had finally cut loose!"
What's the best Carol Burnett Show sketch? That's not a question with an easy answer, even for the biggest fans of the show. Some will point to "The Dentist", where Tim Conway famously made Harvey Korman wet himself from laughter as Conway flailed around as an inept dentist who kept accidentally numbing parts of his body. Others will say "Went with the Wind!", the Gone With The Wind parody where Carol donned her now-iconic curtain dress.
There's no shortage of great Carol Burnett sketches. But a lot of people would say that their favorite sketch was one that didn't air at all — "The Elephant Story" blooper. The clip has over 38 million views on YouTube. Conway, who would deliberately go off-script to try and make Harvey Korman break, plays an employee of Mama's son-in-law. The family is trying to play Password, when Conway goes on a long, rambling (and different each time) story about an elephant at a circus.
Conway already has most of the cast, including Carol Burnett, cracking up, but Vicki Lawrence delivers the final punch. Without breaking character, Lawrence says "Are you sure that little [expletive]'s through?" which sends both Conway and Dick Van Dyke rolling on the floor with laughter.
"When I was young... I didn't feel like I'd earned the privilege [to break character]," Lawrence said in an interview with The Archive of American Television. "I didn't feel like it was my place. I was still learning! It took me well into that run to embrace the 'go ahead and have fun with it' concept."
"The Elephant Sketch" changed things. "It was really the first time that Mama spoke out, I believe. And it unleashed a monster."
That fateful day, Lawrence was in her dressing room for the break between dress rehearsal and the show. The director would often drop by during this time to give notes. That day, he told Lawrence "I have just one note. The Elephant Story will be different, and good luck."
Lawrence complained to her makeup artist, "How does Tim get away with this stuff?". Her makeup artist simply replied, "Get 'em."
Then the fateful taping happened, and Tim Conway soon had everyone crying with laughter. Lawrence took the note from the director and the advice from her makeup artist and finally snapped back at Conway in the now-famous line.
"The cameras were jiggling and everybody was just... I don't know if they were relieved that Vicki had finally cut loose!"
As the millions of people who love that sketch can attest, we're all glad that Vicki cut loose! Oh, and the makeup artist who advised her to fire back at Conway? Al Schultz, who Lawrence has been married to since 1974.