Fifty years ago, the world was made aware of the comic force that is Carol Burnett. You could spend a whole day listing her accolades and accomplishments, all of them justly deserved.
She definitely changed the landscape of sketch comedy, although as she herself has said, she didn’t do it alone.
Her chief comic conspirators were the famous Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, and the great Tim Conway.
Conway came to the club a bit 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 thrive.
He became known for his ability to never break character while going through over the top bits that caused his co-stars to burst into laughter.
In fact, in one of his more famous sketches, where he plays a dentist attempting to help a patient with tooth trouble, 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 to the end.
People loved to watch the show for amazing moments like this. Not just to see professionals “break” but to see people truly in love with what they do and the people they do it with.
Conway’s most enduring 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 quiet 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 was impressive. It’s a masterclass in comedy.
He had an impressive ability to turn a small bit into something much more. And it’s a credit to Burnett that he was given the creative freedom to do so.
Burnett has said that they would frequently film segments twice, once scripted and once more open to allow the actors to improvise.
Those 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 famous sketches, though, were more familiar.
Such as the “Family” sketches that eventually spun off onto their own show – Mama’s Family. An amazing 80’s sitcom if there ever was one.