First Lady of Laugh­ter Carol Bur­nett

She's made us smile for six decades and now in­spires a new gen­er­a­tion of co­me­di­ans.

Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - FRONT PAGE - By Amy Spencer • Cover and fea­ture pho­tog­ra­phy by Ari Michel­son

It’s been 37 years since TV’s The Carol Bur­nett Show went off the air, and yet Carol Bur­nett is still asked by fans to per­form some of her great­est hits, like tug­ging her left ear (a “hello” to her grand­mother) and her Tarzan yell. So she must be tired of do­ing them all by now, right? “No,” she says with­out a beat. “You have to keep in mind that for that au­di­ence—this is the first time they’re see­ing it.” Which prob­a­bly ex­plains why, at her Los An­ge­les Pa­rade photo shoot, she gen­er­ously sug­gests she lead a group of as­pir­ing young co­me­di­ans in the Tarzan yell. As Bur­nett throws her head back and howls, the fa­mil­iar funny sound sends the whole room decades back in time.

For Bur­nett, 82, who was born in San An­to­nio, Texas, it all started with the di­vorce of her par­ents, both al­co­holics, and her move-in with her grand­mother “Nanny” in Hol­ly­wood, when she was 7, in 1940. Four­teen years later, af­ter dis­cov­er­ing a love for the­ater at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les, she moved to New York City.

Within five years, she’d earned both a Tony Award nom­i­na­tion (for her role in Once Upon a Mat­tress) and a reg­u­lar co-host­ing spot on TV (on The Garry Moore

Show). Eight years later, in 1967, she made his­tory: The de­but of The Carol Bur­nett Show made her the first woman ever to host a va­ri­ety sketch show. With costars Tim Con­way, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Wag­goner and Har­vey Kor­man, the show col­lected 25 Emmy Awards dur­ing its 11-year run be­fore wrap­ping in 1978.

Bur­nett went on to ap­pear in movies (in­clud­ing play­ing Miss Han­ni­gan in the 1982 screen ada­p­a­tion of Broad­way’s An­nie) and in dra­matic TV roles, and has writ­ten three mem­oirs, all of them New York Times best-sellers.

She now lives in Santa Bar­bara, Calif., with her hus­band, Brian, a mu­sic con­trac­tor for the Hol­ly­wood Bowl and the Ned­er­lan­der the­aters. She has two grown daugh­ters, Jody and Erin. (Her daugh­ter Car­rie Hamil­ton died of can­cer in 2002.)

Bur­nett will per­form some of her live Q&A “Laugh­ter and Re­flec­tion” shows be­gin­ning in the spring and will re­lease her fourth book (about her years on The Carol Bur­nett Show) in the fall. And this month, she’ll ac­cept the Screen Ac­tors Guild’s 52nd Life Achieve­ment Award to honor her ca­reer and hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­com­plish­ments (air­ing Jan. 30 on TNT and TBS at 8 p.m. ET).

She’s also fiercely com­mit­ted to do­ing what she can for com­edy’s next gen­er­a­tions: Not only has Bur­nett es­tab­lished schol­ar­ships around the coun­try (in­clud­ing one at her alma mater), but if a young fan writes her for act­ing ad­vice—of­ten af­ter find­ing her clas­sic show clips on DVDs and YouTube—“if it’s a well-writ­ten let­ter and they’re young enough and they leave their phone num­ber,” she says, “I’ll call them.”

How dif­fer­ent would your life have been if you hadn’t moved in with your grand­mother when you were 7 years old?

Whoa [laughs]. I have no idea. Had my mother and my father stayed mar­ried, had they not turned to drink . . . They were good peo­ple, they just had the dis­ease. But Nanny doted on me. So I felt spe­cial even though we were poor. We’d save our pen­nies, and we went to the movies. Grow­ing up in the ’40s and see­ing those movies— they weren’t cyn­i­cal. I grew up think­ing,

Ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be peachy keen. The good guys won; the bad guys didn’t.

Did that in­flu­ence the type of com­edy you ended up do­ing?

It in­flu­enced my think­ing when I went into show busi­ness: I was never afraid. I knew in my heart I would make a liv­ing so that I could put food on the ta­ble, clothes on my back and pay the rent.

What mem­o­rable ca­reer ad­vice did you

get start­ing out?

I was try­ing out for some­thing in New York on tele­vi­sion. The star of the show was an em­cee kind of guy. He said, “Honey, you’ll never make it in tele­vi­sion. You’re too loud.” So I didn’t get the job, need­less to say. I guess that was ad­vice—but I didn’t take it!

What do you think of com­edy to­day?

A lot of it I’m not thrilled with. Some of the com­edy I’ve watched on tele­vi­sion seems to have been writ­ten by teenage boys in the locker room. And now I’m sound­ing like an old fo­gey, but look back at some of the sit­coms that were bril­liant— All in the Fam­ily, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Ne­whart. Those hold up to­day, and there’s not one cheap laugh in them. Oth­er­wise, I don’t

watch that much com­edy. I’m into House

of Cards. Break­ing Bad— my God, did I

binge on that!

Is there any other com­edy you’re watch­ing that you think works?

I’ve been watch­ing The Grinder. I think Rob Lowe and Fred Sav­age are just di­vine. I love ev­ery­body in it. That’s clever writ­ing with­out be­ing scat­o­log­i­cal or get­ting dirty.

© PA­RADE Pub­li­ca­tions 2016. All rights re­served.

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