Parade Interview— Carol Burnett: The First Lady of Laughter

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Carol Burnett has made us smile for six decades and now she’s inspiring a new generation of comedians.  The ground-breaking funny woman, 82, will release her fourth book in the fall (about her years on The Carol Burnett Show). And later this month she will accept the Screen Actors Guild’s 52nd Life Achievement Award to honor her career and humanitarian accomplishments (airing Jan. 30 on TNT and TBS). She talks to Parade about what makes her laugh—and why she’s nervous about picking up her award in front of Meryl Streep. Excerpts below:

On moving in with her grandmother in Hollywood when she was 7, following her alcoholic parents’ divorce:
“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.”

On how that influenced the type of comedy she 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.”

On what she thinks about 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!…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.”
On who she respects in comedy today:
“Well, Tina [Fey] and Amy [Poehler]. I mean, they ran their shows beautifully. And also what’s important—I know I’m going to sound like a goody-two-shoes—but they’re kind. They’re good people. I just think it’s so important to be kind. You can still be strong, but you don’t have to be nasty about it. If you’re kind, you’re going to get the best out of everybody… They were very kind in saying that they watched my show growing up. But if I had never been born, they’d be doing what they’re doing… I just hope they keep it up.”

On how she chooses where she does guest appearances: 26193-0
“Well, it varies. I’m a fan of Hawaii Five-O, so I’ve been on that three times. I did Hot in Cleveland because I’m very close with Betty White… I would do The Grinder because I’m a fan of the show. I would do a part in House of Cards if they ask—a straight role.”

On how she’d like to be remembered:
“That I made somebody laugh when they needed it. That at one point, when they needed it, that I made them forget—even it it is just for 10 seconds—that they were hurting.”

On what she appreciates about receiving SAG’s Life Achievement Award:
“Because it’s from your peers. And it also encompasses television and movies, so it’s the whole shebang. I’m just sorry I have to make a speech. I get nervous about that… Am I going to say the right thing? Am I going to be succinct and get my point across? It’s all of that. And I’m a little nervous about seeing all of the big movie stars. I think, Oh my God! There’s Meryl Streep! Oh geez!”

For more about Carol Burnett, including how her famous Q&A sessions came about, see Sunday’s Parade or go to

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