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Interview with Carol Burnett: The First Lady of Television Comedy

Acclaimed actress and legendary comedian Carol Burnett chatted about her latest endeavors.

Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett. Photo Credit: Randee St. Nicholas
Carol Burnett. Photo Credit: Randee St. Nicholas

Acclaimed actress and legendary comedian Carol Burnett (“The Carol Burnett Show”) chatted about her latest endeavors.

Track and field icon Wilma Rudolph once said: “Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us.” Carol Burnett is a woman and entertainer that embodies this wise quote by the running legend.

She spoke about her current initiative to change New York’s Majestic Theatre’s name to The Harold Prince Theatre, and rightfully so. “I made a video and I started calling the people who worked with Hal and they made videos, and it kind of caught on. We just don’t want to lose the momentum, and we are hoping that the Schuberts who run the Majestic will see that this is the right thing to do,” she said.

The Harold Prince Theatre campaign

In a post on her social media page, she remarked, “I believe, along with many others in the theatre world, that the Majestic Theatre in New York City should be renamed after the brilliant producer and director Harold Prince. It’s more than fitting since the Majestic houses ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ which was directed by Hal and it’s the longest-running show in Broadway history.”

“And not only that,” Burnett said. “Hal was the recipient of 21 Tony Awards for Broadway shows he produced and/or directed. I had the joy of knowing and working with Hal and it was one of the most wonderful and rewarding experiences in my career. He was a beloved friend, and I can’t think of a better way to honor his brilliant contributions to the theater than changing the Majestic to the Harold Prince Theater.”

“It just makes sense because Hal Prince directed ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ which has been at the Majestic Theater for 35 years, and it is going to be closing in February. It’s just a slam dunk as far as I am concerned that it should be renamed the Harold Price Theater. Also, there are no theaters on Broadway named after directors,” she added.

“There are theaters named after composers and playwrights but there are none named after a director. Again, Hal Prince is the obvious person that should be honored with this. It would be wonderful to rename the Majestic after him because ‘Phantom’ is coming. I’ve thought about this for ages even before Hal passed away,” she elaborated.

“People should make a video with the hashtag #themajesticisfitforaPrince because we want to keep the momentum going so that the theater’s name gets changed,” she said.

‘Mrs. American Pie’

The iconic entertainer will be returning to TV. She will be starring as Norma in the Apple scripted comedy series “Mrs. American Pie,” opposite Kristen Wiig. “I am doing that now,” she said. “I have been filming since June and I am finished in two more weeks. It has been really fun, especially the people that I am with.”

Speaking of the cast of “Mrs. American Pie,” she shared that it consists of Kristen Wiig, Allison Janney, Laura Dern, and Ricky Martin, among other “wonderful people.”

Her character, Norma, is the grande dame of Palm Beach high society and a keeper of secrets with more than a few of her own, in the series that is based on the book by Juliet McDaniel. “It will come out next year,” she revealed.

The reigning “Queen of Comedy” noted that she enjoyed doing the series “Finding Your Roots.” “That is going to be aired,” she said. “Also, next year, we are going to have a 90th birthday celebration on television.”

The digital age

On being a performer in the digital age, Burnett said, “I am thrilled that I am still able to work at this age, and it’s so good. What is really fun is that we have DVDs, and I am on MeTV and Shout!, I am getting fanmail from 10-year-olds and teenagers and that’s a thrill. People are just discovering our show that weren’t even born when I was doing it.”

“People still enjoy it and get a kick out of it. The comedy hasn’t aged so much, we never really did anything that was very topical. We wanted to go for the belly laughs. It is a nice legacy to have,” she added about “The Carol Burnett Show.”

Awards and accolades

In 2016, she was recognized with the SAG Lifetime Achievement Award, in honor of her career achievement, as well as her humanitarian accomplishments. Three years later, in 2019, the Golden Globes named an award after her for career achievement in television, the “Carol Burnett Award,” where Burnett was the inaugural recipient.

The “Carol Burnett Award” at the Golden Globes recognizes individuals for outstanding contributions to television on or off the screen. “That was a thrill,” she admitted. “I remember when they told me that I was going to receive that award, and I thought that was great. When they told me they were going to name it after me and I was amazed, that was quite an honor,” she said.

Throughout her illustrious career in television, Burnett has been the recipient of six Primetime Emmy awards, a special Tony award, the Mark Twain Prize, a Peabody Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom; moreover, she was a Kennedy Center Honoree.

Her notable show, “The Carol Burnett Show,” was hailed by “Time Magazine” as one of the “100 Best Television Shows of All Time.” It ran for 11 years and averaged 30 million viewers each week, and it subsequently earned 25 Emmy awards, thus making it one of the most decorated shows in television history.

Burnett’s film credits include playing Miss Hannigan in Annie, as well as “Noises Off,” “A Wedding,” and “The Four Seasons.”

In 1985, she was inducted into the prestigious Television Academy Hall of Fame.

On her career-defining moments, she said, “Doing the 11 years of ‘The Carol Burnett Show.’ Also, I’ve done a lot of other things, but that was the most outstanding.”

Regarding the key to longevity in the entertainment business, she said, “Keep On Truckin’.”

In the book publishing arena, Burnett published her fourth book Fun in the Sandbox, which is a love letter to the golden era of television, while simultaneously dissecting the elements of what made The Carol Burnett Show the iconic success that it was.

On the title of the current chapter of her life, Burnett said, “Keep On Truckin’.” “Look to the future and be grateful for how long you have been here. Also, I have my health and I have all of my faculties and I am still able to memorize dialogue,” she said.

‘All My Children’

She recalled her time on “All My Children,” and described it as the “hardest-working medium.” “I really had fun doing ‘All My Children.’ I was sorry when they took it off the air after 40 years,” she said.

“I got to know the actors well, and I even got to socialize with them occasionally when I was in New York,” she added.

For “All My Children” alum Cameron Mathison, one of the highlights of his career was when Burnett described him as a “fine actor,” especially since he grew up watching her and laughing with her. “I thought Cameron was absolutely wonderful,” she said.

Last year, Burnett was a part of the Agnes Nixon tribute, which was hosted by Alan Locher of the Locher Room. They celebrated the life of “All My Children” creator Agnes Nixon. “Agnes was quite sweet. When we had our take on a soap opera on my show called ‘As The Stomach Turns,’ Agnes got a kick out of that. Agnes asked me if I would do a bit on ‘All My Children,’ and I said ‘of course’ and I did it,” she said.

“I did a small cameo and then, she wrote me a character and I filmed it for two weeks. I had a big storyline going on, so I got to work with all of the wonderful people. I am still connected with Susan Lucci and I love Michael E. Knight. They are good people and very talented,” she said.

When asked how she handled being dialogue-heavy on “All My Children,” Burnett said, “It was tough. I would have to study 20 pages the night before, and there were no retakes because they had to film a lot of scenes. Sometimes, we had the script in our hands and they would count down before we would shoot, and we would stick the script under a pillow, couch, or a placemat, and you would hope that you would get the dialogue right.”

Superpower

When asked if she were to have any superpower, Burnett noted that it would be for the world to have “peace” and “no more hate.” “I can’t stand what is happening in the news today. If I could wave my magic wand, it would be to spread peace,” she said.

If she were to look back in a rearview mirror over the last seven years, she said with a sweet laugh, “I see a better rear end.”

Alternate career choice

Her alternate career choice would have been a “writer” or a “schoolteacher.” “I would still be writing because I started out wanting to be a writer and I’ve written four books. I would want to continue writing. If I were younger, I would be a schoolteacher where I would teach the third or fourth grade. I love kids that age,” she said.

If she were to go on “The Masked Singer,” she revealed that she would go on as a “Bengal cat.”

Success

On her definition of the word success, she said, “Success to me means being happy in your work.” “There is a quote that I love: ‘I would love to go through life being untroubled by failure and untouched by triumph.’ Isn’t that an interesting quote? To be untroubled by failure and to be untouched by triumph, keeping an even keel,” she said.

For her dedicated fans, Burnett concluded, “I am very grateful and thank you for your support, it means the world to me.”

To learn more about Carol Burnett, follow her on Instagram.

Markos Papadatos
Written By

Markos Papadatos is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for Music News. Papadatos is a Greek-American journalist and educator that has authored over 20,000 original articles over the past 18 years. He has interviewed some of the biggest names in music, entertainment, lifestyle, magic, and sports. He is a 16-time "Best of Long Island" winner, where for three consecutive years (2020, 2021, and 2022), he was honored as the "Best Long Island Personality" in Arts & Entertainment, an honor that has gone to Billy Joel six times.

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