Carol Burnett and comedy have long gone hand-in-hand, so her being this year’s recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor is no surprise.
And, for her countless fans from every demographic, a great treat.
“They got in touch and asked if I would accept, and I said, ‘Yes!,'” the variety-series icon tells Zap2it of the prelude to Tuesday’s (May 21) announcement. “I was very flattered and pleased … and it’s a great show that they put on, too. It’s pretty classy, right up there with the Tonys and the Kennedy Center Honors.”
The event will be staged in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, Oct. 20; the traditional PBS telecast will then follow on Wednesday, Oct. 30. As for her peers’ feelings about her honor, Burnett has gotten such feedback from one of the performers she knows best.
“I had dinner last night with Tim Conway and his wife, and I know they’ve already been in touch with him (about appearing at the ceremony). I can’t imagine going anywhere for an award without Tim being there. He thinks it’s great, but I think he should get one! There might be people as funny, but I don’t know of anybody funnier.”
The list of Mark Twain Prize winners Burnett is joining spans comedy stars both classic (Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, Steve Martin) and contemporary (Tina Fey, Ellen DeGeneres, Will Ferrell). “We were talking last night about who else has gotten both the Twain and the Kennedy Center Honors,” Burnett says. “I did, and that’s really neat, and I know Bill Cosby has.” (Playwright Neil Simon also has.)
When she received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2003, Burnett was relieved she didn’t have to make a speech. It’s different with the Mark Twain Prize, as she’s well aware.
“I’m frantic,” she admits with a chuckle. “That’s the one thing I’m not just good at … well, not the one thing. There are a lot of things, but I’m not a stand-up comic and never was. One time, 30-some-odd years ago, I was honored by the Friars Club and you had to get up and make a speech. And I thought, ‘What am I gonna do?’
“Well, I got up and said, ‘I’m so thrilled, I’d like to sing my thanks.’ And I went, ‘I’m so glad we had this time together … .’ And I kept singing, ‘And I’d also like to thank the pilot who flew me here … and the ladies’ room attendant … .’ And it kept going, and they started to laugh, and I just wouldn’t stop.
“And finally, I had prearranged for Harvey (Korman) to hit me with a pie, and it was perfect. Maybe I’ll do something like that this time.”
Burnett also is back on best-seller lists for “Carrie and Me,” her memoir about her relationship with her late actress-singer-playwright daughter Carrie Hamilton. And she recently reunited with frequent “Carol Burnett Show” guest Betty White and the aforementioned Conway for a “Hot in Cleveland” episode TV Land will show Wednesday, June 26.
Having also done guest shots on such shows as “Glee,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and “Desperate Housewives” — and even “All My Children,” which devoted fan Burnett notes she’d be happy to rejoin in its new online life — the six-time Emmy winner wouldn’t mind getting back into steadier TV work.
“What I would love to do is a recurring role on a good dramatic series,” she says. “Not every week, though. Someone just asked me, ‘Would you want to go back and do Broadway?’ And I said, ‘Well, a limited run. And matinees only.'”