The interns laughed. And laughed some more.
I wondered how a 1960s and '70s TV variety show might hold up in the YouTube era. So I popped in a DVD and watched the Scripps Foundation interns watch vintage comedy sketches from a time before they were born. So does comedy without its cultural context endure?
Oh, yeah. It does.
That's good news for actor/comedian Carol Burnett and Time Life, which just released DVDs of "The Carol Burnett Show."
Gathering 25 Emmy Awards and Golden Globes along its merry way, the show aired on CBS from 1967 to 1978. Regulars Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, announcer Lyle Waggoner and Tim Conway joined Burnett in sketches that captured dysfunctional family life, made fun of workplace shenanigans and parodied pop culture. Guest stars ranged from Lucille Ball to Carl Reiner to Betty White to Steve Martin. And Burnett performed numbers with musical greats from Ella Fitzgerald to Bing Crosby to the pre-moonwalk Jackson 5.
The DVDs come in four configurations of the classic comedy show, ranging from a single DVD to a 22-DVD set boxed inside a cardboard replica of the show's curtain. Bonus features abound, including cast and star interviews, featurettes and rarely seen sketches.
Burnett reflected on her work in a phone interview last week from her hotel in New York, where she was doing the rounds promoting the DVDs. Her voice hasn't aged -- she's 79 now -- and she says she still gets stopped at the grocery store by fellow shoppers hoping she'll do her famous Tarzan yell. But ever since that morning in the lingerie department at Bergdorf-Goodman's, where her rafter-reaching bellow beckoned a security guard with his gun drawn, she only yells in "controlled circumstances." Fans can cue it up repeatedly on the DVD, of course.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: In your career, what are you most proud of?
Burnett: First and foremost, our show, the 11 years on the show. Then I would say "The Garry Moore Show," which gave me a great big break. And my first Broadway show, "Once Upon a Mattress." Those three.
Q: What about in your personal life?
Burnett: I love my kids. I lost my daughter Carrie 11 years ago to cancer. She was the oldest. I just finished writing my third book, actually, about Carrie and me and our relationship. It's called "Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story." Simon & Schuster's going to publish it for next Mother's Day. I'm happy about that.
Q: After you did a show, did you lie awake nights, agonizing about what you might have done better or what could have been funnier?
Burnett: I'm not that kind of person. No.
Q: If you were starting today, how would your comedy be different?
Burnett: I don't think it would be. I'm a clown. That's really what I am. A couple of times we got into some political stuff, but I just like getting belly laughs.
Q: Which female comedians do you follow?
Burnett: I like comedians who are actor/comedians. I don't object to standup at all -- it's just not something that ever interested me because I was a sketch actor. It's the women who are in shows as characters, like Jane Lynch, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler -- they're wonderful comedic actors.
Q: What was it like singing with big stars? Were you intimidated?
Burnett: No, actually, I wasn't. I loved it. Where I'm intimidated is if I have to sing by myself. If I can look into Ella Fitzgerald's eyeballs, I can try to draw on 1/10th of her talent ... I was in awe, but I wasn't scared.
Q: Who had the idea for the "Scarlett/Starlett" character to keep the curtain rod in her dress in the "Went with the Wind" sketch?
Burnett: Bob Mackie. He did 70 costumes a week. Everything you saw anybody wear on our show, he designed -- the fat suits, the ugly stuff, the crazy. He even helped with makeup sometimes. ... It was a very well-written sketch, a takeoff on "Gone with the Wind." The writers had written that I run up the stairs and come back down with the draperies kind of just hanging. That was funny, but not great. So when I went into costume-fitting that Wednesday for Bob, he said, "I have an idea for the curtain dress." I went into the dressing room and there it was. I fell on the floor. I said, "Bob, that's one of the funniest sight gags I've ever seen. It's just brilliant!" And that's Bob. ... The outfit itself is in the Smithsonian.
Q: Which celebrity has left you star-struck?
Burnett: Practically all of them. I'm such a fan. I never got over that. My grandmother and I used to go down to the premieres when I was a little girl on Hollywood Boulevard and hang over the ropes to see the movie stars coming in for the premiere.
Q: You received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2003. How big a deal was that for you?
Burnett: I loved it. It's one time you're honored when you don't have to do anything. You don't even have to give a speech. You go there for the weekend. You eat, you wave, you cry and that's it. You could have laryngitis and not be worried.
Q: Are you publicly backing any candidate for president?
Burnett: No. I don't get into it. But let me put it this way: I'm for women's rights. So that might tell you something.