Carol Burnett on Her Anniversary Special: ‘I Can’t Believe 50 Years Have Passed’

THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW - Harvey Korman, Carol Burnett, Jim Nabors, Vicki Lawrence
THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, Harvey Korman, Carol Burnett, Jim Nabors, Vicki Lawrence, 1967-78

It’s a lovefest half a century in the making! The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special—honoring the comedy icon’s 1967–78 CBS variety series—will boast a busload of famous fans, including Jim Carrey, Stephen Colbert, Martin Short, Jane Lynch, Maya Rudolph, Jay Leno and Bill Hader. Original cast members Vicki Lawrence (Jim Nabors, Burnett and Harvey Korman) and Lyle Waggoner are also in the house. How’s the 84-year-old Burnett handling the milestone? With utter disbelief.

What’s the very best part of this celebration?
That our sketches still get belly laughs. We filmed it in front of an audience in our old CBS studio, Stage 33, and when we played the vintage clips the crowd was in hysterics! Harvey Korman and Tim Conway in their famous dentist sketch are as hilarious today as they were all those decades ago. Funny is funny. I can’t believe 50 years have passed. It’s like the blink of an eye. But I will tell you this: Those 11 seasons were the happiest I’ve ever been.

You’ve said The Carol Burnett Show could never happen today. How come?
It was way too pricey by today’s standards. Those fantastic Bob Mackie costumes alone would break the budget. And they’d never let me hire Vicki Lawrence, who was just out of high school and raw as can be. They’d say, “Are you crazy?” But back then—in the covered wagon days—the network left us alone to be artists.

What if you had starred in Here’s Agnes, the sitcom CBS offered you before you pushed for the variety show?
Trust me, we would not be having this conversation. I would be retired in a senior living place somewhere in Florida.

Is there a goose-bump moment in the special?
At the end I sing our closing theme, “I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together,” with Harry Connick Jr., who was born the very night our show premiered. Isn’t that something? [Laughs] Gee, I sure hope we didn’t make his mother go into labor!

The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special, Sunday, Dec. 3, 8/7c, CBS