Lorne Michaels agrees with me.

Lorne Michaels

Or, he did. Well actually…I didn’t know he agreed with me, as he agreed with me when I was 14 years old. But he agreed, and for the same reasons. In fact, he stole my opinion. OK, we share it.

Is this not making any sense? Right. Let me start over.

I have a confession. I hereby admit to all and sundry that I have never found Carol Burnett funny. Ever. Like, not once. Tim Conway, maybe, on occasion. But I quietly sneered and rolled my eyes at most of the comedy on Burnett’s show. Sue me. Lord knows millions of other people loved the stuff, but it just never “did it” for me. Her googly-eyed, mawkish cheesing at the camera, and especially Harvey Korman’s infuriating breaking of character to fall down laughing at how gol-dern funny they all were just grated on me. Stoney and I always tell our student actors: “You’re funny onstage until you start cracking up onstage at how funny you are. Then you’re not funny anymore.” I stand by it.

Burnett as “Eunice”

Anyhow, I’ve always felt like the Lone Ranger on that score. Almost everyone I knew was all HahahHAHAHAHAAA!!! about Carol Burnett, but I kept quiet vigil during her shows, and while the studio audience died laughing, I mostly sat with this look on my face.

So, my point (and I do have one) is that last night, I bought a book called Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live, by Doug Hill and Jeff Weingrad. Very impressive. About 65 pages in, I came across this paragraph:

[SNL creator] Lorne [Michaels] made it clear that [Carol] Burnett’s style encompassed everything “Saturday Night” should avoid. It lacked subtlety and nuance; it was…too smug, especially when the performers broke out laughing in mid-sketch, doubling over at the hilarity of themselves. From then on, many an idea would be derisively dismissed on the 17th floor with the words, “That’s Carol Burnett.”

Finally, a kindred spirit.

Now, wait. I know that Carol Burnett is a television icon; someone who, like Lucille Ball, played first string in what was always a boys’ game. She did her own thing on her own show, calling all the shots and doing things her way, which I think is fantastic. She paved the way for lots of other strong women in show business. I just don’t think she’s funny. Does that make me a bad person? Un-Amurrican?

I think Lorne would forgive me.

10 thoughts on “Lorne Michaels agrees with me.

  1. Mavis

    No, you’re not a bad person for not liking Carol’s style. I’m with you. Sometimes I thought that Tim Conway was sort of funny, but then Harvey cracking up at Tim’s antics ruined the whole skit for me! So I understand, Bird. You, me and Lorne.

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      Haha — I feel bad trashing her stuff because it was so incredibly popular (and probably still has a huge following on DVD)…maybe we just have weird senses of humor. Blame it on genetics. LOL

  2. Gardnar O'Brien

    This article is total hogwash. I just saw a whole host of Carol Burnett shows being advertised for sale. Many of the skits, Harvey laughing or not, reminded me of many, many SNL skits. Don’t you dare make fun of her show when many of her creative ideas were copied. Shame on you and Lorne!

    1. Rat Fink Post author

      Sorry to offend, but I feel no shame, and since I pay the bills around here, I can dare to say pretty much anything I want. But I hear you; I never said Carol Burnett wasn’t a pioneering force in sketch comedy. I simply said that breaking up all the time (and it was quite often, you have to admit) is unprofessional.

      1. Lorne Michaels

        Yeah, it really hurt Jimmy Fallon’s career, who not only broke up all the time, it became his “bit” and he knew it. So then you’d start to notice him doing it on purpose and or egging it on in others. It made doing skits with him not fun because you knew halfway throught the skit, the laugh would be Fallon cracking up. It became so common that actors began accusing him of not only doing it on purpose but then pretending to hold it in. It was considered so lame that fellow actors started refusing to do skits with him. Now look where’s at. Viewer’s main gripe about fallon is his fake laughing and over the top reactions that come off as fake and kiss ass. Gee, where have we seen that before. When actors crack up in these shows, the funniness of it has everything to do with its spontaneity and unpredictabiity but here we have an SNL star turned Tonight Show host who tries to fool the audience by manipulating that – a sin turned into a moral failure. Since Fallon would be nothing without Lorne that makes Lorne a fucking hypocrite who can’t give Carol Burnett her due. It shows what a little person Lorne is.

  3. Carol Burnett You Dick

    Ok, i’ll say it: yeah it’s weird that you don’t find anything Carol did funny. In fact i find it impossible simply because of the shear volume of work she did. Not even one thing? H….yeah, it reeks of sexism. Many men are the same way. I bet there was a time or two where you could have had a good laugh if you had just been able to get over the fact that it was a women who was not just being funny, but being funnier than you.

    1. Carol Burnett

      yup. especially when you consider that at the height of the Carol Burnett days were some of the worst years over at SNL. Carol’s show with 2 geezers and newbie would be doing circles around what supposed to be the highest echelon of young, hip, edgy comedy art and it pissed Lorne off to no end. Jealously is a bitch. The fact that Lorne has never been able to see how Carol’s work made his work that much better, give her her due and invite her on the show to host, even one time, says wha a small, shallow little man he is.

      1. Tim Conway

        The professional actor’s true gripe with Carol and her show was the lazy writing and shallow character development. It was so lazy, so poorly directed. An actor at that level, and what SNL actors do so well, should have at their disposal a palette of choices they give to the character. The really hard part, that which seperates the amateurs from the professionals, is coming up with a whole new palette for every character. If you just use the same palette from past characters that you’ve already used you become incapable of making the audience believe you are that character; a failing at the most basic level. Her entire show reflected this foundational failing and that’s what she was truly guilty of. With her limited and lazy choices she was always Carol playing a part, not Carol becoming a character. Her cohorts were all guilty of the same. I know the Carol Burnett skits pretty well (even with these failings, i’m a die hard fan) and think I’m going to do a youtube video demonstrating what i’m talking about. It would make for a fascinating drama lesson! The laughing? I think with sketch comedy, often improvised, the audience is aware that there is a time issue going on there – and there is! Funny is funny and honest laughter is often uncontrollable. The professionalism that comes with not laughing at very funny bits happens with practice over time through the rehearsal process – a luxury not often afforded weekly sketch shows. So the laughing is not only forgiveable but, with the exception of Fallon, endears audiences even more to that particular style of acting. I have a feeling that if were in Lorne Michael’s head, what i’ve just described comes a bit to closer to his true feelings about Carol Burnett.

    2. Rat Fink Post author

      I just saw this. How did I miss this comment thread four years ago?

      Blah, blah, sexist, funnier than you.

      News flash: I am a woman. Now run along.

  4. Rat Fink Post author

    This was fun to reread. And no minds were changed (unlike the aliases of the above commenters, while the email address — also fake — was the same).

    What a world…

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