Chattin’ with Carol 

Six-time Emmy winner Carol Burnett recently reminisced about a favorite sketch in which she played Ali MacGraw’s character in the movie “Love Story.”

“I collapse,” Burnett says, “and the doctor says, ‘I’m afraid she’s only got five minutes to live.’ So Harvey goes, ‘The doctor says you’re gonna be swell. Are you hungry? Can I get you something?’ And my line was: ‘I’d love a four-minute egg.’”

The legendary comedian comes to town this week for a live event called “Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett” to answer audience questions and show clips from her TV show.

The Q-and-A format originated back in the 1960s simply to “open up” her television broadcast. Burnett claims it gave performer-audience chemistry a tremendous boost. One evening, she even told a fan to go and say hello to co-star Harvey Korman in his dressing room.

Burnett is excited about this year’s West Coast tour, particularly the spontaneity of the evenings. She says she’s never been asked an obnoxious question.

Despite its huge, lengthy success, “The Carol Burnett Show” had its share of clunkers, Burnett says. For example, a skit called “Mary Worthless” — based on the popular Mary Worth comic strip — depicted an elderly lady “totally ruining” a couple’s marriage.

“Funny premise, but I’m telling you it was not good,” Burnett says, describing the audience, which sat and stared — like an oil painting. 

At the end of the sketch, she was supposed to say, “That’s another episode of ‘Mary Worthless.’” Instead, Burnett promised she would never do the character again.

Improvisation was a given on the show. Tim Conway routinely would set out to sabotage Korman by cracking him up in the middle of a sketch.

Eunice — the frustrated, angst-ridden character from the “Family” sketches — became an aging Southern belle when Burnett added a drawl. Burnett was struck by the family’s resemblance to her own, which is rooted in Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Burnett drew inspiration for Eunice from her mother: “She always had these big dreams, but felt that life was against her. And that was Eunice. She was always kind of pitiful.”

These days, Burnett finds bliss in writing. She has compiled her memoirs and show anecdotes into “Laughter and Reflection,” a book due out in April 2010.

IF YOU GO

Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett

Where: Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Tickets: $59.50 to $125
Contact: (800) 745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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