Tag Archives: Tina Fey

‘Carol Burnett: The Mark Twain Prize’ tonight on PBS

Carol Burnett receives the Mark Twain Prize tonight on PBS.

Carol Burnett becomes the 16th person to receive the ‘Mark Twain Prize’ for achievement in comedy tonight on PBS.

An icon of American TV comedy gets a long-overdue award as Carol Burnett receives The Mark Twain Prize Sunday night in a two-hour special airing on most PBS affiliates (check local listings).
Taped last Oct. 20 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the gala broadcast features a host of Burnett’s closest colleagues, friends and fans paying affectionate tribute to the 80-year-old comic and actress.
“This was a long time in coming, but I understand,” the honoree says while accepting the award at the climax of the show. “There are so many people who are funnier than I am, especially here in Washington.”
Former Mark Twain Prize recipient Tina Fey opens the program by noting that Burnett is receiving “an award that Mark Twain himself STILL has not won” before turning the stage over to a stellar list of admirers that includes Burnett’s former variety show castmates Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway; Lucie Arnaz, who recalls the long friendship between her mother, Lucille Ball, and Burnett; a virtually unrecognizable Amy Poehler appearing as Roz, Burnett’s longtime (and long-suffering) personal assistant; young impressionist Rosemary Watson, Burnett’s latest comedy discovery; and Tony Bennett, who serenades the honoree with “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Fittingly, the last half-hour of the telecast is largely handed over to Julie Andrews, Burnett’s lifelong best friend, who reminisces about a mortifying experience the two performers shared decades ago and introduces a delightful comedy clip drawn from one of the duo’s popular “Julie & Carol” TV specials.
Blessedly, the telecast also includes several vintage video clips that include not only the usual suspects – Burnett’s famous send-ups of Gone With the Wind and Sunset Boulevard and highlights from a famous “Family” sketch featuring Eunice, Ed and Mama – but also Burnett performing “Shy” from the very first TV presentation of Once Upon a Mattress and her hit novelty song “I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles” from an appearance on The Jack Paar Show.
(It’s also a nice touch that someone thought to include at least a fleeting glimpse of one-time variety show co-star Lyle Waggoner, otherwise absent from this special, in one of the featured comedy clips.)
In the final moments of the show, Burnett shares anecdotes about how comedy star Eddie Foy Jr. helped Burnett, a complete stranger, get her start in New York, and recalls how she once worked in a nod to a former grade-school classmate on a Carol Burnett Show sketch, only to discover later the woman had absolutely no memory of attending school with Burnett.
It’s a warm and cozy couple of hours that’ll conjure plenty of memories for viewers. If, heaven forbid, your local PBS affiliate isn’t carrying this Mark Twain Prize special, you can catch the whole thing online at www.pbs.org/marktwainprize .

A comedy master class on Showtime

Inside Comedy, David Steinberg’s revelatory Showtime series that starts a second season tonight, is one of those very worthy cable shows that flies under the radar of most viewers. In many respects, it’s a throwback to chat shows of yesteryear, in which hosts and guests sat down to exchange banter and points of view that weren’t obviously tied to shilling for someone’s latest project.
Most half-hour episodes of Steinberg’s series cut back and forth between his interviews with two major comedy figures, some of them writers and producers (Judd Apatow, who has penned and produced a bevy of raunchy comedies), some of them performers (Carol Burnett), others multi-hyphenates (Keenen Ivory Wayans).
Sometimes there’s an obvious link. One of this season’s episodes is split between Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin, who shared a body in the movie comedy All of Me. Others, however, have a less obvious connection (Will Ferrell and Betty White?).
Tonight’s premiere falls into the latter category, with two high-profile Emmy winners: Louis CK, from the critically acclaimed FX series Louis, and comedy veteran Bob Newhart. The two men come from very different backgrounds and have a distinctly different tone to their acts, but both aim their comedy at intelligent audiences.
Louis CK shares his perspectives with the air of a survivor who has reached several “career thresholds” that ultimately didn’t mean diddly in terms of his clout, and he says his current fame may bring him wild roars of approval when he steps onto a stage, but all it takes is one disappointing joke to lose a crowd – which is exactly how he likes it, because if the audience is just cheering because they like him as a star, he’s not getting any worthwhile feedback about what jokes are really good and which ones need to be trashed. He also admits he’s backing away from some overtly in-your-face sexual jokes he once was noted for simply because they seem tired and obvious to him now.
Newhart, by contrast, never was noted for edgy or “blue” material, but he always came to a gig assuming a certain level of smarts in the crowd. The 83-year-old comic, who still does occasional appearances, shares a funny anecdote about one appearance in which, early in his act, he told a joke that hinged entirely on the audience comprehending the meaning of the word “denigrate.” They didn’t, so Newhart was forced to spend the rest of his set frantically self-editing his jokes to eliminate any “big words.”
Surprisingly, while Newhart is widely perceived to be completely laid-back, he confesses that he still paces relentlessly in the hours leading up to a performance, and references the Russian roulette scenes in The Deer Hunter to explain why he keeps performing: With potential disaster looming at every turn during a comedy set, he relishes the moment when he hears that “click” and thinks, “Hey, the bullet wasn’t in the chamber after all. Let’s have a drink.”
Other upcoming guests for this season include Tina Fey, Drew Carey, Martin Mull, Ben Stiller, Mike Meyers and Bill Maher.