“Aren’t you a little young to be going to see Carol Burnett?” asked the woman behind me in line. Remembering being asked the same thing when I went to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I wondered if Carol Burnett’s humor would turn out to be more risque than I’d been led to believe.
In any case, a wild standing ovation met the comedienne on her entrance, before she’d even spoken a word. In a black dress and sparkly shirt, Burnett looked much the same as she did in the clips of the show shown both before her entrance and throughout the night. And, just as in those classic shows, which ended 29 years ago in 1978, she engaged the audience straightaway, saying, “Let’s just jump right in.”
In about one minute, Burnett broke through any reservations one might have about live comedy. She was immediately at ease with the audience, eager to see what might arise, and apparently free from self-doubt. The evening’s question-and-answer format, which was interspersed with clips from her shows, allowed for everything from nostalgic reflections to rip-roaring comedy, all colored by Burnett’s wonderfully warm, affectionate way of interacting with an audience. She called a teenage girl onto the stage to sing a song with her, elicited a communal Tarzan yell from the entire audience, and mock-flirted with a young stagehand who came on to bring her a director’s chair and a bottle of water. Her most compelling stories were about her childhood and early years in entertainment. Explaining her obsession with movies in her youth (she’d go to the theater with her grandmother eight times a week) she noted, “They [the films of classic Hollywood] weren’t cynical-Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland-the message was, ‘You can do anything.’ I never felt there was something standing in my way.” Looking at Burnett onstage at age 74, filled with confidence and holding her audience spellbound, it was obvious she meant it.
If I walked in worried that maybe it was too late for me to connect with this television icon-after all, I was born the year after her show went off the air-I needn’t have worried. It turns out I wasn’t too young for Carol Burnett after all.