No question too silly for Burnett show

2013-01-24T00:00:00Z 2013-01-27T00:33:23Z No question too silly for Burnett showCathalena E. Burch Cburch@azstarnet.com Arizona Daily Star
January 24, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The little boy in the second row at Texas A&M University's Rudder Auditorium stood up and took the mic.

"I have a question," he said, staring at legendary comedian Carol Burnett that evening last November.

"OK. First, what's your name?" she responded.

Andrew. And he was 9 years old.

"And you know who I am?" she shot back, drawing laughter from the sold-out audience there to see her one-woman question-and-answer show that comes to Centennial Hall on Saturday.

"Surprisingly, yes," he answered.

"I love this answer," Burnett recalled in a phone conversation just before Christmas. "His question was could he take me out to dinner. I said, 'Honey, I'm a cougar, but not that much of a cougar.'

"I just love 'Surprisingly, yes.' How adorable is that?"

Burnett is used to off-the-wall questions. Truth be known, those are the best kind when you're standing in a cavernous theater staring down at rows and rows of fans.

"I've told this story before. This was about six years ago. I was in Texas and there was a lady in the balcony. I remember saying 'The lady in pink' because it stood out," she recalled. "And she said, 'Carol, if you could be a member of the opposite sex for 24 hours and then be able to pop back into being yourself again, who would you be and what would you do?' It was like, 'Oh my God.'

"The audience laughed because my eyes must have gotten very big and wide. It was very weird. I said a little prayer: 'God, I'm going to open my mouth and whatever comes out is your fault.' And I swear I didn't know until it came out of me and I said: 'I'd be Osama bin Laden and I'd kill myself.' The audience went crazy, and under my breath I said, 'Thank you, God.' "

"Laughter and Reflection: A Conversation With Carol Burnett Where the Audience Asks the Questions" was born out of Burnett's Emmy-winning CBS variety show that opened with audience members asking her questions. Years ago, she took that segment and turned it into a show that she takes to theaters around the country.

"We show clips of some of the funny questions I've got over the years. About a nine-minute, eight-minute clip," she explained. "And then I come out and say 'This is what this show's about. It's a conversation. Let's bump up the lights. You guys raise your hands if you've got any questions.' They are never pre-planned. I never know what anybody's going to ask. And I just call upon people at random. There are no questions that I am aware of what they are going to ask. The fun of it is the spontaneity."

"Laughter and Reflection" sums up Burnett's 50-year career.

"I love hearing laughter, and it's so healing," said Burnett, 79, whose show Saturday will be her first in Tucson.

Burnett said she is always amazed at the generational makeup of her audience. From college kids who might have caught clips from "The Carol Burnett Show" on YouTube or her guest appearance on shows like "Glee" or "Law & Order: SVU" to folks closer to her age. She might even have picked up a few fans Andrew's age from her voice work in last year's animated movie "The Secret World of Arrietty."

"I'm really happy now that the demographics go like Andrew, 9 years old, to 90," she said. "And I think a lot of that has to do with our sketches being shown on YouTube and our DVDs are out in stores. I'm getting a lot of fan mail from teenagers. It's bizarre."

And if you send her a letter, don't be shocked if she writes back. Burnett might even call you like she did with an awkward aspiring teen-age actress Vicki Lawrence in the late 1960s.

"She wrote me a very nice letter asking for advice on how to compete in the Miss Fireball of Englewood contest," Burnett recalled. "The letter got to me at CBS on that very day when she was going to be ... in the contest."

The letter included a newspaper article and photo of Lawrence, who looked strikingly similar to Burnett, who was months away from launching her CBS variety show and wanted to cast someone to play her sister.

Burnett called Lawrence at her parents' house and after convincing Lawrence that she was the real deal, she invited herself to Lawrence's competition that night. Lawrence won, and Burnett offered her an audition a few months later.

"She was a diamond in the rough, but there was something about her," Burnett said.

Lawrence remained with the show through its 11 seasons.

If you go

• What: "Laughter and Reflection: A Conversation With Carol Burnett Where the Audience Asks the Questions."

• When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

• Where: Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd., on the University of Arizona campus.

• Tickets: $45 to $125 through uapresents.org; very limited availability.

• Coming soon: Carol Burnett will release her third book in April, "Carrie and Me: A Mother and Daughter Love Story." The book recounts her relationship with her actress-comedian daughter, Carrie Hamilton, who died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 38.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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