They shared a sound stage together for a decade on CBS' wildly popular "The Carol Burnett Show." Now, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman are sharing a concert stage. With the help of comedian and impressionist Louise DuArt, Conway and Korman re-create classic sketches from the show, as well as perform individual stand-up routines in their National Tour of "Together Again".
I spoke to Tim on the telephone along with about five other local reporters. I didn't know it was going to be a gang interview, so many of the questions were not ones that I would have asked. Since I did not tape the interview (I tried but I am a Technodork and I failed) the following transcription is from pure memory and not from a recording device, and hence it is paraphrased. When I ask a question it's denoted by my initials, CP; answered by TC for Conway and QUESTION refers to other reporters' queries. (And anything in brackets has been added by me.)
QUESTION: It says that you were born in Willoughby, Ohio?
TC: Yes, I was born in Willoughby, but I was immediately whisked off to Chagrin Falls where I grew up.
CP: Was there a seminal influence that made you want to go into show business and become a comedian?
TC: As a kid I was short and only weighed 95 pounds. And though I was active in a lot of Sports and got along with most of the guys, I think I used comedy as a defense mechanism. You know making someone laugh is a much better way to solve a problem than by using your fists.
CP: Ninety-five pounds?
TC: Oh, yeah, at first I wanted to be a jockey. I rode horses in Cleveland but I kept falling off and I was afraid of horses. So there wasn't much of a future in it.
CP: Did you have a comedy or entertainment hero?
TC: Gleason, Steve Allen, Tom Poston, Don Knotts. Don Knotts was a really big influence, especially on the Steve Allen show. I mean, look at the guy, his entire life is in his face. And you can't TV surf without coming across an Andy of Mayberry episode where you've just got to watch Don as Barney. And that's why I put Don in several of my movies.
QUESTION: Now you and Harvey Korman go way back. Have you ever found as strong a chemistry with anyone other than Harvey?
TC: I've known Harvey for over 40 years and I worked with him on the Burnett show for 11 years. I guess you could say we're about as close as you can get to being a comedy team.
QUESTION: Are you having fun together on this tour?
TC: Oh, sure, you see Harvey is a hypochondriac and a worrywart and I give him plenty to worry about.
QUESTION: On the Burnett show there was a Farm Sketch where you played a newscaster who keeps falling asleep as he's giving the Farm News. Will you be doing that sketch?
TC: Yes, most of the show, "Together Again", is sketches from The Carol Burnett Show. There'll be Mr. Tudball [the Swedish Office Manager] as well as other well known characters. You'll see Dorf, [a ludicrously serious lecturer on Sports who is height challenged] some new sketches, and some stand-up. And we'll be ably assisted by the very talented Louise DuArt.
QUESTION: Has Carol Burnett seen the show?
TC: Oh, yes.
QUESTION: Do you stay in touch with Carol?
TC: Both Harvey and I like to keep in touch with Carol. We try to see her at least once a month, because she's got a Drive-Up ATM Window at her house. And we like to go and pick up some cash.
QUESTION: What do you think about all this political correctness nowadays?
TC: We never had to worry about that on Carol's show -- because she always appealed to a broad audience. We never singled out one faction -- whether it was political or religious -- and that's why the show had such wide appeal. Nowadays, I don't watch a lot of TV anymore. A lot of it isn't the kind of thing you can feel comfortable with watching with your kids. And I still feel that way even though, now, my kids are in their 30s.
CP: So would you say that "Together Again" has broad appeal?
TC: I'm happy to say that this show is for everyone from 12 years old and up.
QUESTION: Tim, what do you think of the "Daily Show"?
TC: I don't see anything wrong with what's going on in this country today, so I don't really think much of it. It's not something I watch.
CP: You've been called a "King of Improv". The funniest sketch I ever saw on the Carol Burnett show was the one in which you were a Nazi Officer interrogating an American G.I. played by Lyle Waggoner. Waggoner was already in stitches from your German accent and those jodhpurs you were wearing and then you whipped out this hand puppet of Hitler. Did anyone else know about the puppet beforehand?
TC: Just me.
CP: And did anyone know that you were going to make the puppet sing all three verses of "I've Been Working on the Railroad?
CP: So that was completely improvised?
TC: You see I like to have that leeway to be able to do things like that. Sometimes they'd just put up a cue card that said, "Savor, savor, savor" on it -- meaning that we needed to stretch and I could just do my thing.
QUESTION: So because of your penchant for improvisation -- did they ever have to cut the guest artists on the show, like Steve and Edie?
TC: Well there was this time we were doing this sketch where the last line was "elephant". The director said, "Now, Tim, we're short on time so I just want you to say 'elephant' and that's it." So the first take I told this story about these two Siamese twin elephants that were joined at the trunk. And it was really sad because they couldn't make any noise, because when one blew his trunk it blew the other one's brains out. Now this was about a two minute bit. So the next take, the director said, "Now, Tim, I mean it this time. At the end of the skit I just want you to say, 'elephant' that's all!" So, of course the next time the bit got longer and longer and it involved monkeys doing the Merengue on the elephants' trunks and . . .
CP: I guess you showed him!
TC: So, yeah, sometimes the guests' segments got cut.
CP: So do you enjoy doing your own material?
TC: Yes! Nowadays they have 12 directors and 15 producers and 30 writers. And all the writers want their lines said a certain way -- which isn't necessarily funny. I mean the lines aren't necessarily so funny to begin with. And every show wants to be like "Friends", and so you've got these shows that literally are so much alike you could stack them on top of each other. So, sure I love doing my own material.
QUESTION: How did you like being the voice of Barnacle Boy?
TC: You know you go into a recording studio and do these commercials and voiceovers and forget about them. Actually, it was my granddaughter who discovered that I was on "SpongeBob Square Pants." She said, "Grandpa, that's you."
CP: Is SpongeBob really gay?
TC: Talk about politically incorrect! [laughter] Now that's something we all really need to know. [laughter]
CP: Well, I figured if anyone would know it would be Barnacle Boy. [More laughter]
CP: Oh, one last question. Do you play any musical instruments?
TC: I play the saxophone. I know one song, "Moonlight in Vermont" and I play it over and over again all night long until the neighbors start to scream, "Stop, playing that song!"
Return to Home Page