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Series / The Carol Burnett Show

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"I'm so glad we had this time together
Just to have a laugh or sing a song
Seems we just get started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say, 'So long.'"

A hit Variety Show on CBS, running for 11 seasons (1967-1978). The show followed a very simple format of comedy sketches, TV and movie parodies, and musical numbers. What set it apart was how off the wall the actors and writers would take things. Basically anything went as long as it was funny (and could air on TV, of course). Many also consider it to be the first comedy variety show centered around a woman.

The regular cast initially consisted of Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner; Tim Conway (who'd appeared numerous times as a guest) succeeded Waggoner in Season 8, while Dick Van Dyke replaced Korman for the 11th and final season. One of the more popular recurring sketches spun off into the sitcom Mama's Family.


Let's bump up the tropes:

  • Accidental Misnaming: One "Family" sketch has the character of Mavis Danton (played by guest star Madeline Kahn) constantly refer to Eunice as "Bernice".
  • Adjective Animal Alehouse: In a sketch about a man trying to get his car's license plates at a government agency, he asks the female clerk if he can take her to lunch and she says for him to meet her at the Whispering Escargotnote  restaurant.
  • Affectionate Parody: Given the type of show this is, the bulk of its film and TV parodies firmly place themselves in deconstruction territory.
  • Argentina Is Nazi-Land: The "Cafe Argentine" sketch with Lucille Ball is this, condensed down to a single high end restaurant. The fact that our main waiter opens up with a German accent, calls Carol and Lucille "Fraulein", runs the place like the SS, and the food is more in line with German cuisine than typical Argentinian should have given it away even before the manager shows up.
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  • The Artifact: The initial premise of the "Carol & Sis" segments was Carol trying to take care of her much younger sister Chrissy (played by Vicki Lawrence), with the help of her reluctant husband Roger (Harvey Korman). Over time, however, the focus of the sketches became more about Carol and Roger, their up-and-down marriage, etc. With Chrissy only being there to make snide remarks. In fact, in many of the last "Carol & Sis" segments, Chrissy doesn't appear at all, nor is even mentioned.
  • Author Avatar: The Charwoman.
  • Bits of Me Keep Passing Out: "The Dentist Sketch" in which a hapless dentist (Conway) keeps accidentally injecting various parts of his body with Novocaine.
  • Black Comedy: Characters could die, or meet horrible fates, and it would always be Played for Laughs. For example, the sketch where Harvey Korman is a WWII air-bomber, who jumps out of a plane, but ends up losing his parachute. Obviously he's a dead man. The sketch ends with this:
  • Bland-Name Product
    • One sketch parodies commercials where a character is approached by a stranger asking them to try a new product. Carol plays a housewife who has multiple people enter her kitchen and ask to to try items like Leg & Hammer (Arm & Hammer) baking soda and Borito (Purina) Dog Chow.
    • In a sketch with several dolls, one is named Barbrie (Barbie) and one is named G.I. Jack (G.I. Joe).
  • Blatant Lies: Invoked during a Q&A segment.
    Audience member: "Do you ever get nervous before a show?"
    Carol Burnett: "No."
    (promptly faints)
  • The Chew Toy: Most of Tim's and many of Carol's characters, mainly the Oldest Man and Stella Toddler, respectively. And yes, the two characters did cross over.
  • Chroma Key: Used (and Played for Laughs) in some closing mini-musicals from later seasons, like "Beach Blanket Boo-Boo".
  • Corpsing
    • Tim Conway was notorious for breaking up the others on the show. In many of the sketches featuring Conway and Harvey Korman, it was all Korman could do to get through it without collapsing. Keep in mind, it wasn't like this was live: the show was taped; Conway was just that funny. Causing Carol Burnett herself to lose it was a major feat, but Conway accomplished it several times. It got to the point that the cast would have a weekly pool to see how long it would take Conway to make someone (mainly Korman) break character.
    • Once in a while, Carol or Vicki would get even with Tim by making him corpse... for example, during the "Flasher" sketch, which was less an actual sketch than a giant prank on Tim.
    • Sometimes, even the scripts would make Conway corpse. In a sketch titled "Jowls" (a parody of Jaws), Conway's character talks about losing his girlfriend to a great white shark... because she was wearing her lucky ham. Though Conway visibly stifles his laughter on the sketch that made broadcast, the outtakes show him losing control halfway through that particular line... only to break out laughing after saying the whole thing.
    • In a behind the scenes special, Carol mentioned they would tape the show twice, and use the copy with the lesser amount of corpsing.
  • Costume Porn: Bob Mackie did virtually all the outfits on the show, from the grand to the silly. In the case of "The Flasher" sketch, Bob Mackie literally was a costume porn-artist.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Initially, the director in "Rhoda Dimple":
    Rhoda Dimple: Wait a minute, hold it, von Megaphone Mouth, we ain't through with the picture yet!
    Director: I want to thank the sound department for their excellent work...
    Rhoda Dimple: I'm talkin' to you!
    Director: The lighting department for their excellent contribution...
    (Rhoda kicks the director in the shin, but he doesn't react to it)
    Director: The Los Angeles Dodgers for the shin guards...
    (Rhoda punches him in the gut, but this makes a metallic sound)
    Director: ...and the chest protector!
    (Rhoda angrily bites his hand)
    Director: And also Dr. Dondelhoit for the rabies shot!
  • Crossover: One "Family" sketch had Eunice be a contestant on The Gong Show, with appearances by Chuck Barris, Jamie Farr, Jaye P. Morgan, and Allen Ludden. This is especially brilliant when you remember that Ludden's wife (now-widow) is Betty White, who played Eunice's sister Ellen in the "Family" sketches and on Mama's Family.
  • Curtain Clothing: The famous parody of the "curtain dress" from Gone with the Wind, where Starlet walks down the stairs in a gown made from her velvet curtains...with the 6-foot long curtain rod still attached across her back.
    Rat: That gown is gorgeous.
    Starlet: Thank you. I saw it in the window and just couldn't resist it.
  • Disaster Movie:
  • Ditzy Secretary: Mrs. Wiggins, Mr. Tudball's bimbo of a secretary. One sketch opens with her just staring vacantly into space. Tudball's constant remarks about her intellect fly over her Sarcasm-Blind head.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Mama's Family sketches, which almost always featured some level of conflict, usually between Eunice and Mama.
  • Early Installment Weirdness
    • The first season, with Vicki Lawrence not appearing outside the "Carol and Sis" skits, other skits being performed on the main show stage, and Clark Jones directing instead of Dave Powers, is definitely this.
    • "The Family". Any Mama's Family fans unfamiliar with the sketches are likely to be surprised at Mama's nastier demeanor (though it did continue into Mama's Family's early episodes) and much of the focus being on Eunice, who's presented here as more sympathetic. Also, in addition to Eunice and Ellen, a number of other Harper children are introduced, but are never seen again, most notably Philip Harper (Roddy McDowall), who was originally the focus of the first sketch.
  • Ending Theme: Sung by Carol herself, though there was an instrumental version for syndication.
  • Every Episode Ending: At the end of the show, Carol would get on stage to sing the ending theme, then go on to collect autographs from all of her special guests from the episode.
  • The Eponymous Show
  • Face Palm: During the infamous "Siamese Elephants" sketch, Burnett does a sort of "Oh, Crap!" version of this when Conway starts in on his spiel.
  • Fake Guest Star: Tim Conway only became a full cast member in season 9, but was already a frequent guest by then.
  • Funny Foreigner: Mr. Tudball (and by extension Mrs. Tudball).
  • Game Show Appearance: Outside the show, Carol, Vicki, Tim, and Jim once randomly dropped in on an episode of Match Game (they both taped at CBS Television City), and they sat on the floor and played for a round.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: "Went With the Wind" has a running gag in which Sissy panics about everything, until Starlet slaps her. Eventually, Sissy slaps herself to calm down. At the end of the sketch, Starlet starts panicking, until Sissy slaps her.
  • Girl Scouts Are Evil: A recurring sketch with Carol playing a Girl Scout who blackmails people into buying lots of cookies. One of those people being played by Vincent Price.
  • Groin Attack: In the "Lost in the Sahara" sketch, Tim Conway goes mad from the heat, takes out a gun and shoots Harvey Korman. Conway then sticks the gun down the front of his pants.... it goes off.
  • Identical Stranger: During one Q&A intro, one audience member pointed out another audience member who bore an uncanny resemblance to Bea Arthur.
  • Inept Talent Show Contestant: As mentioned, Eunice has a spot on The Gong Show and is so convinced that her singing talent will be her ticket away from her family that she does a lot of bridge-burning before the show. Bad idea.
  • Iron Maiden: Played for laughs in one sketch. Tim Conway plays an incompetent torturer who gets trapped in his own iron maiden. Another character absentmindedly puts weight on the lid and forces the spikes into the torturer's body.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Snow White and Prince Charming in a sketch set 15 years after their fairy tale ended. Snow White in particular got demoted from the Fairest of Them All to #906.
    Snow White: Oh, well that's up three over last week's chart!
    Magic Mirror: That's because The Three Little Pigs died.
  • Jiggle Show: Mainly limited to Bernadette Peters singing in anything low-cut.
  • Kneel, Push, Trip: A sketch had Carol playing Queen Elizabeth II trying to reward a very picky soldier. He didn't want a medal, he wanted a pony. When he specified he wanted a blue pony, Elizabeth (after having a royal fit) whispered something to Prince Philip, who then casually walked behind the soldier while whistling "Rule Brittania". Philip then knelt so Elizabeth could push the annoying soldier.
  • Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex: Spoofed in the "Super Guy" sketch, where the titular superhero's long suffering wife has to deal with his uncontrollable strength ruining the house, her health, and their marriage despite the fact that he loves her to bits. She has to go to sleep in armor just to keep herself from being cuddled to death at night and has tried to murder him at least once.
  • Memetic Hand Gesture: Carol's ear tug.
  • Mock Cousteau: The "Jacques Too Close" sketch staring Harvey Korman and Tim Conway.
  • Nice Character, Mean Actor: Played in-universe by Shirley Temple parody Rhoda Dimple, who acted like a total brat when the cameras were off.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed
  • Oh, Crap!: Surprisingly averted in "The Little Foxies", a takeoff on The Little Foxes. Burnett's character, having supposedly become the last-surviving heir of her family, opens her late husband's safe, but instead of riches she's encountered by a loaded cannon. The resulting deadpan reaction is far more within My God, You Are Serious territory.
  • Once a Season: Carol would always have her good luck charm in the form of Jim Nabors hosting the first episode of each season. This was hilariously lampshaded in the final episode of the series— each of the archived clips from Nabors-guested episodes would comprise of Carol introducing Jim, and then cut to a mere still frame of him. Simply put, Jim Nabors was frozen today.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Many of Mackie's outfits were very fancy, especially if worn by a rich woman.
  • Playing Gertrude: Vicki Lawrence, most famously. Even better, a Hamlet musical sketch had her literally play this trope.
  • Politician Guest Star: Then-Governor of California Ronald Reagan appeared onstage during one episode's question period.
  • Precision F-Strike: What finally caused everyone to crack up in the famous "Elephant Story" blooper.
    Vicki Lawrence (as Mama): You sure that little asshole's through?
  • Pretty in Mink: Quite a few well off ladies wore furs. This includes playing Queen Elizabeth II in one sketch, and her white fox wrap flings around a little as she starts yelling at her idiot guard.
  • Revival: A short-lived one ran on CBS for nine episodes in 1991. Notably, one of the sketches was a Gender Flipped spoof of the original Star Trek.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Eunice and Ed are implied to have had this:
    Eunice: (to Ed) It is time we satisfied [Mama's] curiosity! Go on! Go on, just tell her what happened that night that I went with you and then later on, we had to get married!
    Mama: I get your drift, Eunice. Welcome to the club.
  • Signature Transition: Carol closed every episode by singing the Ending Theme and tugging one ear, which was a nod to her grandmother. The credits rolled after the ear tug.
  • Significant Monogram: At least one version of the Animated Credits Opening took the CBS in "From CBS Television City" and used the letters to write The Carol Burnett Show.
  • Simpleton Voice: Often used by Vicki Lawrence.For example, in "Caged Dames".
  • Slapstick Knows No Gender: Carol regularly participates in a lot of physical humor throughout the show.
  • Soap Opera: Parodied in the recurring sketch "As the Stomach Turns".
  • Spin-Off: As mentioned, Mama's Family.
  • Spiritual Successor: Carol & Company, a similar variety series that ran on NBC for two seasons from 1990-91. Carol herself was the only returning regular from The Carol Burnett Show, though Tim Conway made an appearance in season two.
  • Split-Screen Phone Call: Done masterfully in the "Hotel Operator" sketch, where Carol fields a series of exchanges between several hotel guests and a local tart (Vicki). Veers into The Operators Must Be Crazy as Carol gets intrigued.
  • Stop Trick: In one sketch, Carol Burnett plays a bored housewife trying to crash a party next door. She goes into the bedroom in a bathrobe and curlers, and seconds later emerges completely dressed, coiffed, and made-up. Slightly averted in that the camera angle did change, but the effect was the same.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: In one sketch, two single women want to fly to Hawaii by taking advantage of a discount for couples. Carol's character dresses up like a man (she lost the coin toss) and has to put up with such things as the wrong bathroom and an unwanted admirer. Just as the plane is boarding, it looks like an airport employee is about to catch the two, but no, he's after the pair ahead of them. Turns out two men had the same idea to pose as a couple, so one of them was Disguised in Drag.
  • Syndication Title: Carol Burnett and Friends, which edited the shows down to a half-hour by omitting the musical numbers. Probably the most common example of the trope, as it's the only version of the series that airs in repeats (at least in the US), to the point where some younger viewers might not even be aware this was an edited version of The Carol Burnett Show.
  • Til Murder Do Us Part: Played straight and/or parodied in several sketches. Most of these attempts go as well as you'd expect.
  • Title Drop: Twice in the Gone With the Wind parody.
    Brashley: It went with the wind.
    Starlet: What wind?
    (Suspiciously Similar Song to the "Tara theme" from GWTW plays)
    Starlet: Well, that's pretty, but it doesn't answer my question!
    • The second instance occurs between Rat and Sissy.
  • Toilet Seat Divorce: This Charmin commercial parody has Carol play a mom who learns that her family abandoned her since her preferred brand of toilet paper doesn't feel soft enough.
  • Toilet Teleportation: Inverted in a spoof of Jaws. The shark is in a toilet. The Quint character fishes for it through the toilet hole, and gets pulled in to his death.
  • True Beauty Is on the Inside: Invoked for laughs in the "Valley of the Dollars" sketch when talking about the Jennifer North character and how she possesses a lot of great qualities, talking about her exquisite beauty.
    Neely: I'm a superstar and I'm only 20.
    Jennifer: I'm at least 38.
    Neely: Yeah but you don't have inner beauty.
    Anne: That's not true, I've seen her X-Rays.
    Jennifer: I only posed for them because I needed the money.


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