Carol Burnett Broke Down Comedy Barriers For Women That TV Is Determined to Rebuild

Carol Burnett Broke Down Comedy Barriers For Women That TV Is Determined to Rebuild

22 Nov 2019 (PT)
COMEDY

While accepting her Paley Honors Award in recognition of her groundbreaking achievements in television comedy, Carol Burnett took time to look back and share an anecdote with the audience about how she made it to this point in her storied career.

“It was television that gave me my opportunities, but as a woman in this business, it wasn't always easy to do what the naysayers said couldn't be done,” Burnett said. “When I exercised a clause in a contract that I had with CBS way back in 1967 that would allow me to do an hour comedy variety show, I was told by the network executives that comedy variety was a man's game: Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle, Dean Martin. They said, and I quote, 'It's not for you gals.'”

Thanks to her contract, CBS had no choice but to put Burnett's show on the air and the rest was history.

But more than 50 years later, there's still a dearth of female-fronted talk and variety shows, seeming like for every step forward made — HBO's “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” TBS' “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” and NBC's “A Little Late with Lilly Singh” — there are just as many setbacks, including cancelations of BET's “The Rundown with Robin Thede,” Netflix's “The Break with Michelle Wolf,” and E! Network's “Busy Tonight.”

And while The Paley Honors: A Special Tribute to Television's Comedy Legends served as a brilliant opportunity to celebrate TV comedy's past, it illuminated several issues that must be addressed for TV comedy to thrive in the future.

After all, Norman Lear probably won't live forever.

Photo : Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center

Carol Burnett and Kristen Chenoweth

Introduced by actress Kristen Chenoweth, Carol Burnett shared how she had worked with three of her four fellow honorees — Lily Tomlin, Carl Reiner, and Bob Newhart — adding that she hoped that she and Norman Lear could collaborate soon to complete the set.

Carol Burnett Broke Down Comedy Barriers For Women That TV Is Determined to Rebuild
Photo : Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center

Jason Alexander

Jason Alexander introduced a montage from the Paley archives celebrating the history of sketch, variety, and stand-up comedy throughout the medium's history.

Carol Burnett Broke Down Comedy Barriers For Women That TV Is Determined to Rebuild
Photo : Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center

Conan O'Brien and Bob Newhart

Conan O'Brien stands by after introducing honoree Bob Newhart, who kept the audience in stitches during his 25 minute acceptance speech, lovingly looking back over his career in comedy.

Carol Burnett Broke Down Comedy Barriers For Women That TV Is Determined to Rebuild
Photo : Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center

Lisa Kudrow and Lily Tomlin

Honoree Lily Tomlin demanded “Web Therapy” co-star Lisa Kudrow stay nearby after introducing her, if only for moral support. Tomlin ran through many of the catchphrases from her stable of hilarious characters, adding that she wasn't sure how she had ended up lumped in with the night's brilliant crop of comedy legends.

Carol Burnett Broke Down Comedy Barriers For Women That TV Is Determined to Rebuild
Photo : Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center

Rob and Carl Reiner

Director Rob Reiner accompanied father and honoree Carl Reiner to the podium to accept his award. During his remarks, the elder Reiner reminisced about a free acting class he took as a child, courtesy of the WPA, remarking on how the program served to lift up people in need, as opposed to modern day politics vilifying government support systems. So influential were Reiner's lessons that he recited from memory Gertrude's monologue from “Hamlet,” a passage memorized during his training.

Carol Burnett Broke Down Comedy Barriers For Women That TV Is Determined to Rebuild
Photo : Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center

Sean Hayes and Allison Janney

Allison Janney and Sean Hayes joined forces to introduce a montage of material from the Paley archives exploring the television legacy of situational comedies.

Carol Burnett Broke Down Comedy Barriers For Women That TV Is Determined to Rebuild
Photo : Michael Bulbenko for the Paley Center

Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear, and Anthony Anderson

Introduced by Jimmy Kimmel and Anthony Anderson, his collaborators on ABC's “Live in Front of a Studio Audience,” honoree Norman Lear spoke to the audience about his long-held believe about laughter and life.

“Whether it's six months or six years, laughter has added a huge amount of time to my life. There's a mischievous irony at play in the fact that I'm accepting this award tonight with Carl Reiner and Carol Burnett and Lily Tomlin and Bob Newhart. I dunno how much laughter over the years I owe to them,” Lear admitted. “Had I not known these people and laughed with them and at them and for them and about them, I might have been too deceased to pick up this award tonight.”

Source: Indiewire

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