'The Carol Burnett Show': The Genius Way Carol Burnett Got 'The Perfect Revenge' on Tim Conway
The cast of The Carol Burnett Show had instances of breaking character but Burnett hoped moments like that would be few and far between. When Tim Conway famously made the whole cast break during a sketch by telling a hilarious story about elephants, Burnett found a way to get her revenge on him.
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In her memoir In Such Good Company, Burnett shared her desire that the cast not break during the show. When Conway improvised a story, however, it had everyone cracking up.
“I never wanted to stop and do a retake because I like our show to be ‘live,’ so when the ‘Family’ sketches came along, I was adamant that we never break up in those scenes, because Eunice, Ed, and Mama were, in an odd way, sacred to me,” Burnett wrote. “They were real people in real situations, some of which were as sad and pitiful as they were funny, and I didn’t want any of us to break the fourth wall and be out of character.”
Burnett shared how, during one “Family” sketch in season 11, Conway told an outrageous story. “The audience was hysterical, and much to my grief, so was I, after all my pontificating about not breaking up in the ‘Family’ sketches!,” she shared.
“I was determined not to break character on the 7:30 show,” Burnett continued. “Between shows, our director, Dave Powers, gave us the note that ‘the elephant story will be different of the second show, and good luck.’ Period.”
Sure enough, Conway’s next telling of the story was even more over-the-top and the cast was again in hysterics.
Carol Burnett got back at Tim Conway in the most perfect way
Burnett found a way to get back at Conway by giving him a taste of his own medicine — finding a way to weave the elephant story into other sketches.
In her book, she detailed how she was fond of “the pigeon lady” sketch with Conway, whose character was wheeled into the scene in a wheelchair and settled on a bench. Burnett’s character would then go on and on talking outrageously while he feebly called for his nurse to rescue him.
“After Tim’s outrageous ad-lib about the Siamese elephants during a ‘Family’ sketch earlier that season, I decided that I was going to get back at him with my own unrehearsed and outrageous elephant story,” she wrote.
She continued, “This would be the perfect revenge as Tim’s character had very few lines and was stuck sitting there with nowhere to go. He was at my mercy this time.”
Burnett then detailed how the sketch played out, explaining the portion that they had rehearsed that week and pointing out, “You’ll know when I go off script.”
She started to launch into how she had been married to Attila the Hun and he gave her a pair of Siamese elephants. At that mention, clearly a callback to Conways’s elephant story, she shared, “The crew starts to laugh, and Tim begins to realize he’s in for it.”
Her elephant story included a hilarious element of one animal catching a cold, sneezing, and they “blew both their brains out” because they were attached at the trunk.
Burnett wrote about bringing back the elephant story the next season when she played the pigeon lady opposite Conway’s Mr. Purdy. After Burnett finished her story, she recalled, “Tim looked into the camera, shook his head back and forth, and rolled his eyes to heaven, all the while stifling a laugh.”
“I had a ball doing this to him!,” she added.
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