Carol Burnett has been an icon for many over the years; as one of the first women to make comedy her business of choice, she paved the way for other funny ladies in an era when men dominated both stage and television. That all changed when Burnett took over with her own variety show in the '60s, giving us now-classic characters that were all her own invention and helping those she saw potential in get their foot in the door.
Now, she's been given one of comedy's top honors--the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor--and some of the nation's funniest actors and comedians were there to celebrate her at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.
"This is very encouraging," Burnett said as she accepted her award. "I mean it was a long time in coming, but I understand because there are so many people funnier than I am, especially here in Washington. With any luck, they'll soon get voted out, and I'll still have the Mark Twain prize."
Burnett was known for her impressions and strong characters, as well as for involving her entire face and body in the joke; unafraid to look a little silly for the sake of a punchline, she was much like Jim Carrey in those days before anyone knew who Jim Carrey was. The trailblazing actress was honored by Tina Fey, Tony Bennett, Julie Andrews, Amy Poehler, and Martin Short, among others. Fey and comedienne Rosemary Watson were both inspired by Burnett growing up, and Watson says she was inspired to create her own funny characters--as well as do impressions--by watching Burnett growing up.
"I do what I do because of her," Watson said. "For me, she was it. She was the female comedian I wanted to be most like."
The awards show was recorded and will air on PBS stations on November 24.