The groundbreaking comedienne, Carol Burnett, won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in October and the ceremony will air on PBS on Sunday, Nov. 24.
The 80-year-old Burnett’s rise to fame began from humble beginnings and a troubled childhood. Raised by alcoholic parents, she eventually moved in with her ‘theatrical hypochondriac’ grandmother. In her 1986 memoir, One More Time and in an interview with NPR, she details her childhood and the influence her mother and grandmother had on her future in comedy.
“They had great senses of humor. And people who read the memoir and have read it, they think, oh, my gosh, that was a real tough upbringing. But I never felt that,” Carol said. “We were poor, and both my parents died, eventually, of alcoholism, but I was kind of in the same boat with a lot of the kids in the neighborhood.
“Everybody was poor, and a lot of their folks had drinking problems. But we found a way to survive and to play and to laugh and thrive in a funny way.”
Burnett would eventually become one of the most influential comediennes in her field. She was one of the first women to host her own variety show, The Carol Burnett Show, which ran for 11 years and won 25 Emmy’s. During the run of the show on CBS from 1967 to ’78, she began a tradition of pulling on her earlobe at the end of each show as a tribute to her grandmother. She continues that tradition to this day.
Equally well-known for her singing, writing and acting, Burnett has been the recipient of a Peabody Award, several Golden Globes and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.
During the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor ceremony, fellow comedienne Tina Fey spoke of the great influence Burnett has been in her own career.
“A lot of female comediennes are going to come out and say that ‘I love you so much,’ ” Fey told Carol, “but I’m saying it first!”
“I fell in love with sketch comedy watching your show, and you proved sketch comedy is a good place for women,” Fey said. “Only in sketch comedy does a woman get to play Cher, Scarlett O’Hara, the Queen of England, a Girl Scout, Mrs. Wiggins — all in one night.”