'Laughter And Reflections' With Carol Burnett Before each taping of The Carol Burnett Show, the comedy queen stood on stage for a Q&A session with the audience. Burnett shares her favorite pre-show chats — and tales from her long career in show-biz — in her book This Time Together.
NPR logo

'Laughter And Reflections' With Carol Burnett

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134797555/134797541" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Laughter And Reflections' With Carol Burnett

'Laughter And Reflections' With Carol Burnett

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/134797555/134797541" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

About a month ago, we were thrilled to get confirmation that Carol Burnett would join us. She spent the past two years touring theaters across the country with a show called "Laughter and Reflection: A Conversation with Carol," where the audience asks her questions about her great TV show, her regulars and guests, her movies and specials.

So today, it's your turn to ask the questions. Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We'll get to Libya later in the program. We'll speak with law professor Stephen Carter about his book. He was there with us before to talk about "The Violence of Peace: America's War in the Ages of Obama." We've asked him back to talk about Libya and just war.

But first, Carol Burnett joins us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Her latest book is called "This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection." It's now out in paperback. And welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. CAROL BURNETT (Comedian): Thank you.

CONAN: And I'm sorry that we have to begin with sad news, but condolences on the loss of your friend Elizabeth Taylor.

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, yes, thank you very much. I really adored her. We worked together many years ago. We did an HBO movie called "Between Friends." And we really did become friends.

She was a hoot to work with. She was so funny and bright and with it, and I really miss her. She was a doll. She was - let me put it this way: She was a great dame in the best sense of the word.

CONAN: You tell a story about her in your book when you were appearing on your favorite soap opera.

Ms. BURNETT: Yeah. Yes, well, we had done this movie together, and I hadn't seen her because we'd been apart. And I was in New York, and I was doing a guest shot as a character on my soap opera that I watch all the time, "All My Children." And I was playing this woman named Verla Grubbs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURNETT: And she - I think she - well, anyway, she was - she dressed very outlandishly and so forth. And I had a scene with the late, great Eileen Herlie, where we were in a nightclub, and we were having a drink. And - or a restaurant kind of nightclub. And we were having a drink, doing this scene, and...

CONAN: I think we have this clip of tape.

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, no, really?

CONAN: I think so. Let's hear it.

(Soundbite of television program, "All My Children")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ELIZABETH TAYLOR (Actress): (As Charwoman) You're Vera, Verla Grubbs. I know your mother.

Ms. BURNETT: (As Verla Grubbs) Oh, well, that's right. My goodness. Well, nice to see you again.

Ms. TAYLOR: (As Charwoman) Lovely to see you. Well, I see my table is ready now.

Ms. EILEEN HERLIE (Actor): (As character) Who was that?

Ms. BURNETT: (As Verla) I never saw her before her in my life. I think that woman's pilot light is out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURNETT: I was surprised. She came on mopping the floor in the scrubwoman outfit that I always wore on my show.

CONAN: The Charwoman, yeah.

Ms. BURNETT: Yeah, the Charwoman, and she had on a mop cap, and it was kind of pulled down over her eyes and everything. And it hadn't been rehearsed. I didn't know what was going on.

And then I saw her, and so it was hard for me to keep it together. And she - they hid her in the dressing room that whole morning while we were rehearsing and everything else and sneaked her in, you know. And I was so happy to see her, and we giggled a lot after that.

CONAN: She was such a star. You don't think of her, well, pulling a prank like that.

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, sure. Oh no, she was - she pulled a lot of pranks when we were together. We did it - we pulled a lot on each other. And she was just a delightful human being, and I was really pretty upset this morning when I heard the news.

CONAN: Elizabeth Taylor, dead at the age of 79. But we're talking with the great Carol Burnett. Her new book is "This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection." This is your chance to ask her questions about her career, her TV show and many of the people that she, well, had on the program and starred with in many different venues: 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And we'll start with Troy, and Troy's with us from Iowa City.

Ms. BURNETT: Hi, Troy.

TROY (Caller): Carol, for the longest time, you've been not giving us or wondering - I'm wondering: Who gave you the money to move to, I think, New York to start your career? When will it be time to share us with that...

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, I will never reveal his name because that was one of the stipulations when he lent me the money. He said, I'm going to lend you this money to go to New York on, which was $1,000. If you are able to, I want you to pay me back within five years. You are never to reveal my name. And if you are successful, you will help others out the way I've helped you.

TROY: By chance was he famous or...?

Ms. BURNETT: No, he was not famous. He was a very wealthy businessman, and I met him and his wife at a function where - I was a student at UCLA, and our professor asked us, in the music department, asked us to come down and do our little scenes for this party, and he would grade us while we were performing in front of this black tie affair in San Diego.

And after we performed, this gentleman and his wife came up, and he tapped me on the shoulder, and he said: We really enjoyed you, and what do you want to do with your life and so forth? And I told him I wanted to go to New York. And he said: Well, why aren't you there now?

And I kind of looked at him. You know, I said, well, I just don't have the money or anything yet. He said: Well, I'll lend you the money. And I really thought he'd had a little too much champagne, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURNETT: And his wife said: No, no, he means it. He means it. So evidently, he had helped other people out. I think he helped somebody start a restaurant, and another person wanted to have a gas station or something like that. And what he saw was if they had the fire in the belly and the desire and, you know, whatever, to do this, he would give them a leg up by lending them money to get them started.

CONAN: And it was a tremendous struggle for you when you got to New York at the - staying at the Rehearsal Club, the set for "Stage Door," and -but you eventually landed a part in "Once Upon a Mattress." You achieved your ambition of starring in a George Abbot musical and paid him back five years to the day.

Ms. BURNETT: I paid the gentleman back five years to the day, and by certified mail. You know, I wanted to make sure he got it. And during that five years, I had been on Ed Sullivan's show and different shows, and I would always write him and his wife to let them know that I was doing these things, and I never heard from them back, at all.

But then when I had my own show in the '70s, she called me in my office, and she said: We're just so happy for you and all the years and everything, you know, that you've accomplished. And we'd love to take you to lunch. And would you and your husband drive down to San Diego, and we'll go to the yacht club or whatever for lunch.

And so I couldn't wait. And we went down. We had lunch. He was very quiet. She was more of a chatty Cathy and lovely, and on the way back after lunch, we were walking back to the car, and she took hold of my arm.

And she said: You know, we have at times in the past few years, whenever you've been on television or if your name for some reason or other came up in conversation, we never said anything and that he would just kind of smile and nod, and that would be it. They would exchange looks. But they never told anybody what he had done for me.

CONAN: Troy, thanks very much for the call.

Ms. BURNETT: Thanks, Troy.

TROY: By chance did you go on to...

CONAN: Troy, I'm sorry, Troy, I want to give somebody else a chance, okay.

TROY: Okay, I was just wondering if she was going to...

CONAN: That's, I said give someone else a chance. So thanks very much.

Let's see if we can go next to - this is Jerry(ph), Jerry with us from Cookeville in Tennessee.

Ms. BURNETT: Hey, Jerry.

JERRY (Caller): Hi. Well, Ms. Carol, I used to live in Southern California for years, and my mom went to one of your shows with one of her cousins one time. And my mom still talks about what a kind lady you are. And thank you for all the millions and millions of people that you've made laugh around the world.

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, Jerry, thank you.

JERRY: Well, you're more than welcome. And I was always wondering how you guys came up with the idea to do "Mama's Family" with Eunice and the whole group. That was to - I still roar if I see those advertisements.

Ms. BURNETT: Well, in fact, that was one of my favorite things that we ever did. And it was a creation, our comedy writers, a team, Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon, and they came up with this idea of this family.

And when I read it, we got the script on a Monday, and I read it, but I automatically went into this Southern kind of talk, you know, where she'd talk like this. And then Vicki picked up on it as Mama, and Harvey.

So when we had our run-through on Wednesday, everybody was surprised at how we were playing this and Dick and Jenna, they were both from Chicago. And so they were really surprised to hear this whole Southern, Southwestern thing come out.

But they liked it. They liked the whole idea of it. And so it stuck. And I loved doing Eunice and the family because if you read it on the paper, on the script, you're reading it, there wasn't a joke in there. It was all character that made it funny, and it was the way we played it that made it funny.

CONAN: Why was - you are - I don't think I'm giving anything away here -older than Vicki Lawrence. How come she ended up as Mama?

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, sure. Well, originally, I was going to play Mama, and we were going to - Vicki wasn't going to play Eunice, but then I gravitated towards the character of Eunice, the frustration and, you know, all of this.

And we were going to hire an older actress to play Mama because we didn't know it would become a running thing, you know, that - what it would develop into, that we would keep revisiting the family.

And so Bob Mackie, who was our costume designer, said: Well, why don't we just put a big pad on Vicki and a gray wig and glasses, take her makeup off and let her be Mama for this one time.

Well, she was just brilliant and couldn't have been better. And so that's the way it happened. It was just kind of a happy accident.

JERRY: Well, I just want to thank you again, Ms. Carol, for all the laughter you've given to everybody around the world, and God bless you. Thank you.

Ms. BURNETT: That's really sweet of you. Thank you, Jerry.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Jerry. We're talking with, of course, Carol Burnett. Her new book is "This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection." It's now out in paperback.

If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of "The Carol Burnett Show" theme music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

We're talking with Carol Burnett. "The Carol Burnett Show" aired for more than a decade, won two dozen Emmy Awards. One of the highlights for the studio audience was always her Q&A session.

She's brought back that formula in recent years, touring the country with a show called "Laughter and Reflection: A Conversation with Carol." That's where the audience asks her questions about her regulars and guests or movies and specials.

Today, it's your turn to ask the questions: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation at our website, as well. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Carol Burnett's bestselling book, "This Time Together," is now out in paper. We've posted an excerpt at our website. You can also see a clip of Carol Burnett performing alongside Elizabeth Taylor in that episode of "All My Children" that we aired earlier. There's a link to that at npr.org. Again, just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

One thing about "The Carol Burnett Show" was that a lot of the laughs came not from the laugh lines of Carol Burnett, but from her featured players. This is a famous example. Tim Conway plays a dentist fresh out of school, and Harvey Korman plays his hapless first patient.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Carol Burnett Show")

Mr. TIM CONWAY (Actor): (As character) Hold on, now. Now, let's see how this works here. Okay, Novocaine. Here we are, Novocaine. Take a firm hold of the hypodermic needle. Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CONWAY: (As character) There'll be a little bit of pain, and then numbness will set in.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And Carol Burnett, we picked that clip because there's a picture from that skit in your book, and you can see Harvey Korman cannot help himself for bursting out.

Ms. BURNETT: Poor Harvey. He was helpless. He was in that dental chair. And the thing was that Tim would get on a roll, right, and he would do things that they didn't do in rehearsal. And this was one of the things.

He kept shooting himself with the Novocaine until, finally, he couldn't walk, or he couldn't use his hands, or he couldn't - you know, and Harvey, I don't know. We laughed so hard. I was screaming with laughter. I was in my dressing room, watching it. The crew, the cameramen - I'm surprised the cameras didn't shake, you know.

And poor Harvey, we kept saying: Oh, he should've invested in Depends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURNETT: There was just no way out. But it's a classic. I think it's in some dental schools now.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Ruth, Ruth with us from Baton Rouge.

RUTH (Caller): Hello. Thank you for taking my call.

Ms. BURNETT: Hi, Ruth.

RUTH: I've been listening to this, helpless with laughter myself, remembering that scene. I just wanted to let you know that I had a roommate in college for four years that had your laugh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We wondered where it went those four years.

RUTH: But one of my favorite scenes from your show is when you had Robin Williams on, and he was trying to coach a grieving widow in how to grieve properly.

Ms. BURNETT: Yes. Yes.

RUTH: The guy who died, died in a hilarious way, like head-first into a can of beans or something.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUTH: And, I mean, nobody could keep a straight face. It was priceless. I loved it.

Ms. BURNETT: Well, Robin is, he's - you know, there are people that are 10s. He's about a 12 when it comes to comedy. He's amazing. And again, I didn't know what he was going to do. We did it twice, and the second time, he said: Can I just go off, you know? And so I didn't - and so he changed a lot of it on me, which...

RUTH: I had heard that there was a kind of tradition among the ensemble to deliberately break each other up. Was that true?

Ms. BURNETT: No. No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUTH: Oh, really?

Ms. BURNETT: We never deliberately - Harvey prided himself on being the consummate actor. And so it was Tim's goal in life to get him, you know, to drive him crazy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURNETT: So we would do - we would rehearse in a certain way, and we would do the first show. We did two shows on Friday. One was a dress rehearsal in front of an audience, and the second show was the air show in front of a different audience.

So Tim would always go to our director after the dress rehearsal, because he would do the dress rehearsal skits as if - as they had been rehearsed. And he would check with our director that he got all the shots, because we would tape that particular show, also, as a backup. And then he'd say: OK. Now go do what you're going to do.

And that's when Tim would go off, off the script, and we would try to keep straight faces. None of us ever, ever deliberately broke up. But I dare anybody to keep a straight face when Conway got on a roll.

RUTH: Well, like he did with the hairless elephant.

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, God, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURNETT: I thought I was going to die. And Vicki was so funny. I mean, Vicki kept - she was pretty good about keeping a straight face. And Lyle was pretty good. But Harvey was a patsy, and I was okay, but not as good as Vicki and Lyle at keeping it together.

CONAN: Ruth, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

RUTH: Thank you for your humor.

Ms. BURNETT: Thanks, Ruth.

CONAN: Here's an email from Peggy in Valentine, Nebraska: My mother scolded me regularly for practicing my Tarzan yell inside the house. She refused the argument when I told her I'd never get as famous as Carol Burnett without a decent Tarzan yell.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, that's adorable.

CONAN: And this from Kevin: Can Carol still do the Tarzan yell?

Ms. BURNETT: Oh? You want it, huh?

CONAN: Yeah, I think we do.

Ms. BURNETT: Okay, I'm going to back up from the microphone here.

CONAN: Stand by, engineers.

Ms. BURNETT: Okay, I haven't done this in a while. So it might be a little rusty, but here we go.

(Soundbite of Tarzan yell; coughing)

Ms. BURNETT: Well, I thought I was better than that.

CONAN: Tarzan with a cold.

Ms. BURNETT: Yeah.

CONAN: Thanks very much for that. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Charles, Charles with us from San Francisco.

CHARLES (Caller): Hi. Thank you.

Ms. BURNETT: Hey, Charles.

CHARLES: Hi. It's marvelous to speak with you. And thank you for your fantastic comedy. I first saw you when I was a little kid, on television, and I thought you were the best thing since roasted marshmallows.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURNETT: Thank you.

CHARLES: And I want to find out: When was the first time you were on TV as a solo comedian? And my second question is: I remember Tim Conway from that old show, "F Troop," many years ago.

Ms. BURNETT: No, it was "McHale's Navy."

CONAN: "McHale's Navy," yeah.

CHARLES: Oh, I'm sorry. "McHale's Navy." I'm wondering: How did you -how did he come to be on the show?

Ms. BURNETT: Well, I had - when I was first starting on television in "The Garry Moore Show," back in the day, Tim was a guest on Garry's show, which was a wonderful musical-comedy-variety show that I kind of patterned my show after, years later.

And Tim was a guest, and he was so funny and delightful to be around. So when we got our show, we booked him as a guest quite often. And, in fact, he became what we would call a semi-regular. We had him on maybe, at least once a month, sometimes twice a month.

And this just shows you how stupid we were. Finally, in the ninth year, we went: Why don't we have him on every week? Duh. So that's - everybody thinks he was one of the regular performances from the beginning, but at least we had him every week the last two years of the show. And he's just - I don't know if it's possible, but he's nicer than he is funny.

CHARLES: And your first experience as a solo comedian on TV, I seem to remember it being on "The Tonight Show," or something like that.

Ms. BURNETT: Yes, I was on - it wasn't the first time, but I was on "The Jack Parr Show," where I did a comedy-musical number written by Kenny Welch called "I Made a Fool of Myself over John Foster Dulles."

CHARLES: Oh, I remember that.

Ms. BURNETT: It was then - he was then secretary of state, and it got a lot of laughs. I was a girl - it was a girl who was singing about her love for this very uptight, kind of dour guy.

CONAN: Just in recent terms made Warren Christopher look like, oh, I don't know, Brad Pitt.

Ms. BURNETT: Like Brad Pitt, right. And so - and it was about - it was around the Elvis Presley craze. So here I am, this young girl, going crazy over John Foster Dulles. And it was a big hit.

And so then I went back on the Parr show. I did that on a Tuesday night, went back on a Thursday night, and then Ed Sullivan had me on Sunday night. So I did the song three nights in one week.

And so I remember Mr. Dulles was on "Meet the Press" the following Sunday, and, you know, it was all very serious about the news and everything. They were talking. Then finally, they were finishing up the hour, and somebody said: What is this - what's going on between you and this young girl who sings that song about you?

And I was watching this. It was live, you know. And he got a twinkle in his eye, and he said: I make it a policy never to discuss matters of the heart in public.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURNETT: Well, I just thought that was - you know, it really showed me he had a great sense of humor. I never met him, but I thought that was so sweet.

CONAN: Charles, thanks very much.

Ms. BURNETT: Thanks, Charles.

CHARLES: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go next to Brita(ph), Brita with us from Rock Springs in Wyoming.

Ms. BURNETT: Hi, there.

BRITA (Caller): Hi, Carol. Hey, I grew up watching "Annie."

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRITA: So my first experience with you was as Ms. Hannigan.

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, dear.

BRITA: And I was terrified I'd run into you on the street back then. I probably would have run the other way. I think you were going to make me...

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRITA: ...mop the floor or, you know, something, serve me some gruel. Anyway, so I'm wondering, did you have to reassure children for a few years after that, when they'd met you, that, no, you weren't the orphanage lady?

Ms. BURNETT: Yes. Well, sometimes, some of the little girls who watched, they weren't afraid. They were just kind of fascinated with the character, because I hope was kind of funny with it, too, you know. And at the end, they changed it and made it - they redeemed her in the movie, so she wasn't all bad.

But then there were some who were - if they're really little, you know, like five years old or something, and the mother will bring them up, this is Ms. Hannigan. And the poor little kid, you know, and they go...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURNETT: Really. I love little girls. I love little boys. I love little children. I was just playing make-believe. Do you ever make-believe when you're at home? Did you ever pretend, and so forth. And then they're okay, you know. But, yeah.

BRITA: Okay.

Ms. BURNETT: I loved doing that role. It was fun.

CONAN: Thanks, Brita.

BRITA: Can you do the leaping lizards?


(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Thanks, Brita.

BRITA: Okay.

CONAN: Bye. Let's see if can go next to Sahaba(ph), Sahaba with us from Beverly, Massachusetts.

Ms. BURNETT: Hey, Sahaba.

SAHABA (Caller): Hi. I'm Sahaba. I'm 10 years, and I...


SAHABA: ...going to be playing "Annie."

Ms. BURNETT: You're playing "Annie"?


Ms. BURNETT: Wow. In school?

SAHABA: No, with Neverland Theater.

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, great. Who do you play? Do you play Annie herself?

SAHABA: Uh-huh.

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, that's great.

SAHABA: Mm-hmm. And really, you've just given me so much influence throughout my life, that I was wondering if you had any advice for me.

Ms. BURNETT: Well, I would say just - what do you want to do when you grow up?

SAHABA: I want to be an actress.

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, you want to be an actress. Well, you're doing the right thing, you know, you're being in shows. And, you know, when you get older and there are school plays and music and things like that, just try out for them and get as much experience as you can when you're on stage, and that really helps.

SAHABA: Thank you.

Ms. BURNETT: You're welcome. Good luck.

SAHABA: Thank you.

CONAN: Break a leg, Sahaba.

SAHABA: Thank you.

Ms. BURNETT: Bye, sweetheart.


(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're talking with Carol Burnett. "This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection" is out in paperback.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line.

Ms. BURNETT: Okay.

CONAN: And got to - this is Linda, Linda with us from Princeton.

LINDA (Caller): Yeah.

Ms. BURNETT: Hi, Linda.

LINDA: Hello, Ms. Burnett. I wanted to thank you for your fine performance in "Friendly Fire."

Ms. BURNETT: Oh, thank you.

LINDA: And I think it - it made a great impression on me, because having seen you strictly in comedies, your performance in that role was especially touching. And I wondered what motivated to take the role, and what was the nature of the response that you received to it from people around Hollywood?

Ms. BURNETT: Well, what happened was I had done my final show. And at the end of the show, I said goodbye to the audience and I teared up a bit and, you know, gave a speech about what the 11 years had meant to all of us. And the next thing I know, the phone is ringing and it's from the producers of "Friendly Fire." And they sent the script over to me and I thought, my gosh, you know, and I'm reading - and then I looked at the front of it and I said - my name was on the envelope. I thought they'd made a mistake, you know. And then I thought, well, you know, why not? Why not try it? I think I can do it.

You know, over in England, in Britain, they don't typecast their actors. They can do - I mean, Glenda Jackson and Maggie Smith and - those ladies, they can do musicals. They can do comedy. They can do high drama. They can do Shakespeare and all, and they're not pigeonholed as performers usually are here in the States.

So I thought, well, you know, nothing ventured. I always kind of like to take a risk. And I really enjoyed doing it. I can't say I had fun, because of the subject matter. But the cast was wonderful, Ned Beatty and - they were all terrific. And it - the people responded very positively about it.

LINDA: Well, and I thank you for it.

CONAN: Linda, thanks for the call.

LINDA: Thank you.

Ms. BURNETT: Thank you, Linda.

CONAN: Here's an email from Nathan in Loveland, Ohio: From my understanding, Ms. Burnett and Lucille Ball were close friends in later life, with Lucy appearing on "The Carol Burnett Show." Lucy seemed almost like more of a mentor-type figure for Carol. Could you please elaborate on the influence Lucille Ball may have had on your life and career?

Ms. BURNETT: Well, she and I became joined at the hip at one point. She was - she came to see me the second night of "Once Upon a Mattress." I remember peeking out the curtain and looking, you know, just - we had just opened the night before to very good reviews and everything. And there in the second row was this carrot top that I - and I thought, oh, my god. Oh, my god. It's Lucille Ball. I don't know I can get through this evening. I was really - I was more frightened the second night because she was in the audience than I was opening night with all the critics, which was pretty scary.

But she came backstage afterwards, and she called me kid. And she said: You were really good, kid. And she was going to sit on the couch, and it was this old couch in my dressing room off Broadway and the spring was sticking up, you know. And I started to warn her, and she says, don't worry, kid. I see it. And she talked to me about, you know, how much she liked what I did. And she said - and before she left, she said, if you ever need me, give me a call, for anything.

Well, I thought, woo. That was really something. So a few years later, I was going to do a special for CBS, and they were going to put it on if I got a big guest star. So the producer, Bob Banner, said to me: Why don't you call Lucy? And I said, oh, gosh. I don't want to be pushy or anything. He said, really, you know, we - she will sell the show for you, and she did say that. I said, but that was three or four years ago, and, you know.

Anyway, finally, I was talked into calling her. And I called her office, and the secretary put me right through. She says: Hey, kid, what's going on, you know? And I said: How are you? I said, oh, Lucy, I don't want to bother you. I know you're busy. But I was asked to ask you this, and, you know, I - but please don't feel that you - and, you know, I was just faltering. She said, what is it? I said, well, I'm going to do a show for CBS and said - she said, so when do you want me?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BURNETT: And she came and did the show with me.

CONAN: Carol Burnett, thank you so much for your time today.

Ms. BURNETT: Thank you. I loved it. I love being with you, Neal.

CONAN: Thank you very much.

Carol Burnett's new book out in paper, "This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection." She joined us from NPR West in Culver City, California.

When we come back from a short break, we're going to be talking with Stephen Carter about just war and Libya.

This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.