The Queen of Comedy on sorrow and laughter, her
mama and Osama
What cabin fever?
My heart goes out to people who are ill or lost their job—it’s just mind-boggling. So I can’t complain.
I’m safe. I’ve got my husband, a home, and food on the table. We do crossword puzzles and play
Scrabble and watch old movies. But I miss seeing my kids, my grandchildren nd my friends, and when all
this is over, I just want to throw a great big hugging party.
Some people say I had a tough childhood. It wasn’t that tough. We were poor, but I was never hungry.
My mama and dad were alcoholics, and they were divorced. But I had my grandmother, and she raised
me. We had one room; I slept on the couch until I was 21; Nanny was on the Murphy bed. She was
funny! She used to look under the bed every night. I’d say, “What are you looking for, Nanny?” She’d
say, “Randolph Scott.”
Here I come! Eventually….
Growing up in Los Angeles, we’d fly kites, roller skate and play Jungle Girl. I taught myself the Tarzan
yell when I was about 9. I was also editor of my high school paper. My intent was to go to UCLA and
major in journalism, but we didn’t have the money. Tuition was $43. One morning I got a letter. Inside
was a $50 bill. I don’t know, to this day, who sent that.
When I went to New York, I was auditioning for something and I thought I had it. But another girl got it.
Instead of being discouraged, I thought, It’s her turn. It’s not my turn. My turn will come. It saved me
from being disappointed.
If someone had told me 52 years ago that our little show (The Carol Burnett Show) would be viable
today, I would have said, “You’re crazy!” But it has held up because we were never that topical—we just
went for the laugh.
My daughter Carrie got into drugs. In that situation, don’t be their best friend. When we got her into a
third rehab, oh, she hated my guts! You have to love them enough to let them hate you. She got sober
before her 18 th birthday, and we had a good 20 years—we were joined at the hip for a while there.
Carrie died of cancer at 38. But in the hospital she said, “Every day I wake up and decide, today I’m
going to love my life.” And that was her mantra.
Before the pandemic, I did shows where the audience ask questions. About 10 years ago, in Texas, a
lady said, “If you could be a member of the opposite sex for 24 hours, who would you be and what
would you do?” And I said a little prayer: Ok, God. Whatever comes out of my mouth is going to be
your fault. And out tumbled, “I’d be Osama bin Laden and I’d kill myself.” The audience went nuts.
Don’t forget to laugh
I’ve lost a lot of people—Tim Conway and Lyle Waggoner and Ken Berry in just the past couple of years.
You learn to cope and also to live in the now. And you have to laugh.
Written by Alanna Nash for AARP The Magazine