I choose my words carefully. As an educator, I recognize their worth with my students, as a mom I know they will be repeated and as a writer I acknowledge their effect. So when I found myself in PPAC’s beautiful house waiting for Carol Burnett to take the stage one word came to mind, and I knew I would run with it. Trailblazer. Sure there are other, equally worthy words — hilarious, clever, legend — that equally describe this comedienne, but the one that rings truest for me is trailblazer.
The world of comedy is not an easy one for women; however, growing up I didn’t realize this because I grew up watching Carol Burnett. From her sketch comedy to Annie, I always knew that women are funny. I knew that I too wanted to make people laugh (and play Miss Hannigan one day!). Carol Burnett paved the way for comediennes like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolf.
The evening opens with clips to set the mood. This isn’t any show after all, it’s a question and answer show. And I have to take pause here and applaud the fantastic PPAC ushers who tirelessly bounced throughout the theater to hand the microphones over to audience members. Carol, as she tells the audience to call her, opens with a tribute to the great Harvey Korman. Once the questions are open, a true Rhode Island question was posed, “Would you ever run for president?” Carol laughed it off noting that she may move to Vancouver.
The audience was eclectic — from the 9-year-old in the second row who wanted to take Carol out to dinner to the self-proclaimed “aging baby boomers,” parents of baby boomers and everyone in between — including a young woman who drove from Canada and has CB tattooed on her wrist! It says something when a performer can attract that kind of variety in their audience, and completely sell out. And not to mention a night flying solo without a script. How utterly terrifying! After all, who knows what an audience member will come up with? You would never know that by watching this consummate professional. I am convinced that Providence could have sold out two nights.
Burnett’s stories range from working with animals onstage, touting the talents of everyone around her, and how she started in the business. It is known that Burnett has a huge affection for education, so it was no surprise when she spoke of her first time on stage in a college production. She noted that she got a positive response from the audience. “Thank goodness they laughed.” Thank goodness indeed!
As I looked around the packed house I thought that there aren’t too many people who can sell out a venue for a night that has no script. The audience dictates what happens, making each night unique. And if you’re fortunate enough to live in a city that has more than one scheduled show (I’m looking at you San Francisco and NYC!) you won’t be disappointed if you buy tickets for both nights!
Overall, Carol Burnett An Evening of Laughter and Reflection was an absolute joy, and an honor to witness. I enjoyed the stories so much that I can’t wait to read more about them when Burnett’s newest venture, her fourth book, In Such Good Company comes out this fall!