Her crowded trophy case already includes a half-dozen Emmys, multiple Golden Globes, a Peabody, a Kennedy Center Honor and its Mark Twain Prize for Humor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, has been nominated for a Tony twice, and in 2013, the City of Los Angeles named the intersection of Highland & Selma after her. And tonight during the 2016 SAG Awards, comedy legend Carol Burnett received one more honor: her Life Achievement Award.
Burnett was visibly moved by the accolades given to her, and spoke at length about how her career came together, and the work that went into making her most famous project happen. “When I got my variety show, one of the major things I wanted to do, and I loved doing, was our take off of movies,” she said. “This time we had costumes designed by the brilliant Bob Mackie, a full orchestra… in essence we mounted a musical comedy revue every week, and oh god we had fun.”
Burnett also spoke about the push-back from the network about the show she wanted to make, noting how they wanted “a half-hour sitcom called Here’s Agnes.” Joking that “comedy variety is a man’s game, she paid tribute to her former The Carol Burnett Show collaborators. “The brilliant Harvey Korman, Vickie Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, and Tim Conway. Their comedic chops made it all work, and I was able to do what I did because of what they brought to the table. Not only their talent, but their love.”
“I’m so glad we had this time together,” said Burnett at the end of her acceptance speech, and it was clear the feeling was mutual.
The creator and star of the seminal variety comedy series The Carol Burnett Show, which ran for 11 seasons before ending in 1978, Burnett’s work on the show influenced generations of female comics. Among them, three-time Golden Globe hosts and Saturday Night Live veterans Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who presented the award to her. “Carol has been such a huge part of all of our lives for the past 50 years, from her Broadway debut… to 11 glorious seasons of her smash hit variety show,” said Poehler, who then joked “right up until this year’s unauthorized biopic Carol, about her friendship with Julie Andrews.” This got big laughs from the crowd and even appeared to make Burnett blush, and of course Fey pretend-corrected her.
Joking that Burnett’s many awards over the years gave her “the coveted EGOTMFF,” Poehler went on about how much more difficult comedy is than drama and added “the point is, Carol is better than all of us. We’re gonna give her a prize for it.”
“We both grew up watching The Carol Burnett Show,” said Fey. Besides seeing how funny she was and how beautiful she was, she was also the boss and it was her show.” That, said Fey, made her realize “we could get paid to make comedy with our friends and also be their boss.”
“We watched Carol with our moms and our moms taught us 90% of what we needed to be the women we are today,” added Poehler. “And the other 10% is Carol.”
Burnett followed The Carol Burnett Show with key roles in classic films like Annie, as well as plenty of TV work, including recurring roles on Hot In Cleveland, Glee and as Steve McGarrett’s Aunt Deb on Hawaii Five-O. She also appeared on such series as the successful Burnett Show spinoff Mama’s Family, Mad About You — winning an Emmy for her guest gig — and All My Children, along with a pair of short-lived variety shows in the early 1990s. To this day she’s frequently ranked as one of the funniest women ever to work in American entertainment.
The SAG Life Achievement Award is presented each year to an actor who fosters the “finest ideals of the acting profession.”