“They asked me quite a few times, but I could never work it out with my schedule,” Burnett said to reporters on the red carpet who all wondered why the first lady of variety had to wait 16 years to receive an award that seems Bob Mackie-tailored for her talents.
Indeed, unreserved love and gratitude were on display Sunday night. Perhaps Tina Fey said it best when she crooned in her opening tribute to Burnett, “I love you in a way that is just shy of creepy.”
“A lot of female comediennes are going to come out and say that ‘I love you so much,’ ” Fey said, “but I’m saying it first!”
She was right. A host of famous friends, some of whom weren’t even born when “The Carol Burnett Show” began its run in 1967, turned out to fete Burnett for her lifetime-achievement prize. Her show was synonymous with Saturday-night television from 1967 to 1978, but her star endured long after, leading many of the women to pursue variety themselves.
“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.”
When Burnett finally took the stage after two hours of tributes, she had to quell the standing ovation. “This is very encouraging,” she quipped to laughter. “It was a long time in coming, but I understand — because there are so many people funnier than I am, especially here in Washington.”
Per the usual practice at the Twain Prize event, there were dozens of memorable clips from Burnett’s career, including Lucille Ball and Burnett’s duet as cleaning ladies singing about “Chutzpah,” and Burnett and Tim Conway as the flighty Mrs. Wiggins and Mr. Tudball. Of course, the memorable “The Family” sketch and “Gone With the Wind” parodies were included in the highlight reel, reminding the audience why 30 million Americans tuned in every Saturday night. And unlike in recent years, when, say, Ellen DeGeneres or Will Ferrell were honored, Burnett’s clips spanned seven decades, taking us back to what she called “the golden era of television.”
Burnett laughed heartily throughout the night, sitting in a mezzanine at stage left. She wore a black beaded jacket and a black skirt, an ensemble that revealed how the 80-year-old is getting more glamorous with each passing year.
And it was no secret why she was beaming. The Twain Prize is the most recent in a long line of awards for the star. “The Carol Burnett Show” won 25 Emmys over the course of its 11-year run, and Burnett has also taken top honors such as a Peabody Award, Golden Globes and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, which she received in 2005.
Indeed, one of the running jokes of the evening was that Burnett really doesn’t need another anything.