Carol Burnett receives Mark Twain Prize for humor in D.C.

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“I was more of a second banana,” she said. But she loved playing a variety of characters.

CBS signed her to a 10-year contract doing guest shots on sitcoms and performing in one TV special a year, but the deal also allowed her the option of creating her own variety show and guaranteed her airtime. But five years in, CBS executives had forgotten about the idea.

She recalled one executive telling her: “You know, variety is a man’s game.”

“At that time, I understood what he was saying, and I was never one to get angry,” Burnett said. “I said ‘well this is what I know, and this is what I want to do.’”

The show ran from 1967 to 1978 and included guest stars such as Lucille Ball, Jimmy Stewart, Ronald Reagan and Betty White.

Tim Conway, one of Burnett’s co-stars on her show, joked that he now spends his time traveling around the country for Burnett to receive awards.

“Thank you for being such a friend,” he said, “such a generous person, not with salary, but generous.”

Comedian Martin Short also joined the tribute to Burnett.

“What is it about redheads on television that make us laugh so much? Carol, Lucille Ball, Donald Trump,” he said.

Burnett said it’s a thrill to receive the award named for humorist and satirist Mark Twain and that she’s in good company with past honorees, who include Fey, Bill Cosby, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin and Ellen DeGeneres.

Coming on the heels of the government shutdown, McGarr said it’s nice to bring an “intentionally funny moment” to Washington after weeks of political drama.

“You know, serious times call for seriously funny people,” McGarr said.

Burnett made a special request that rising comedienne Rosemary Watson, who does impressions of Hillary Clinton and others, be part of the show. Burnett found Watson on YouTube after receiving a fan letter and thought she was funny.

“The thing is, you pay it forward,” Burnett said, “because when I got started, somebody gave me a break when I was 21 years old, and I wanted to go to New York.”

Before the show, Watson said that watching Burnett shaped her life as a child. She said Burnett was not a joke teller but created funny characters.

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