TV

Burnett still has the answers

Carol Burnett never tires of answering questions. For 40 years she has let fans grill her about a potpourri of topics, first on her groundbreaking variety show and, most recently, during a one-woman tour.

In addition, the 23-time Emmy nominee has jotted down some of her favorite anecdotes from those interactions for her breezy new book, "This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection" (Harmony, $25). Burnett, who turns 77 this month, recently agreed to put up with a few questions of our own.

It's fitting that you open your new book with a story about Jimmy Stewart, because everybody loved him — and everyone loves you. You're like pizza.

Well, I wouldn't go that far. I think it's because of the Q&As. When we started the show, back in the covered-wagon days, Bob Banner, one of the executive producers, suggested that instead of having a comedian warm up the audience, that I should do it myself. Garry Moore used to do the same thing, and was just brilliant at it, but it wasn't taped.

I didn't think I could do it, so he suggested that they'd put some plants in the audience. But I thought if we were going to do it, we had to be really truthful, and if I got egg on my face, I'd have egg on my face. I think that became about 50 percent of my image.

What's the strangest question you've ever been asked?

One woman asked me: If I could be a member of the opposite sex for 24 hours and then pop back, who would I want to be and what would I do? I said a little prayer and thought, "OK, God, I'm going to open my mouth and talk and whatever comes out is your fault." My answer: "Osama bin Laden, and I'd kill myself." The audience went wild.

I have this fantasy that when no one is around, you slip into your closet, pull out one of those old Bob Mackie outfits and play dress-up. Please tell me that's true.

No, honey. Those dresses have gone the way of the dodo. I do have a couple of the beaded jackets, and every once in a while, when I'm going to a function, I'll throw one on over a dress. They still look great.

Which up-and-coming comedians make you laugh?

Up-and-coming? Hmmm. I'm not one to watch a lot of stand-up, although I did watch one of Ellen's (DeGeneres) one-woman shows for HBO, and she had me belly-laughing. You don't belly-laugh that much anymore while watching television. Of course, she's already established. I also like Martin Short. Somebody asked me once who could do a variety show now, and I said him. Of course, it'll never happen, not like we did it.

Why not?

Money. We had 12 dancers, two guest stars, lots of costumes, 28 musicians and nine writers. Then you had to pay for the rights for the music. Even we couldn't do it today.

You also have your own theme song. What's it like to hear it when you walk into a room? Do you ever get sick of it?

It's lovely. I've gone into some restaurants and, if they have a piano bar, the guy might play the song.

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