Carol Burnett is still going strong in her golden years, and in a world where female comedians were few, far between, and undoubtedly part of a man’s world, Burnett was a comedy legend.
In decades past, Carol Burnett paved the way for Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Roseanne Barr and Rosie O’Donnell before that. The history of women in comedy is spotty at best, but Carol and her unique brand of physical comedy broke barriers in a way in which people didn’t even realize they were watching a glass ceiling shatter — they were laughing too hard.
Tina Fey was among those commenting on Carol Burnett’s new honor, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Fey said:
“A lot of female comediennes are going to come out and say that ‘I love you so much,’ but I’m saying it first!”
Fey herself has emerged as a galvanizing barrier-breaker for female comics, but before she was famous, she was a Carol Burnett fangirl.
Tina explained how watching The Carol Burnett Show helped shape her own foray into sketch comedy — most famously, of course, on the notoriously male-centric Saturday Night Live:
“I fell in love with sketch comedy watching your show, and you proved sketch comedy is a good place for women. 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.”
Martin Short was also on hand to discuss the influential comic’s legacy, saying:
“Everyone copied from her. There wouldn’t be Saturday Night Live without Carol.”
Fey, who has herself received the Twain prize, vocalized the long time coming aspect, saying of Burnett’s eventual win:
“Carol’s award makes a lot more sense than mine, don’t you think?”
Burnett was lauded for two hours by industry luminaries, before she herself took the stage to dryly amuse the crowd.
Of the star-studded night, Burnett joked:
“This is very encouraging. It was a long time in coming, but I understand — because there are so many people funnier than I am, especially here in Washington.”
“With any luck, they’ll soon get voted out, and I’ll still have the Mark Twain prize.”
Fey, who made a handful of Washington jokes before quipping there had been “enough politics… we are here tonight to celebrate the first lady of American comedy, Ted Cruz,” added in a funny-lady way:
“You mean so much to me. I love you in a way that is just shy of creepy.”
Carol Burnett had her much-loved network show from 1967 to 1978.