Thursday, May 29, 2008

It would be too obvious to say 'I'm so glad we had this time together,' but I'll say it

There were few things I enjoyed as a child more than the beat-up swingset in our back yard. I swang and I swang and I swang. I swang in cold weather, with a jacket on. I swang in warm weather in shorts and flip-flops. Some of my best childhood memories are of swinging in the late summer afternoons, with the shadows growing long, and being surrounded by the sound of the cicadas buzzing in the trees.

There wasn't much that could tear me away from that swingset. But at 6:35 p.m. every weeknight when there wasn't a Braves game on, I had to be in front of the TV.

Carol Burnett was on.

Now, I'm a child of the '80s. Pac-Man. Michael Jackson and Thriller. MTV. All that. But for whatever reason, TBS, for several of my most formative years, decided to air decade-old re-runs of Carol Burnett and Friends at 6:35 p.m. every weeknight when they weren't showing a Braves baseball game. I rarely missed it.

As the Stomach Turns. Tim Conway as the character known in my house as The Little Old Man. Carol Burnett as Miss Wiggins, who couldn't operate the intercom, and Conway as her stressed-out boss. They were as familiar to me as any characters on any of the popular television shows of the mid-1980s, if not more so. They were a fixture in my house. Even my parents, who were busy people and stayed stressed out most of the time, would sometimes watch.

And we weren't the only ones. At school the following day, the kids in my class would be reciting lines or funny scenes from the previous night's re-run. I don't think we really understood that ol' Carol and her crew had been cancelled by CBS some years before. The loud '70s clothing, the wide ties and leisure suits -- well, we weren't really old enough to catch on how out-of-date they were. Carol and company might as well have been still on the air, along with The Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider or whatever else 10-year-olds were watching in the mid-'80s.

But I think we understood, or at least I know I did, that Carol Burnett's show was awesome.

I remember when Tim Conway, as the little old white-haired man who always shuffled around, appeared as a dentist trying to treat patient Harvey Korman, only to stick himself with the Novocaine needle and put all his limbs to sleep. I remember laughing at Carol and Harvey Korman doing their version of Max, the baldheaded butler, and Nora Desmond, aging movie star with her overly stretched-out face, years before I ever saw the original film Sunset Boulevard that they were parodying. And this punchline stood on its own in my house: "Stroke! Stroke! I'm having a stroke!" I won't even bother to try to explain it. You had to see it to understand.

But the highlight of any Carol Burnett episode in my house was The Point At Which Tim Conway Would Make Harvey Korman Crack Up. It was never a question of whether Harvey would lose it. It was a question of when he would lose it. If Tim Conway were on that night, it was coming. You just had to wait for it.

Today, out in California, Harvey Korman died. He was 81. He was awesome, and I just wanted to write this.

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