“I had three days where I wasn’t doing anything, I decided not to mow the lawn so I wrote the book.”
2. Was the process of writing a memoir different from writing comedy?
“Very much so. Yes, The wardrobe’s completely different.”
3. One of your first jobs was a disaster (bussing and maître d’ with Dick Moss). What made you decide to keep trying?
“I wanted to work my way up to bussing and so I stayed on, plus it was raining out and I was wearing a heavy woolen army overcoat. When they get wet, you can clear a room with the aroma. I didn’t want to go out in the rain, so I stayed around for the rest of the show. I was excellent. Moss was bad.”
4. When did you realize your calling was: “to stand in front of an audience with one purpose in mind to make people feel a little bit happier when they came in?”
“I think, Tuesday. No, I’m sorry, it was Wednesday.”
5. How have you managed to stay true to yourself in Hollywood? And not take perks?
(Charlene: “He stayed true to himself because he was afraid of everyone in Hollywood.”) “What perks? I didn’t know there were perks. Heck, if there were cars and things of that nature, I would take a car. I stayed true to myself because I’m a hick and I’ve remained a hick.” (Charlene: “The truth is he was a family man. He would come home from work to go to hockey games and things like that, with the kids. All the Hollywood brouhaha, he never took part in… unless it was something for someone else. He won’t say it about himself; he’ll put himself down. So I have to say it for him.”)
6. Has your faith helped you?
“My faith has helped immensely. I’ve always been very religious, I went to a carnival one time, and there was one of those fishing poles, and there were a bunch of things that you could fish for. One was a glow in the dark cross with Jesus on it. And I thought, ‘boy I’d like to have that.’ I gave the guy a dime and threw in the line and, out of all the forty or fifty prizes piled up, I pulled out the cross. If that isn’t a message, I don’t know what is. I still have that cross. Oh, I forgot I ate it for dinner. If you had come last night…Actually it’s in Chagrin.”
7. You’ve been on iconic shows. When doing them did you have the sense that you were making television history?
“No. I had the sense that I was entertaining an audience and, while others might have disagreed with me, hey, I was in charge. Filming the Carol Burnett Show all those years, nobody thought about history. It was just getting the show out every week the best you could and then getting over to the City Slicker. We were surrounded by love from cast and crew…and the dancers, oh those dancers.”
8. You and your family are private people. How did your children feel about your writing What’s So Funny?
“I never said anything derogatory about them so why wouldn’t they like it? That’s a big word. Shall I spell it? Derogatory, D-e-r-o-g-a-t-o-r-y. My family is happy with it.”
9. How did your mother feel about the “Sophia Murgoi style of speaking” you employed?
“My mother never noticed that I was doing that.”
10. Many people encouraged you. Who besides, Elsa Jane Carroll? Share experiences.
“Coach Ralph Quisenberry was big influence. He let me play guard on the football team. He wanted me to be the water boy, but I pleaded for a spot on the line. I was like a rat. I was so small, I ran between the other players legs. Norm Frye, from the Shop Class let me make a bar rather than a bookcase, and, of course, Charlene. I’ve always gone against the grain. I didn’t look the part of a football player or a cabinet maker or a tailor, but I was all of them. Look, it’s the simple things in life that are incredible. They’re so much easier to comprehend. I’m a simple guy. I go down a simple path. I have simple shoes, and a simply wonderful wife.”
11. You knew nothing about the business end of the business. What do you think accounts for your success?
“Well the fact that I never really wanted to be a star. I didn’t want to increase my salary. I didn’t want to push myself to the top by pushing myself. I performed, if they liked it I kept going, if they didn’t, I cried a lot and went on to the next gig. And I’m still going.”
12. Hilarious Hijinks. How do these ideas come to you and how do you keep a straight face?
“I look at life and make it amusing. I don’t look for props; props find me. One time friends of ours were married in a beautiful private room with a glass wall overlooking the gardens at the Bel Air Hotel. A lot of people, a big band and everyone was having a fine time. Harvey was up on the stage toasting the married couple. I noticed a hose in the garden. I slipped outside, grabbed the hose, turned it on, and began watering the glass wall. Heads turned and when I was spotted, everyone began howling. Harvey fell down laughing.”
13. How do you capture spontaneity that characterizes many of your performances? Have you been influenced by the high-tech developments?
“Not a bit. I do what I do. I could be anywhere, on a beach, at the track, in a studio, and if something catches my eye the signal goes to my brain and all of a sudden I’m in a routine. ) I haven’t changed. I’m doing the same things I’ve always done. “
14. Do you have any advice for aspiring actors and comedians?
“Yes. Don’t go into the business. (They might take my job.)”
15. What do you hope people take away from What’s So Funny?
“I hope they take away a laugh or two, and not my material. Look, I don’t mind people taking a few things but not everything. Charlie Chaplin, for example, if he were alive today, I’d sue him.”