Carol Burnett Gets 90th Birthday Love From Today's Top Comedy Stars

A generation of comics were inspired by 'The Carol Burnett Show.'
Carol Burnett Gets 90th Birthday Love From Today's Top Comedy Stars

Today is Carol Burnett’s 90th birthday, but today’s comedy stars weren't just respecting their elders when they turned out for Carol Burnett: 90 Years of Laughter + Love, a special airing tonight on NBC. To hear comic icons like Steve Carell, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Kristen Wiig tell it, they might not be in the business had they not caught the comedy bug from growing up with The Carol Burnett Show.

Tonight’s special mostly features clips from Burnett’s incredible career, and seeing the lady work is probably the best tribute NBC could give. 

But in between the laughs, today’s comics line up to give Burnett her flowers. As a kid growing up in the 1970s, jokes Office star Carell, Carol Burnett was a solid fifth on his list of influences (behind Raymond Burr, First Lady Pat Nixon, Johnny Mathis, and the lady who asked “Where’s the beef?” on those hamburger commercials). His old Daily Show pal Stephen Colbert shows off a huge photo of Carol Burnett that’s hanging in the Late Show offices “so my writers and I can pass by that picture every day and look to it for something to aspire to.”

Abbott Elementary’s Ralph says Burnett changed her nine-year-old life forever. It was the 1960s, Ralph reminds everyone, and Burnett invited her into the TV set. “I watched you welcome and embrace Sammy Davis Jr. Pearl Bailey. Nancy Wilson -- the black one. Flip Wilson. The Jackson Five. You hugged them. You kissed them. You performed with them on the stage and by seeing that, you let me know that I could become the Sheryl Lee Ralph that I’m still becoming.”

Carol’s neighbor Ellen DeGeneres credits Burnett with blazing the trail for female comics. Saturday Night Live’s Wiig confesses that “falling in love with sketch comedy as a young girl was because of you.” Jimmy Fallon shows up to rap because of course he does, letting Burnett know that she, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, and the crew “taught me it’s fine to break every once in a while.” So now you know Burnett is to blame. But Friends star Lisa Kudrow was into the crack-ups. “What comes across (during bloopers) is what real fun you’re having,” she told Burnett. “And that transcends whatever is written in the script.”

It’s not just the comics who felt her influence. Michelle Obama shares memories of The Carol Burnett Show, a show watched by her entire family. She also admits to a little crush on Lyle Waggoner, which is kinda creepy.

Some of the night’s several musical numbers are overdone, including Katy Perry’s over-the-top show closer, a divariffic rendition of Burnett’s signature “We’re So Glad We Had This Time Together.” But we dare you to keep a dry eye when Perry turns over the mic to Burnett so the 90-year-old can sing the final refrain: “Comes the time we have to say so long.”

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