Before Amy Schumer, before Tina Fey or even Gilda Radner, there was Carol Burnett. She paved the way for women in comedy, whether headlining their own show, like Mary Tyler Moore, or finding their place in a boys’ club, like Gilda Radner, Jane Curtin, and pretty much any other woman to ever appear on “Saturday Night Live.”
Tonight at 9 p.m. ET (check local listings), PBS will air the best of Burnett’s iconic variety series, “The Carol Burnett Show,” with eight sketches hand-picked and introduced by Burnett herself, including classics like “Went With The Wind,” “The Dentist,” and “The Family.”
“The Carol Burnett Show” debuted in 1967 and lasted for 11 seasons and won 25 Emmys, which is impressive for any show, but even more so for one that wasn’t even expected to last long in the first place. If women in comedy are still having a tough time being taken seriously in 2016, imagine being a female comedian in 1967. TV show hosts were men; CBS made it clear that they didn’t think audiences would respond well to a woman. When they counter-offered Burnett a sitcom, she declined, and used a loophole in her contract to move forward with her own series.
Over 11 years, Carol Burnett proved again and again that she was a star. She performed slapstick and parody, she sang and she danced. She broke on camera before Jimmy Fallon made it a thing. She proved that women were funny, and anyone who questioned that likely didn’t have a sense of humor.
“You proved sketch comedy is a good place for women,” Tina Fey remarked when Burnett won the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2013. “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.”
“Carol Burnett’s Favorite Sketches” offers up a taste of all the sketches now deemed iconic, ones we see referenced all the time in modern comedy, without getting too wrapped up in being a best-of special. They’re personal favorites, ones with stories you will remember when you’re finally done laughing.