Entertainment » Highlights » Vol. 20

Comic Legend Tim Conway

By Bernie Whitmore

ent-leadtim-conway-copyWhile Tim Conway’s career has spanned the entire era of television entertainment, he really left his comedic mark with appearances on The Carol Burnett Show.  We’re so used to regarding our own times with despair that it’s easy forget how tumultuous that period ~ 1967 through 1978 ~ really were.  Urban Riots, Vietnam, Watergate, The Brady Bunch… total nightmare.  But once you turned on Carol Burnett and her stable of incredibly talented actors and actresses, it was time to laugh (and many of us remember that we, the audience, were not the only ones laughing ~ often the actors themselves, despite their most valiant attempts to keep straight faces, could not keep themselves from cracking up at their co-stars’ shenanigans).

And Tim Conway was one of our favorites.  His oft-unscripted antics left everyone über-laughing ~ and if you revisit those skits on YouTube, you’ll laugh all over again.  When I was assigned this interview all I could think was, “Great! A chance to speak with the master!”

I soon discovered this wouldn’t be a normal phone call.  After introducing myself to his publicist, the wild ride began:

Tim Conway:  Hello, Bernie Whitmore?  What made you get into the comedy business?
Bernie Whitmore:  (a bit flustered, but trying to play along) Oh, it happened years ago after watching this terrific comedy hour on TV.  It changed my life ~ not necessarily for the better.

TC: Oh… that’s too bad.

This role reversal went on for a few minutes and I got the point.  Tim gets a lot of these calls and is asked the same questions over and over.  Good naturedly, he had a bit of fun at my expense before we got to business.

dorf-super-fan-copyBW: When did you realize you were funny?

TC: In a sense I was the class cut-up because I had dyslexia. And when I read out loud I would read things into sentences that were never there and people thought that was hysterical.  I had no idea why they were laughing but it felt good

I didn’t start out in comedy.  I started as a jockey and I was galloping horses on a track in Cleveland.  Having fallen off as much as I did, and totally frightened of those large animals, I could see why I never got into that business.

BW:  How did you make the leap from casual-funny to thinking, “Hey, I can make a living at this laugh business?”

TC:  Well, when I came out of the Army (ours, that is) a friend was leaving his job writing comedy for a disk jockey in Cleveland and he said, “Why don’t you take my job?” So I did that for about six months; I wrote jokes for a guy who had a piano and a canary that sang along.  And then some things opened up in the promotion area.

So I directed promotion spots and then I got into spots on live television.  One thing led to another and here I am today.

BW: What are you doing more recently?  Can you tell me about your tour?

TC:  We’ve been doing it for about 12 years.  Chuck McCann, a funny guy from New York and Louise DuArt, who does a lot of impressions, join me for a traveling Burnett show, a lot of standup and sketches.  It’s flat-out old-fashioned Burnett comedy.

BW: Where did your characters come from?

TC:  I think the characters came from the fact that Carol Burnett was such a liberal star as far as trying anything. She loved it when you came up with new things.

Most of the characters that I did on that show I never showed anyone until we were taping.  You never know where it was going to come from; whatever worked we’d just do again.  One character we used 20 or 30 times was Mr. Tudball, the foreign executive. Tudball was the accent.  My mother’s Romanian, I’ve been around a lot of Romanians and I never understood them. So I duplicated a combination of Romanian and Swedish and there came Tudball.  Carol, in the creation of Mrs. Wiggins, now that that was a jewel.

BW: You clearly have a passion for entertainment and comedy.  Where does that come from?

TC:  I never had that inclination for money or stardom… that one part that’s going to jettison you into the Oscars.  My idea was to have fun.  Whenever there’s a red carpet for shows I don’t go down it.  I’d rather just sit in the crowd and laugh with people.  That gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted; I wasn’t worried about hurting my career.

BW: Can comedy be taught?

TC:  I don’t think so.  Someone can read a joke, but real comedy means you have to be an orchestra leader.  That audience is your orchestra and you have to take them in a direction of the music you want to hear.

BW: Do you think laughter is the best medicine?

TC:  Yes, I do… it’s tough to yell at someone when they’re laughing at you.  I wish everybody could enjoy life as much as I do.  I’d like to pass that on…

“Tim Conway and Friends,” a touring comedy show featuring big laughs and good clean fun will come to Worcester’s Hanover Theatre this April 10th.  For more details, please visit www.thehanovertheatre.com.

Also check out www.timconway.com for some of Tim’s newest DVD releases and more!

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