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Published: Sunday, 2/13/2005

Longtime colleagues Conway and Korman bring their 'traveling Burnett show' to town

BY MIKE KELLY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tim Conway Tim Conway
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Though he's called California home for many years, Tim Conway is no stranger to Ohio and the delights of its winters.

Not only is the comedian and actor a native of Willoughby, a suburb of Cleveland, but he attended Bowling Green State University and worked for a time in radio and television in Cleveland.

"Oh, yeah, winters are fun there," he says during a telephone interview from his home near Los Angeles. "In Cleveland, I used to love it when the wind would blow in off the lake

"To come out of a station at 2 in the morning and jump in your car when it's about 7 degrees, turn the key, and your battery goes, 'R-r-u-r-r ' I love that sound and that feeling."

Conway will return to his home state for a pair of shows Friday at the Stranahan Theater, accompanied by Harvey Korman, his old colleague from The Carol Burnett Show. The comedy-variety series ran from 1967 to 1978, during which it rarely dropped out of the weekly top-10 ratings.

The two have been touring the country for nearly seven years with a live comedy show called "Together Again," a mixture of stand-up routines and comedy sketches.

"It's really kind of a traveling Burnett show," Conway says. "We do the characters people are familiar with from the show."

Most of the sketches are new, but they're along the same lines as the material that was used on The Carol Burnett Show, Conway says.

"I don't think we've ever done the same show twice, because we leave plenty of room for moving around in it," he says. "It's obviously a scripted show, but it's not set in granite so we do wander around in it."

Conway, who has been a regular on television for more than four decades, got his first big break when he joined The Steve Allen Show in 1961. Next came McHale's Navy, on which he played the bumbling Ensign Charles Parker opposite Ernest Borgnine for five seasons, and then The Carol Burnett Show. He began a series of guest appearances on the variety program in 1967, and after a few years he became a regular, earning three Emmy Awards in the process.

During weekly sketches with Burnett, Korman, and Vicki Lawrence, Conway became notorious for making his fellow cast members, particularly Korman, crack up with laughter during the show's taping, while Conway himself remained in character.

Asked what he thinks was the key was to the Burnett show's success and longevity, Conway pauses a moment before answering.

"I think a lot of the humor was really generated by the fact that people were comfortable with the show," he says. "They didn't have to worry about us with language or nudity - God only knows it would have been embarrassing to see Harvey nude."

Even after the Burnett show went off the air, it continued to hold a special place in the memories of viewers, both those who saw the original episodes and younger people who became familiar with it through reruns on cable TV. In 2001, a 25th-anniversary reunion special, The Carol Burnett Show: Show Stoppers, drew 30 million viewers and was the fourth-highest-rated TV show of the entire season.

Conway has kept busy over the years, appearing on virtually every variety and talk show on television and making frequent guest appearances on series such as Married With Children; Mad About You; Touched by an Angel; Yes, Dear; and SpongeBob SquarePants, in which he provided the voice for the character Barnacle Boy.

On the big screen, he's appeared in a number of family films, including The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Shaggy D.A., and The Billion Dollar Hobo. Other features have included Speed II and Dear God.

In 1989, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2002, he and Korman were inducted together into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame.

Along the way, Conway has also starred in a series of comedy videos featuring a dim-witted, pint-sized character named Dorf. Two of the videos, Dorf on Golf and Dorf Goes Fishing, have sold more than 1 million copies.

The "vertically challenged" Dorf was originally created for a sketch on the Burnett show, Conway explains.

"We were doing a takeoff one time on the show Fantasy Island, and I was doing Herve (Villechaize, who played the diminutive character Tattoo), and I had the shoes on my knees, and I said, 'You know, if you put a hole in the floor, you could stand up with the shoes on your knees and it would look like you're actually standing on the ground.'

"And they did, and those holes are still in the floor at CBS on Stage 33," he says. "You'll notice Bob Barker trip on them once in a while." (Barker is host of the long-running daytime game show The Price is Right, which is filmed on Stage 33.)

Conway says it's unlikely he'd ever do another TV series, "especially if I'd have to go Monday through Friday to learn 27 lines, and really make them hysterical on Friday."

"With Carol's show, we would read the script on Monday, talk about it on Tuesday, run through it on Wednesday, and shoot it on Friday. We just knew what was funny and what to put in and what to take out.

"Nowadays, I've done shows actually where you go in at 8 o'clock in the morning and you're not through until 6 o'clock the next morning.

"I was on a show one time when we did that and the crew quit! They said, 'That's it, we're out of here. We've been here for two days doing this crap, and it's not going to get any funnier. We gotta get home.' "

Conway's sidekick on his comedy tour, Harvey Korman, began his own TV career in 1960 as the voice of The Great Gazoo on The Flintstones. He joined The Carol Burnett Show in 1967, and went on to write, produce, and co-star in the sitcom Mama's Family, which also featured another Burnett alum, Vicki Lawrence.

Korman's movie work includes roles in three Mel Brooks films, Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety, and History of the World: Part 1, as well as Curse of the Pink Panther, First Family, and Jingle All the Way.

Conway, who worked with Korman for the first time on the Burnett show, says the two are quite comfortable working together these days. "It's been 40-some years now, and we've been friends ever since," he says. "At least he thinks I'm his friend."

Do they see each other socially?

"I try not to, but he insists on it," he deadpans.

The duo performs about 150 shows a year, Conway says, and their travel schedule is made considerably easier by using a private plane to go from city to city.

"But it's a glider, so we depend a lot on the wind," he adds.

Like The Carol Burnett Show, Conway and Korman's live performances are designed to appeal to a wide audience, which means they're about as far from R-rated as, well, as a CBS variety show would be these days.

"It kind of relaxes an audience when they come to see us and know they're not going to be offended," he says.

"For example, in talking about our getting old, we do say things about that, but we certainly don't use the language I mean, you take a joke, like we're talking about how our wives make us eat a lot of roughage, and we eat lettuce and cabbage, and [I say] I've eaten so much roughage I'm starting to pass wicker furniture.

"That's a more constructive and fun joke than talking about what most comedians might; they just come out and use language that takes the fun out of it."

Conway and Korman are joined in their live show by Louise DuArt, an impressionist who also hosts a daily talk show called Living the Life on the ABC Family Channel.

"It's a compact little hour and a half," Conway says of the "Together Again" show. "There's no intermission - we don't believe in letting people get away from us."

Even at the age of 71, Conway says he doesn't plan to stop touring with Korman - who is 77 - anytime soon.

"It's fun to do, it really is," he says. "It just works, so it's a delight to know that people are actually coming to see this. I love the audience reaction. They're very happy to see us, and we're very happy to see them, and consequently, it's fun to do."

And yes, he adds, he can still cause Korman to break character and start laughing right in the middle of a sketch.

"He needs to work on his concentration," Conway says innocently.

"Tim Conway and Harvey Korman: Together Again" will be at the Stranahan Theater Friday, with shows at 2 and 7 p.m. A limited number of tickets are available at $47.50 and $52.50. Information: 419-381-8851 or www.stranahantheater.com

Contact Mike Kelly at: mkelly@theblade or 419-724-6131.



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