To Betty White’s way of thinking, retirement is for people who hate their jobs. That’s why the 91-year-old funny lady, a TV icon who has won seven Emmy Awards, refuses to call it quits.
There’s nothing about acting and making people laugh that bores her. “My problem is I love what I’m doing, and I love this business, and I enjoy the work, and I love the people I work with,” White says.
Not only is she still going strong in the fourth season of TV Land’s Hot in Cleveland (10 p.m. Wednesday), but she also hosts a hidden-camera prank show called Betty White’s Off Their Rockers (8 p.m. Tuesday, NBC). “I’m the luckiest person on two feet,” White says. “I’ve done about as much as I can do. I’d just like to keep on doing it.”
Q: Is it harder to make TV audiences laugh today than when you were just starting out?
A: When I started out, television was that miracle on the box in the corner of the room. Over the years, as television got to be such a major part of our lives, the audience has heard every joke. They know every story line. They know where you’re going almost before the first line is out. That’s a hard audience to surprise and a hard audience to entertain. And it gets more difficult all the time.
Q: So how do you explain the success of Hot in Cleveland, which uses almost the same playbook that you worked from in the 1970s and 1980s, when doing The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls?
A: Every once in a while, just a good old-fashioned, straightforward television show, or a situation comedy, suddenly hits the spot. It’s almost like something the audience hasn’t seen for a while.
Q: You’re famous for your ribald sense of humor. But is there a limit, a line that you refuse to cross?
A: I always see more than one meaning to a word, so the double-entendre kind of comedy comes naturally to me. But a double entendre is one thing. Dirty humor is something else. I don’t like dirty jokes, but I do enjoy a double entendre.
Q: Given the premise of Off Their Rockers, in which seniors play pranks on the younger generation, are you much of a practical joker?
A: I’m not a real prankster. I will maybe kid my friends. I’ll tell them something happened that didn’t really happen. But I straighten it out pretty fast. The trouble is, you can paint yourself into a corner if you try too many pranks.
Q: Are there any downsides to feeling young and vital at age 91?
A: My problem is, all my life, I never was interested in younger men. He always had to be a little older than I (was). And my problem now, at 90, is I can’t find anybody who’s older.