Carol Burnett: ‘Cleverness’ in Entertainment is Becoming Extinct

Annie Holmquist | February 1, 2016

Over the weekend, famed comedienne Carol Burnett received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Before receiving the award, Burnett gave a brief interview to The Hollywood Reporter, offering an interesting critique of the entertainment industry in the process:

“Funny is funny. I dare anyone to look at Tim Conway and Harvey Korman doing the dentist sketch, which is more than 40 years old, and not scream with laughter. But I am kind of bored of producers saying, ‘It's got to be edgy.’ Edgy is fine — I'm not a prude by any stretch of the imagination — but what's wrong with a good ol' belly laugh? I miss that. A lot of comedy today is so fast — it's like: "Boom! Boom! Boom!" — because they think people can't pay enough attention. Barry Levinson [who wrote for The Carol Burnett Show before becoming a director] and Rudy De Luca wrote one of my favorite sketches. It was called "The Pail," and in it, Harvey is my psychiatrist and I'm having a session with him. It takes about five or six minutes into the sketch until we got our first laugh, but it built and built and built, and the punch line was great. It's about a girl who was traumatized by a bully in the sandbox when she was 6 years old, and he stole her little pail — and it turns out the psychiatrist was the bully. It is absolutely hysterical, but it took all that time to build. Today the suits say, ‘It's got to be fast.’ So I think some of the writing isn't good anymore. Now sitcoms sound like they've been written by teenage boys in a locker room.

Burnett shared similar words at the SAG awards ceremony, adding that she “would like to see cleverness come back.” According to Ms. Burnett, cleverness “does exist in some shows, but not in enough.”

These days, it seems that there are few negative critiques of television, movies, or other entertainment varieties which include “edgy” material. And as Ms. Burnett’s statement testifies, those who do raise objections to “edgy” material are often labeled as prudes.

But maybe it’s more than prudishness. As Ms. Burnett implies, does an increased reliance on and acceptance of the crude actually indicate a lack of maturity, intelligence, and creativity in entertainment today? 

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