Dec 09

Carol Burnett, Winner of This Year’s Mark Twain Prize

“I have always grown from my problems and challenges, from the things that don’t work out, that’s when I’ve really learned.” Carol Burnett

When beloved comedian Carol Burnett was growing up, she was poor, had two alcoholic parents who divorced when she was a preschooler, and her parenting was mainly provided by her hypochondriacal grandmom. Not that she ever bemoans her fate. She’s often said that it was all relative; because everyone else around her had similar upbringings, it just seemed normal.

In her adult life she’s survived, among other things, her own divorce and having a daughter, actress/singer Carrie Hamilton, who successfully battled drug addiction only to later succumb to cancer at the age of 38. Writer of several memoirs, Burnett’s most recent, in fact, is Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story (2013).

When I was growing up, I considered Carol Burnett, now the most recent and 16th winner of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, my idol. Tina Fey, who opened the televised tribute to Burnett and was proud to be the first of the night to declare her own idolatry, so valued The Carol Burnett Show  that it became “a disciplinary tool” used by her parents—no watching it when she misbehaved. Luckily, my mom didn’t get that memo. (Not that I ever misbehaved.)

According to Margy RochlinNew York Post, Burnett, idol indeed to so many, had been offered the Mark Twain Prize prior to this. She had to turn it down, however, due to scheduling conflicts.

The actual tribute, featuring many presenters—mostly celebrities also known for their wit and humor—occurred in late October and aired about a month later. You can now watch the entire two-hour show on PBS.org. (Click on the link.)

Or, just watch a brief clip here of Amy Poehler portraying Roz, Burnett’s personal assistant.

Jan 30

“Bossypants” By Tina Fey, Comic Chronicler of Everyday Problems

Tina Fey‘s bestselling book Bossypants (2011) was released this month in paperback. As described in one review: “Bossypants gets to the heart of why Tina Fey remains universally adored: she embodies the hectic, too-many-things-to-juggle lifestyle we all have, but instead of complaining about it, she can just laugh it off” (Kevin Nguyen, Amazon.com).

Or, as Fey herself writes: “Because I am nothing if not an amazing businesswoman, I researched what kind of content makes for bestselling books. It turns out the answer is ‘one-night stands,’ drug addictions, and recipes. Here, we are out of luck. But I can offer you lurid tales of anxiety and cowardice.”

She says a number of things that I find quite relevant to self-growth and/or mental health issues. For example, on dealing with the childhood trauma of having her face slashed and permanently scarred by a stranger: “I accepted all the attention at face value and proceeded through life as if I really were extraordinary. I guess what I’m saying is, this has all been a wonderful misunderstanding.”

Other quotes from Bossypants on topics of interest:

“My ability to turn good news into anxiety is rivaled only by my ability to turn anxiety into chin acne.”

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.”

“There are no mistakes, only opportunities.”

“I keep my eyes on the sea, waiting to be rocketed into it on a wave of fire. I’ll be ready for it to happen and that way it won’t happen. It’s a burden, being able to control situations with my hyper-vigilance, but it’s my lot in life.”

In 2010, Fey became only the third woman to ever win the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, arguably the biggest award a comedian in the U.S. can receive. The award, which has been given annually since 1998, was given to Whoopi Goldberg in 2001 and Lily Tomlin in 2003.

When she gave her acceptance speech at the Mark Twain event, she directed the following remarks to her parents in the audience: “They say that funny people often come from a difficult childhood or a troubled family. So to my family, I say, ‘They’re giving me the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor! What did you animals do to me???”

Here’s a watch-worthy clip from her speech: