Harvey Korman’s death at age 81 is another of the many great losses the TV world has had recently. Korman was an extremely funny man; by far the best thing in Blazing Saddles (who can forget the way he says “evil?”) and a great voice actor, too: his voicing of the infamous Great Gazoo on The Flintstones almost made that character — probably the worst “let’s add a new character late in the run” moment in prime-time TV history — almost tolerable.
The odd thing is that The Carol Burnett Show, for which he is best known, is not one of my favourite things that he did. And it’s not because of him (though he and Tim Conway really should have kept it together; their laughing jags are no more tolerable than Jimmy Fallon’s), and indeed not because of anybody who was on the show: I love Korman, love Carol Burnett, like Tim Conway despite his inability to keep a straight face, even like Vicki Lawrence despite the whole Mama’s Family spinoff thing. But not only is The Carol Burnett Show a show I don’t particularly care for, I can’t remember a time when I liked it very much. Even as a kid, when I basically liked any sketch comedy with funny costumes. Maybe it would come off better if we had complete DVDs of the original episodes to look at — music rights have prevented any kind of comprehensive DVD release so far.
But every time I see it, it just comes off as an uncomfortable mid-point between two schools of comedy-variety shows: the goofier, broader sketch comedy shows that dominated in the ’60s and early ’70s (Dean Martin, Flip Wilson) and the deadpan style, influenced by Second City and National Lampoon, that we’d see with Saturday Night Live and SCTV. The Carol Burnett Show‘s style was always smack in the middle: it was not as corny as other sketch shows, but it was doing types of sketches that really needed more corny/broad humour to work. It had, and still has, a reputation as a “classy” show and I think it deserves that reputation, but I find it more classy than funny. That’s just me, though.