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Tim Conway: The King of Clean

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - Comedic legend Tim Conway is best known for his role on The Carol Burnett Show, an 11-year stint that garnered him five Emmy Awards, a Golden Globe, major accolades from critics, and three generations of fans. Conway played the funny guy alongside Harvey Korman's straight man, often cracking up Harvey midway through scenes.

Tim has recently headlined a new Christian comedy video called Thou Shalt Laugh: The DeuceHe also continues to tour with Harvey and Living the Life co-host Louise Du’Art in Together Again, a night of comedy where Tim and Harvey reprise their classic characters from The Carol Burnett Show, plus perform new sketches and comedy routines. Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Tim to discuss his faith, being funny, and his legendary career spent in show business.

I understand that you are a big supporter of bringing back family entertainment.  Thou Shalt Laugh: The Deuce seems like it is exactly the kind of project that would lend itself to that.  Why is this so important to you?

I’m not sure it is bringing it back.  I think it is here but you just can’t find it.  What they are trying to do and through the Parent Television Council is to try and clean up the 7pm to 9pm time slot so kids aren’t faced with the brutality and the language and the nudity and everything.  We just want to clean up that time area.  We are not looking to burn DVDs or scripts or anything.  It is just kids nowadays can get virtually anything on television or the Internet.  You are never going to stop it.  That is not the point.  I just think a lot of the comedy has deteriorated because of the language.  We are just trying to make it funny again.

Thou Shalt Laugh: The Deuce is a Christian video.  Christian comedian Jeff Allen once told me that sometimes it is hard to have the “Christian comedian” tag hung on you when you are out working in the clubs.  How do you feel about the tag of “Christian comedian”?

I don’t think I would do it any other way because my personal life is entirely different from what I do on the stage.  I mean, I should be in prison for my personal life (laughs).  So, whatever you project to an audience is kind of what people expect when they see you eventually.  My going onstage and saying all those “words” would offend not only the audience but probably me too.  But that is not what people are looking for.  That is not what they came to see.  So, I don’t do it.

On the topic of faith, how has your faith played a role in your career?

Well, I think it is part of what I do.  Since I am not offending anybody, I have a very strong religious feeling about God and who put all of this together.  I don’t think this is all a big mistake and that somebody just threw it together.  If I wouldn’t offend my religion or God, why would I want to offend an audience because in effect those people are being watched over by the same person.  I think it has affected my life in that it has made me a better person.  I don’t do evil things to people.  I try to be as helpful as I can.  I try to do as much charitable work as I can.  You try to lead a good life.

You have created some legendary characters over the years like Dorf.  One of the characters that I am very happy to see that you brought back in Thou Shalt Laugh: The Deuce is the Old Man.  Where or how did you get the inspiration for that character?  

I have seen a lot of people walking that way, myself included.  I broke my back in high school and walking to and from school that was my speed.  That was the way I walked.  So that got a lot of laughs.  Later on, when I was called upon to do an old man I thought, ‘well, you know what?  Everyone laughed at me when I walked like that before so let me just try it here.’  The first time they had ever seen the old man on The Carol Burnett Show was when we were actually taping the show.  I thought I would try it out just for the fun of it.  So, Carol (Burnett) opened the door and I was supposed to walk to the couch and then I was going to talk to her but I was supposed to be this old man.  I started walking that way and as I was walking across the room I said to myself, ‘You know, if they don’t stop this the sketch is going to be about three days long.’  But nobody stopped me, we kept going, and that started that character.  That is the way a lot of the stuff on The Carol Burnett Show came to be, just by whatever we invented while we were actually doing the show.

You have doing comedy a long, long time.  How do you keep it fresh?  How do you keep it new?

I think there are a lot of things out there that are humorous that people don’t realize until you actually show them what is going on.  Saran Wrap for one thing.  You know, you could pull enough of that out of the box and it will actually kill you.  It will get a hold of you, stick to you, and choke you to death.  Or medication that has preventive tops on bottles.  A lot of people die with the medication in their hand because they can’t get the top off.  So, you just take situations like that and you explore them.  Then you present them to people to show them what is actually happening or what could happen and it becomes humorous.  This is because everybody has been through the same experience.

Changing gears, the very first sentence in your biography calls you a “comedic icon”.

Yes, I made that up.

What does that term mean to you?

I have no idea.  I don’t know. (laughs) I have a lot of awards in my house that I have absolutely no idea what they are for.  People present them and say, ‘here you are’.  You can give people labels.  I’m glad I got those rather than ‘drunk’.  (laughs) I think you are only as good as you are today or tomorrow.  A lot of people like to live on laurels that happened 20 or 30 years ago but it’s nice to get awards.  It’s nice to be labeled and things like that but I’m not sure everybody qualifies.

Besides Thou Shalt Laugh: The Deuce, you have another video called Together Again, starring you and your old pal Harvey Korman.  You did The Carol Burnett Show together and now this project.  What is it about you and Harvey together that connects with an audience?

He is probably the best straight man that you could ever acquire.  Harvey and I became very good friends on The Carol Burnett Show because I was a writer on the show and I would write a lot of sketches for us.  Harvey never knew where I was going with it because I could write one thing and then when we would do the sketch I would say something else even though it was going in the same direction.  We had a very good time plus the fact two guys our age should have gotten legitimate jobs and here we are walking around in chicken outfits. 

You are in your seventies now and you still do about 150 shows per year.  Do you ever see a time when you will start slowing down?

I think we will actually slow down this coming year.  Harvey is 80 and it is a little tough to get around now.  Fortunately, we spent the last three or four years where we would play five or six theaters and they would all chip in and we would have a private plane – so we could practically land in the theater.  That was a lot easier than waiting around at the airport for a four hour delay.  It made it a lot easier and I don’t think we could have done it without that transportation.  We will probably perform in Las Vegas and a few other spots around the country that we really enjoyed doing the first time.  It will be a much lighter load I’m sure.

After people see these new videos, Thou Shalt Laugh: The Deuce and Together Again, what do you want people to get out of the experience?

I hope they laugh.  I hope they enjoy them.  I hope they see that we are still promoting comedy for comedy – that we don’t need all the extras.  We don’t need the language and violence and things of that nature, or reference to them to be funny.  We want people to know that you can just be funny for funny. 

To purchase Thou Shalt Laugh: The Deuce

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