Vicki Lawrence channeling mouthy 'Mama' for Paramount show
Now 65, Emmy Award-winning actress Vicki Lawrence has been a "senior citizen" of sorts for more than 40 years.
That's because Lawrence was only 24 when she began portraying senior Thelma Harper, aka "Mama," in comedy skits on "The Carol Burnett Show" in the early 1970s. Mama then went on to have her own sitcom, "Mama's Family," which ran from 1983 to 1990.
With her clutch purses, bright floral print dresses and support hose -- always rolled unglamorously just below her knees -- Mama was never one to mince words. She told her TV family, and everyone else, exactly what was on her mind.
And she'll continue to do that this weekend when "Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two-Woman Show" plays Aurora's Paramount Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 22.
"Mama is a crazy old lady," Lawrence said in a telephone interview. "I honestly think if she were a real person, she would not tolerate me. I think we all have a 'Mama' in our family. So it's cathartic to sit and laugh at her."
"Mama" is a family affair in more ways than one. The show is directed by Lawrence's son Garrett Schultz.
Vicki Lawrence, married since 1974 to former head of the CBS makeup department Al Schultz, recently talked about her upcoming Paramount show, as well as her own "serendipitous" life.
Q. Tell us about "Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two Woman Show."
A. Well, I open for Mama. We have a little music, a little laughter. The first part of the show is autobiographical, and I answer just about any question that one would ask of me -- just like Carol (Burnett) did on her show, I talk about my life, how I became a natural redhead (laughs), how I had a huge juggernaut of a hit record (Lawrence's 1973 gold record "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia"). Then we run some outtakes, and Mama comes on. Mama is my chance to be a stand-up comedian. In my mind, it's my chance to be Chris Rock.
Q. Why do you think audiences have taken Mama to their hearts over the years?
A. She is very down to earth a lot of the time, but she will shoot from the hip. She is from a bygone era. Instead of being a hovering "helicopter parent," Mama would give her kid a good spanking, tell them "You're an idiot" and send them on their way.
Q. Your career began with a fan letter you wrote to Carol Burnett when you were in high school. Not long after that, you found yourself on Carol's television show?
A. I just think my life has been so serendipitous. When I was in high school, in my generation, I thought that you got a logical sensible job, or you got married. I thought I would study dental hygiene, learn to clean teeth, meet a rich handsome dentist and get married. But I happened to write this fan letter. Then at my urging, the star comes to meet me, and the next thing I know, I am on her television show. I feel like I was kind of "kidnapped" by show business. Carol says it would have happened one way or the other, but it was never my intention.
Q. You have said that appearing on "The Carol Burnett Show" (1967-1978) was like attending the Harvard school of comedy in front of America.
A. I was hired to play Carol's kid sister on the show. I was so geeky. I think Carol is definitely the one who gave me the leg up -- but Harvey (Korman) also took me under his wing. It was like having a private tutorial on all things -- learning about props, dialect, everything.
Q. Do you still get together with Carol?
A. Oh yes -- we see her as often as we can. She's family.
Q. Is there something fun you can share with us about Vicki Lawrence that we don't know?
A. Well, I love to cook. I'm a sailor. And I was the eighth-grade Ping-Pong champion.
Q. Do you have a motto in life?
A. My motto has been, "Life is much too serious to be taken seriously." As I get older, I find that it's more true than I ever realized.
"Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two-Woman Show"When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22
Where: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, (630) 896-6666, paramountaurora.com