Carol Burnett received the SAG Life Achievement Award after a touching and comedic introduction from Tina Fey and Amy Poehler at the 22nd annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday evening.
“Carol has been a huge part of all of our lives for the last 50 years,” began Fey, introducing the legendary actress and star of The Carol Burnett Show, one of the longest-running and most beloved musical-comedy hours in TV history. Fey then recalled the biggest hits of Burnett’s career “right up until this year’s unauthorized biopic Carol, about her longtime friendship with Julie Andrews.”
“No, Tina, that’s not what it was about — watch it again,” Poehler said. The pair listed Burnett’s long list of lifetime awards to prove how comedic actors are better than dramatic ones.
“She has deserved every award because comedy is much harder than drama,” said Poehler. “Comedic actors have to do all of the same things dramatic actors do, but faster — and often with a chimp.”
Specifically targeting Spotlight nominee Michael Keaton (he “takes these dramas to relax”) and Leonardo DiCaprio: “Let’s all calm down about Leonardo DiCaprio and how hard it was to shoot The Revenant. OK? So you slept in a horse and you ate bison liver, big whoop. Carol would have slept in that horse, worn it, done a song and a dance, and made a much funnier face about eating something very disgusting. The point is, Carol is better than all of us. We’re gonna give her a prize for it.”
The pair spoke so warmly and sincerely, saying they grew up watching The Carol Burnett Show. “It was important for us to see that Carol was also the boss,” said Fey. “It was her show. And that implanted in our brains and it made us dream of a life where we could get paid to make comedy with our friends, but also be their boss.”
After a compilation of some of Burnett’s greatest hits, the legendary actress took the stage amid a standing ovation and told Fey and Poehler that they “touched her heart.”
“I grew up not far from here — I’m gonna to tell you my life’s story,” began an overwhelmed Burnett, who described how, when she was young, she used to see six to eight movies a week with her grandma and later act them out. “When I got my variety show, one of the major things I wanted to do and I loved doing was our takeoffs on all of the movies that I grew up loving.”
She continued: “In essence, we mounted a musical comedy review every week and, oh God, did we have fun. And at first, the network didn’t want me to do one, they tried to talk me into doing a half hour comedy called Here’s Agnes. Can you picture it? I can just see it. But I had a terrific and unheard-of contract that said that all I had to do was push the button and the network would have to give me 30, one-hour variety shows. And I told them that’s what I wanted to do.
“But the network said, ‘Carol, no no no. Look: All the comedy variety shows are hosted by men … It’s really not for a gal. Comedy variety is a man’s game.'”
Ms. Burnett is the 52nd recipient of the Life Achievement Award, joining the likes of Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore and Betty White.
The SAG Awards, which annually honor achievements in film and television, were broadcast live from the Shrine Exposition Center in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 30.