Carol Burnett Explains How Close She Came to Being Shut Out of Her Legendary Career by Men

On Monday night, comedy queen Carol Burnett appeared on Conan where host Conan O’Brien asked her how things have changed for women in the industry since she came up. Boy, does she have a story.


Burnett explains how “back in the covered wagon days” things were very different; she’d been given a contract for a show with CBS and the rules of the contract stated that once she decided to “hit the button,” the studio was obligated to make 30 episodes. Burnett says she waited almost a decade before kicking off what would be The Carol Burnett Show, and by that time, the studio execs had basically forgotten about it. They weren’t happy.

“When I said ‘I want to do that show,’” Burnett described, “They said, ‘Well, Carol, you know, comedy and variety is a man’s game. It’s Jackie Gleason, it’s Sid Caesar, now there’s Dean Martin.’ The vice president that I was talking to said ‘You know, Carol, it’s not for you gals. But we have this great sitcom we’d love you to do called Here’s Agnes.’”


Burnett and O’Brien laugh for awhile before Burnett says she refused, telling CBS, “I don’t want to be the same character every week.”

O’Brien responds, “I think what’s amazing in the climate we’re in now — and this is the way things should be — if someone said ‘No, comedy is not for you gals,’ I mean, that would be a 100 billion dollar lawsuit just him saying that.”

“I kind of understood it,” Burnett replies. “Because that’s where I was raised, thinking that. But that’s not what I wanted to do. And if I hadn’t had that contract I wouldn’t be sitting here now.”

But we would have Here’s Agnes.

Contributing Writer, writing my first book for the Dial Press called The Lonely Hunter, follow me on Twitter @alutkin

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