There are two sides to Vicki Lawrence.
One is the pleasant-looking, auburn-tressed woman with the big smile.
The other is the cranky old dame with pursed lips, blue-gray hair and bright print dress.
Vicki is looking at life from both sides now — and so will people who catch her shows on May 8 at Proctors in Schenectady. “Vicki Lawrence and Mama” will bring two characters to the Mainstage for performances at 2 and 8 p.m.
Lawrence, known for her long television association with fellow comedienne Carol Burnett from 1967 until 1978, will appear as herself during the first half of the show. “Mama,” the opinionated senior Thelma Harper, who first showed up on “The Carol Burnett Show” and later became the chief character in TV’s long-running “Mama’s Family,” will take over for the second act.
The 63-year-old Lawrence, who also has the pop song “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” and roles in the “Hannah Montana” show on her resume, talked with The Gazette about her two-woman show, days and nights with Carol and her appreciation for cooking, sailing and pet adoption.
‘Vicki Lawrence and Mama’
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 8
HOW MUCH: $50, $40
Q: What can people expect to see at the show?
A: They can expect to laugh, I have learned that over all the years of doing this. It’s half me and it’s half Mama. When I put this show together, I decided I needed to be me before I’m not anymore, because I know how much everybody loves Mama. I have a personal need to be me. I get a little jealous of that old lady. She gets all the good jokes, everybody loves her to death. I sometimes think if I fell off the face of the earth nobody would miss me as long as Mama was still around.
My half of the show is largely autobiographical, but I think my life has been nothing if not pretty humorous. So I think I answer all the questions people would want to ask if we were to do questions and answers like Carol used to do.
Q: Do you do a “Q & A” session?
A: I don’t. I could and I have on occasions when I’ve done speeches, people will say “Well, you do Q & A” and yeah, I think I’ve learned pretty well from her (Carol Burnett) to do that. It’s not just the way I’ve formatted this show. I put all the stories of my life together and I think you’ll probably know more about me than you ever wanted to know by the end of my segment. And then Mama comes on and she’s sort of my chance to push the envelope. I like to keep her topical, talk about what’s in the news.
Q: How do you keep topical?
A: When we first put the show together, it was right on the heels of 9/11 and I said, “We are doing nothing political. I want to take people away from everything that’s going on in the world for 90 minutes.”
And then the last election came around and it got pretty hysterical and Hillary running, it was just kind of funny to me, and we’re trying to venture into politics a little bit. And this one [upcoming election] looks like it’s going to be pretty much as humorous. So I’ve decided now if we don’t laugh at the politics, what in the hell else will we do?
Q: Why do you think Mama appeals to people?
A: I think everybody knows her, everybody has a Mama in their family. I think of Mama kind of like Archie Bunker — we all know him, nobody ever fesses up to being him, so nobody’s ever offended by him. When we first did those characters on the Burnett show, the writers were just appalled that Carol wanted to do it Southern, they said, “You will offend the entire southern half of the country.” But no, everybody in the country has somebody like this the family.
I always say it’s like your crazy old aunt or your grandma who says the most horrible things at the dining room table and you go to the bathroom with your sister after dinner and you’re laughing about it and you go, “She’s right, you know.”
Q: Speaking about Archie, who wins in a fair fight — Mama or Archie’s TV nemesis Maude? Or would Mama rather take on the Golden Girls?
A: Gosh. Wow. I don’t know, that would be a good one, good debate. Probably all of the women would kick Archie Bunker’s ass, don’t you think?
Q: Can you explain the continuing appeal of the Burnett show?
A: I just feel so fortunate to have been a part of that, such a lasting, legendary comedy show. I feel like I got to go to the Harvard school of comedy in front of America. And for me, I feel most of the country kind of grew up with me. It doesn’t matter where I go, I hear the stories: “This was the only show my parents would let me stay up to see” or “I had to listen through the wall with a glass against my ear.” We grew up together. People approach me almost not like a celebrity at all, like a friend. That’s just like the nicest compliment I get from people, “I feel like you’re my friend” or “I feel like you’re my sister” and that’s awfully nice.
Q: Do you see much of Carol or any other members of the old gang these days?
A: As much as I can. We’re going to get together soon because Time-Life has decided to package the Burnett shows and put them in stores. I think prior to this, you could only do it online, so we’re going into the stores and we’re going to do all the wrap-arounds.
Q: What happens when you and Carol get together?
A: We get the giggles and we get off on a tangent and somebody has to corral us and bring us back in and let us know why we’re there, what we’re doing. It’s fun. We went to dinner about a year ago and we were in this little restaurant and we had a big huge table in the back and when we left, the maitre d’ said, “I just have to tell you, I haven’t heard laughter in this restaurant like that in I don’t know when.” There are so many memories.
Q: Do you think Carol’s shows also remain popular because of the nostalgia for the old variety format?
A: Definitely. It’s just a gone thing, you just don’t see it now. I think the Burnett show was like really the last really, really great one. I sort of feel like I got to touch the golden age of television, even though I don’t really feel that old. It was just an incredible place to work, incredible energy and getting to do all the different characters every week. There’s nothing like that now.
Q: Think variety will ever make a comeback?
A: It depends on having such a really talented band of people who are so versatile. I don’t know if it would be cost effective these days, I just don’t think the network would foot the bill for anything like that. We had a huge orchestra, gi-normous writing staff. Bob Mackie, we had Bob Mackie and he did all the costumes on the show, designed them and built them. I’ll bet one of those gowns just for her questions and answers today would be at least 25 grand.
Q: What are your television favorites these days?
A: My daughter’s getting me hooked on “Mad Men,” so I have a lot of catching up to do. She said you cannot watch this season until you’ve caught up. I like “Modern Family.” What else do we watch? I enjoy “The Voice,” because that’s sort of variety now. What else? Kind of into some of the dramas, I love “The Good Wife” and “Person of Interest.”
Q: You’ve got bunches of recipes on your Web site. Do a lot of cooking at home?
A: I do love to cook and like to read cookbooks like people read novels. What often happens is my husband will say, “What happened to the lamb shank recipe?” and I’ll be like, “Oh God, what book was that in?” I need to be better about writing down what I did. There’s the other thing I love — I love to watch The Food Network!
Q: You’re an advocate for pet adoption. What would you say to someone who’s considering a cat or dog?
A: There are so many animals that need homes now, there always have been. But now, we found our lab at Southern California Labrador Retriever Rescue, they’re getting labs turned in, beautiful animals, but they’re getting turned away from their families because of the economy. It doesn’t matter what kind of dog you like, there’s a rescue group for that breed. You can rescue anything your heart desires now and give it a good home. I swear they know. Our dogs are so flippin’ happy . . . they’re just so grateful and so happy.
Q: Getting back to the live show, what are your demographics these days?
A: It’s so far and wide, it’s hysterical to me. It’s the old folks who really remember the beginning of the Burnett show, the college kids who say “We would not have gotten through without Mama,” even younger kids who watched Hannah Montana.
Q: Are there any similarities between you and Mama?
A: As I get older, the more I think like her.