Five comedy legends with more than 295 collective years of experience making people laugh were honored Thursday in Beverly Hills.
TV icons Norman Lear, Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart, Lily Tomlin, and Carl Reiner were feted by The Paley Center for Media, which treated the good-humored quintet to crystal trophies and video montages of their vast experience in TV. Younger comedians they inspired — such as Anthony Anderson, Kristin Chenoweth, Lisa Kudrow, Sean Hayes, Allison Janney, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O’Brien — also joined in on the fun by introducing the legends and sharing a few yuks of their own.
“I’m the youngest male comedian to take the stage [here] in 600 years,” O’Brien started the night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. “Norman Lear, your hat voted for William Taft and you know it.”
O’Brien went on to introduce Newhart by remembering how his first comedy album, “The Buttoned Down Mind of Bob Newhart,” was on the charts for 14 weeks. “That’s a real testament to the genius of Bob’s comedy and how bad music was in 1960,” O’Brien quipped. “This is true, Bob’s album edged out Frank Sinatra’s for the Grammy, which garnered Bob worldwide fame and a savage beating from the Cleveland mafia.”
Newhart reminded the crowd that before he entered the stand-up business, he was an accountant. “People will say, ‘Were you really an accountant?’ I always say, ‘Why would you lie about that?’” Even after he began telling jokes for a living, Newhart wouldn’t quit his part-time day jobs like working for the Illinois State Unemployment Office. “We used to get $65 a week and the claimants got $55,” Newhart remembered. “And they only had to come in one day a week.”
Tomlin, who was introduced by her former Web Therapy costar Kudrow, was practically tongue-tied about sharing the event with her fellow honorees. “I don’t know what I’m doing here,” said Tomlin, who’s set to reprise her title role in Netflix’s Grace and Frankie in 2020. “Although I was happy to be invited, this is the first time I’ve been invited to a top-tier industry gathering. People on the red carpet acted like I really belong here.”
Before introducing his dad Carl, actor/comedian Rob Reiner (All in the Family) remembered what it was like to grow up with a genius for a dad. “When I was 8 years old, I went to my parents and said, ‘I want to change my name,'” said Rob Reiner. “My dad was all worried, ‘this poor kid, son of Carl Reiner, a guy who has won 12 Emmys. How do you live up to that?’ So he asked me, ‘What do you want to change it to?’ And I said Carl.”
Burnett tugged at her ear while receiving a standing ovation for her work in variety TV. The Carol Burnett Show ran for 11 seasons on CBS. “It was TV that gave me my opportunity but as a woman in this business, it wasn’t easy to do what the naysayers said it couldn’t be done,” Burnett recalled. “I was told by network executives that comedy variety was a man’s game. And they said, ‘it’s not for you gals.’”
Veteran TV producer Lear, who has enjoyed a renaissance of late with Netflix’s reboot of One Day at a Time (season 4 will be on Pop TV) and Kimmel’s decision to stage the ABC specials Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons, finished up the night by applauding his fellow funny men and women. “I bless all of you in this room who bring the world laughter,” said Lear, adding, “I may have been too deceased to pick up this award night. Bless you all. To be continued.”