BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Bring five TV comedy legends together and you'll get a master class in the art of entertaining.
At the Paley Honors tribute to all-time comic greats Thursday, Bob Newhart offered signature stand-up; Lily Tomlin supplied memorable catchphrases ("And that's the truth!"); Carol Burnett talked about making it in a man's world; and Carl Reiner performed a Shakespearean soliloquy.
Finally, Norman Lear, 97, revealed the secret to a long, productive life, something that he and his fellow honorees, in their 80s and 90s, have achieved.
"There’s nothing I believe more than this, that laughter adds time to one’s life," he told a dinner audience gathered for the Paley Center for Media event at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.
"And there's a mischievous irony at play in the fact that I'm accepting this award tonight with Carl, Carol, Lily and Bob. I don’t know how much of the laughter I've enjoyed across the years I owe to them," said Lear, whose '70s hits "All in the Family" and "Good Times" will be featured in ABC's second "Live in Front of a Studio Audience" collaboration with Jimmy Kimmel Dec. 18. "Had I not laughed with them and at them and for them and about them, I may have been too deceased to pick up this award tonight."
The gathering brought the generations together, as the honorees were introduced by younger stars, illustrating a comedic bond that transcends the years. Generous helpings of classic video clips from the Paley Center archives added to the fun.
The stars handling the introductions – a group that included Kimmel, Anthony Anderson, Kristin Chenoweth, Lisa Kudrow and Rob Reiner – showed respect, admiration and even awe for their elder.
But at least one, Conan O'Brien, couldn't resist a couple of age-related jabs. What did you expect? They're comedians. "I just did the math. I think I'm the youngest male comedian to take the stage tonight by 600 years," said the late-night host, who introduced Newhart, 90, the star of two of TV's greatest sitcoms, "The Bob Newhart Show" and "Newhart," and an Emmy winner for "The Big Bang Theory."
O'Brien praised Newhart's masterful use of cadence and pacing, often punctuated by a trademark stammer. "I’ve always marveled at Bob’s quiet control and his fearless ability to take his time," he said. "Bob’s signature pauses elevated great writing to new heights."
As he accepted the honor, Newhart displayed that timing – at O'Brien's expense: "Thank you, Conan. You’re always, (pause), always there," he said, getting a big laugh and taking another pause, before dispatching the late-night host in withering fashion: "A lot of times I wish you weren’t always there."
Tomlin, who revealed an awesome range with Ernestine, Edith Ann and other memorable characters on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" in the '70s, confessed she felt a little out of place at the gathering of legends.
"I thought to myself as as I stood backstage: 'I don’t know what I'm doing here.' It’s the first time I've ever been invited to a top-tier industry gathering, and I'm really grateful," she said, suggesting she didn't feel like she belonged with such luminaries as Burnett and Reiner.
The "Grace and Frankie" star, who also appeared in "Nashville," "9 to 5," Reiner's "All of Me" and "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe," shouldn't worry. She belongs.
Reiner, the creator of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and director of some hilarious Steve Martin films, appeared proudest of another production – his family, including his late wife, Estelle; his three children, including director Rob Reiner; and his grandchildren.
"That's who we are, who we send out into the world. (If) we send non-toxic people out into the world, we can be proud," he said.
Reiner, an avid Twitter commentator and fierce critic of President Donald Trump, touted his own Oval Office candidate. "Rob should be president," he said of his politically active son, a regular commentator on cable news networks. "I feel so badly he's not sitting in the White House."
"The Carol Burnett Show," which won 26 Emmys over 11 seasons, almost didn't get on the air, Burnett said.
"I was told by network executives that comedy-variety was a man's game: Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle, Dean Martin. They said, and I quote, 'It's not for you gals,'" Burnett said, before delivering a deep, satisfied laugh as she and the crowd reflected on a classic that many consider TV's best comedy-variety show.
Burnett, who will appear next month in Spectrum's "Mad About You" revival, was pleased to share the stage with her fellow honorees, who are friends and often collaborators.
"I have had the joy of working with you, Lily; with you, Bob; and with you, Carl," she said, while looking to to the future. "And, Norman, I hope maybe we can make a clean sweep of it some day."
It's possible. As Lear put it, accepting his award: "Thank you, all. To be continued!"
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart, Norman Lear headline Paley Center honors