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Not My Job: Comedian Carol Burnett Gets Quizzed On Cougars (The Cats, Of Course)


We here at WAIT WAIT... do what we do for one reason, and it has nothing to do with you. It's because we get to talk to famous people who otherwise would never give us the time of day.


SAGAL: And this year, one of those people was the amazing, hilarious Carol Burnett.

KURTIS: Peter started by sucking up even more than usual.


SAGAL: Well, I'm not - I, like so many other people, grew up watching you. You were a huge part of my childhood and my life. And that's true of so many people. So do people meet you and freak out, like I'm about to?

CAROL BURNETT: (Laughter) No, but you know what's really neat is because of YouTube and also, you know, that our DVDs have been released, I'm getting fan mail from 9-year-olds...

SAGAL: Really?

BURNETT: ...Ten-year-olds, teenagers. And I go around the country and I do Q and A's, questions and answers like I used to at the beginning of the show. And not too long ago, I was in Texas and this little boy in the second row raised his hand. He had a question. I said, hi. I said, but first, how old are you? And he said 9. And I said (laughter) and you know who I am? And he said, surprisingly, yes.



SAGAL: So I was watching your show and - the earliest episodes - and there was just, in that '60s way, just this slightly risque - like, there's a joke when you're doing your family sketch with Harvey playing your husband where you're so excited 'cause you have the evening to yourselves and you're going to do something. And he reads the paper.


SAGAL: So did you ever try to do something they wouldn't let you do?

BURNETT: No, actually we were really - we didn't get censored. And the suits - by that I mean, you know, the vice president of CBS, executives and so forth - they never bothered us. They - we would do our run-through and we'd have the censor there - he was terrific. His name was Charlie Petitjean (ph) and he was - he was just - we loved him and he loved us. And we never gave him any grief. But there was one time (laughter) we were doing a sketch where I was a nudist.

And I was standing behind a fence that said keep out and my shoulders were bare. And you could see my legs, and I had on high-top sneakers. And Harvey was interviewing me a la Edward R. Murrow, OK? And so we're just doing jokes, you know, it was just jokes. And (laughter) Harvey - one of the jokes was Harvey said, so, what do you nudists do for recreation? And I said, well, we have dances every Saturday night. And his line was, well, how do you nudists dance? And my line was, very carefully.


BURNETT: Well, Charlie Petitjean thought that was fine. But the higher-ups, you know, the program practice's - his boss said, oh, it's too risque. I mean, you got to change that. I mean, please. Anyway, so we had to go back to the drawing board. So this is what we came up with and CBS bought it. We said - he said, how do you nudists dance? And I said, cheek to cheek.


SAGAL: Hey – oh, it was a classier time. So...

BURNETT: That's what we wanted in the first place, but we never thought they'd buy it.


SAGAL: I saw an interview once - I want to establish this - in which somebody asked you for the secret to success and happiness at a certain age, and you said the secret is to marry a much younger man.

BURNETT: (Laughter) Yeah.

SAGAL: And that's worked out for you.

BURNETT: It certainly has.

SAGAL: Yeah, keeps you on your toes.

BURNETT: Yeah, keeps him on his toes, too.

SAGAL: Yeah, do you ever - I can imagine. Do you ever pat him on the head and say, oh, you wouldn't understand. You're too young.

BURNETT: No, not at all. That's why we're together.

SAGAL: Oh, good. Well, Carol, we read that Lucille Ball was a mentor of yours early on. What advice did she give you?

BURNETT: She was 22 years older than I, so she called me kid, OK? And so one time she was on my show and we were having dinner before the orchestra rehearsal on Thursday night at the farmers market. She was knocking back a couple of whiskey sours. And she said, you know, kid, it's really great that you have Joe, who - I was married to Joe Hamilton, who was our producer. She said it's great you have Joe to run interference and all. She said, when I was married to the Cuban...


BURNETT: She said, you know, Desi did everything. All I had to do – he - you know, he worked on the scripts, he worked on the lighting, he worked on this - and he was very, very smart. And she says, so all I had to do on a Monday for the week was come in and be Lucy. And then they got a divorce. So now she was going to do some subsequent shows like "The Lucy Show" and "The Lucille Ball Show" and so forth and so on.

And so there she was, you know, Desi wasn't there and they were having a reading - a table reading on a Monday. And she said it was terrible. It stunk. And where was Desi? Well, (unintelligible) now I've got to confront. And then she realized she had to be strong. So she told everybody - the writers and everything - in no uncertain terms what she thought of that week's script - boom. And she looked at me and she said and, kid, that's when they put the S on the end of my last name.


SAGAL: Well, Carol Burnett, it is a pleasure and an honor to talk to you. But we're not done yet because we have invited you here to play a game that this time we're calling...

BURNETT: Oh, dear. Oh, dear. Oh, dear.

KURTIS: (Growling).

SAGAL: So, as you mentioned, your husband's a little younger than you are. So we're going to ask you about actual cougars.


SAGAL: Get two right, you'll win a prize for one of our listeners - Carl Kasell's voice on their voicemail. Bill, who is Carol Burnett playing for?

KURTIS: Dana Reeser of Frisco, Texas.


SAGAL: Are you ready to do this?


SAGAL: All right, first question. In 2014, a Colorado hiker being stalked by a cougar got it to run away. How did she do it? A - by telling it she wanted a commitment...


SAGAL: …B, by pulling out a giant laser pointer and getting it to chase it away from her...


SAGAL: …Or C, by singing opera to it 'cause we all know cougars hate opera.

BURNETT: I'd say she sang.

SAGAL: She did. She sang opera.


DICKINSON: All right.

SAGAL: She says the cougar was getting really close so, quote, "I just started singing opera really loud. It put its ears down and backed away."


SAGAL: All right, Carol, that's very good. You have two more questions. John Cougar Mellencamp, the singer, born without that middle name - just John Mellencamp - how did he acquire that name, John Cougar Mellencamp? A, when he was 7, he exclusively dated 5 and 6-year-olds...


SAGAL: …B, his first demo tape was just him growling, or C, he found out it was his new name when he looked at his first record.


SAGAL: His first demo was just him growling?


SAGAL: I think that would be hilarious. But, in fact, it was C.

BURNETT: Oh, no.

SAGAL: He actually told the story on our show some years ago. His manager in New York thought that his name, John Mellencamp, was too hayseed so changed his name to John Cougar without telling him.

BURNETT: Oh, how funny.

SAGAL: And John Cougar, as he was now named, found that out when he picked up his first record and looked at it and said, who's John Cougar? Oh, I am. All right, this is exciting…

BURNETT: Oh, dear.

SAGAL: …Because you have one more question, and if you get this one, you win for our listener. You can find cougars in lots of strange places. In 2013, the British tabloid The Daily Mail reported that a cougar had been found living where? A, as roommates with a very frightened freshman at Oberlin College in Ohio, B, on the set of the ABC show "Cougartown," or C, in Cher's backyard.

BURNETT: I'll say C.

SAGAL: In Cher's backyard?


SAGAL: You're right.


POUNDSTONE: All right.


SAGAL: The so-called Hollywood cougar lived in the LA area for three years, including in Cher's backyard before finally settling down with Ashton Kutcher. Bill, how did the legendary Carol Burnett do on our show?

KURTIS: Carol, you did very well, 2 out of 3 is a win in our book.

SAGAL: Congratulations.


SAGAL: The first five seasons of "The Carol Burnett Show" are now out on DVD. You can pick them up. It's just like being back there. Carol Burnett, what an absolute pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much for joining us on WAIT WAIT ...DON'T TELL ME.

BURNETT: Believe me, it was my pleasure. You guys are terrific.

SAGAL: Thank you, Carol.

POUNDSTONE: Love you, Carol.

SAGAL: Bye-bye.

BURNETT: Thank you, bye.


SAGAL: Coming up, we talk about going to space and terrible disasters. It's basically a Michael Bay movie but more polite. We'll be back in a minute with more WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.