My beloved late mother so adored the hilarious “Carol Burnett Show,” which ran on CBS from 1967 to 1978. When I was a kid, she and I would watch it regularly, sharing the laughs. I remember asking Mom if Carol and co-star Vicki Lawrence were real sisters. So striking was their “family” resemblance that I was amazed when Mom told me they weren’t related. Little did we know then that young Vicki had gotten the sidekick gig by sending Carol a letter informing her of the fact that she, indeed, could more than pass as the star’s little kid sis. Talk about lucky genes! Of course, Vicki had the chops to back up the uncanny comic chemistry she shared with Carol and company, and she was a huge part of why the show was such a stunning critical and popular success.
Vicki herself will surely tell that story—and many others—when she alights in the Palm Springs Valley at Rancho Mirage’s The Show at Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa. The performance she will present is officially called “Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two-Woman Show.” It was originally conceived in 2002, when Vicki realized what a following Mama (AKA Thelma Harper, a character she created in the early seventies on the old “Burnett” show) still had despite the weekly sketch series having been off the air for decades. I had the delight of speaking to Vicki by phone last week, and asked her about the cantankerous character’s enduring popularity. “I think the reason everybody loves Mama so much is because everyone has someone like her in their family. I hear all the time, ‘You’re my aunt, you’re my grandma, you’re my mother.’ Nobody ever says ‘You’re me.’ No one takes it personally. No one’s offended. I kind of think of her as Archie Bunker. We all know someone like that, so it’s good for us to get together and bond over it.”
It’s been more than 13 years since Vicki began touring with her alter ego, and she keeps the show fresh—for herself as well as for her sold-out crowds—by revising it periodically. “The first half is largely autobiographical,” says Vicki. “The Mama half changes the most because I like to keep her topical…. She’s sort of my evil twin. She’s a chance for me to be Chris Rock and to say everything that’s on my mind that’s not politically correct, that we’re all thinking, and that your crazy old grandma would say anyway.” The quick change that takes Vicki from one persona to the other takes less than five minutes, and happens while the audience watches outtakes from the long-running, follow-up hit comedy series “Mama’s Family,” which ran from 1983 to 1990.
I can’t wait to see Vicki and Mama in action. And how I wish I could have taken my dearly departed mom to see the show with me. She would have been rolling in the aisles at Mama’s antics. If you’d like to join me, just visit www.hotwatercasino.com/theshow for tickets. And remember, that venue is surprisingly intimate thanks to the fact that none of its 2000 seats is more than 150 feet from the stage.
Oh, and before I ended my telephone chat with Vicki, I asked her if she was going to sing her chart-topping 1972 golden oldie The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia. “I am,” she quickly replied. “If you have one big juggernaut, you have to sing it.” I don’t think we’d let her off The Show’s stage without it. See you there, all y’all!