‘The Carol Burnett Show’: The ‘Unorthodox’ Way Carol Burnett Asked Harvey Korman To Be on the Show

Carol Burnett  wanted to launch her own show in 1967 after years on The Garry Moore Show. Assembling a cast of talented comedians for her sketch series, Burnett was able to recruit the hilarious Harvey Korman for The Carol Burnett Show, though not through a formal interview process. 

Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett of 'The Carol Burnett Show'
Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett of ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Harvey Korman was on The Danny Kaye Show

Burnett and her husband, Joe Hamilton, were on the hunt for comedic talents that would complement each other for her upcoming variety show. They noticed Korman from one of their favorite programs. 

“Joe and I had been big fans of The Danny Kaye Show and his incredibly talented second banana, Harvey Korman,” Burnett wrote in her 2016 memoir In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox. “I was never crazy about the term [second banana], because the distance between the star and the ‘second banana’ was almost illusory, and frequently he or she walked away with the laugh – if the star would allow that to happen.”

The comedy legend believed in a more collaborative process, where she wanted to work with her co-stars as a team.

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“My view was always to let everyone shine, the way Sid [Caesar], Jackie [Gleason], and Garry [Moore] did,” Burnett explained. “They were never afraid to let someone else score the touchdown. They knew it only made their show better.”

‘We need a Harvey Korman!’

While Burnett and Hamilton were huge fans of Korman, they weren’t sure if someone of his caliber would be willing to give them a shot.

“We were premiering the same year that Danny Kay’s show went off the air, but the lightbulb didn’t light up, the penny didn’t drop,” she wrote. “We just kept thinking, ‘We need a Harvey Korman!’ Finally, we arrived at the brilliant conclusion that we could actually ask the Harvey Korman to come on board.”

The famous redhead reached out to Korman’s agent and was waiting for a return call, when she had the good fortune of running into Korman in person.

“I saw Harvey in the CBS parking lot one afternoon at Television City,” Burnett recalled. “He didn’t see me, but I shouted, ‘Harvey!’ He turned vaguely in the direction of the sound and smiled.”

Carol Burnett gave more of a plea than an offer

Rather than playing it coy, Burnett let Korman know in no uncertain terms that she wanted him to come work with her. 

“I waved wildly,” the variety show star recalled. “We hardly knew each other, but I swear I practically jumped him. I could be misremembering this, but I think I had him pinned against the hood of the car. ‘Please, please be on our show! You’re the very best! PLEASE?’ It was unorthodox, but hey, it worked!”

To Burnett’s delight, Korman found her offer impossible to turn down. From day one, he brought his A game to The Carol Burnett Show.

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“Harvey recognized me, started laughing, and said yes,” Burnett shared. “I was in heaven! Honestly, I don’t think there is anyone, anywhere who could top what he did – he created hysterically funny characters with different accents and looks – in only four days of rehearsals!”

Burnett credited Korman for upping the game of the entire cast. “Personally, I’ve always felt that you need to play tennis with a better player, because your game only improves every time,” she wrote. “That’s what Harvey did for me as an actor; he made me better. He made all of us better.