Vicki Lawrence and Mama
Mama’s ‘family’ today is the audience that grew up with Lawrence
Years ago Vicki Lawrence wrote a book called “Mama for President: Good Lord, Why Not?”
It doesn’t seem as far-fetched today.
“I have mentioned they should reissue the book and change the title to ‘Mama for President: I Told You So,'” Lawrence said during a telephone interview this week in advance of her performance Feb. 13 at Stambaugh Auditorium. “She does have a lot to say about the stuff going on today.”
Mama, of course, is Thelma Harper, the no-filter, no-nonsense matriarch that Lawrence played in sketches on “The Carol Burnett Show” and later in the syndicated sitcom “Mama’s Family.” She’s also Lawrence’s co-star in “Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two Woman Show,” which she has been touring with since 2002.
The second half features Lawrence dressed as Mama and delivering the tart-tongued barbs that her fans love. And while “Mama’s Family” quit making new episodes in 1990, her live show, which comes to Stambaugh Auditorium on Feb. 13, hasn’t stayed stuck in the past.
“Anything that jumps out in the news with us, my husband, my writing partner and I figure out how to roll it into the show,” Lawrence said.
It took some finesse to make a character used to playing off the foibles of her family members work as a solo character on stage by herself.
“I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to do for 90 minute alone on stage,’ and I’m sure the audience is thinking, ‘What is Vicki Lawrence going to do on stage alone,'” she said. “The show was really well rehearsed and I was really comfortable with it, but I was still scared to death, going out on a big stage in Las Vegas and I’m all alone. I just hope everything I think is funny is funny to everyone else.”
The fact that she’s still touring with the show 16 years later provides the answer.
“We all laugh at the same things and I’m not really alone. When I go on stage everybody knows me. People are always telling me, ‘I grew up with you,’ so I never go on stage alone. I walk out to a room of family and friends.”
Mama doesn’t turn up until the second half. The first act is Lawrence sharing stories about how she got started (she happened to write a fan letter to Burnett about the resemblance they had to one another just as Burnett was looking for a young actress to play her younger sister in sketches for the new comedy / variety series) and the highlights of her career — an Emmy Award for her work on “The Carol Burnett Show,” a hit single with “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” hosting a game show (“Win, Lose or Draw”) and her own talk show (“Vicki!”).
“People love to hear all the old backstories,” she said. “It’s a nice trip down memory lane.”
Lawrence got to take that trip down memory lane on national television in December when CBS aired “The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special.” In addition to featuring cast members Burnett, Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner (Tim Conway was ill and couldn’t participate, and Harvey Korman died in 2008), the special also featured some of their famous fans, including Jim Carrey, Kristen Chenoweth, Stephen Colbert, Harry Connick Jr., Bill Hader, Jay Leno, Jane Lynch, Bernadette Peters, Maya Rudolph and Martin Short.
“It was amazing to see all those young stars that grew up watching you and loving you,” Lawrence said. “I was kind of nervous to meet a lot of them, but they were so excited to be around us. It was really a trip.”
In addition to touring, Lawrence said she has a couple other projects in the works that she hopes will happen, but there’s nothing on her professional bucket list.
“My whole entire professional life has been an accident, nothing I expected to do. I never thought about being in show business. I feel sort of like I was kidnapped by show business. The whole thing’s been an incredible adventure.”