Tim Conway happy to keep it cleanWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Whether he played the bumbling Ensign Charles Parker on “McHale’s Navy,” the shuffling old man or the irate boss Mr. Tudball on “The Carol Burnett Show,” or the bad guy Amos Tucker in “The Apple Dumpling Gang,” Tim Conway kept it clean.
“If you watch television nowadays, it’s pretty scary. You can’t sit and watch it with your kids; you can’t sit and watch it with your grandparents,” he said. “It’s insulting because they try to make it subtle and it’s so laid out there it’s ridiculous. To me, it’s just never been funny.
“I treat an audience and people with more respect than that,” Conway said during a call from Encino, Calif. “It’s so much easier to be funny and clean because people have a relaxed approach to laughing. When the punch line is a swear word, half the audience is embarrassed and they laugh out of embarrassment, and the other half they appreciate that kind of thing, I guess. But I was never comfortable with it.”
In fact, the comedian is careful when fielding requests for television guest spots.
“I look over the material before I do it to make sure I’m not getting myself in a hole,” Conway said. “Surrounding performers’ material I also try to watch because I don’t want to be part of that and it’s not fair to an audience who is tuning in to see me to have somebody else even using language.
“I’ve turned down a lot of things that people who have done them have gone on to higher heights.”
That’s not evident from his storied career.
“I started with Steve Allen with Don Knotts, Louie Nye, Tom Poston and all those guys who were always my favorites,” the 77-year-old recalled. “And then I went from [‘The Steven Allen Show’] to do ‘McHale’s Navy’ with Ernie Borgnine, who, we still remain friends, and then on to ‘The Carol Burnett Show.’ It couldn’t have been any better than that. I mean, 11 years with Carol, Harvey [Korman], Vicki [Lawrence] — that was a perfect playground.”
Conway said he just saw Burnett and they talked about how a variety show of that caliber wouldn’t be possible today.
“It would be too expensive because we were doing really a Broadway revue once a week, and you couldn’t afford to do it anymore. But also time-wise, Carol believed in doing the show as though it were live, so sometimes you came out with the wrong outfit on, you know, it was just that quick,” he said.
“A lot of stuff was created as we went, not much thought was given to it because we had three people who were totally capable of carrying on comedy because we all had the same sense of humor. Harvey was excellent, and Vicki was terrific. Carol was obviously the best, so away we went.”
Conway won four Emmy Awards for his work on the Burnett show — and two more for guest appearances on “Coach” and “30 Rock.”
These days, the Bowling Green State University graduate is working with Borgnine again; Conway is the voice of Barnacle Boy, and Borgnine is Mermaid Man on “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
“Ernie is a very kind, gentle guy,” Conway said. “He’s 92 years old; he still drives. He bought one of those little cars from Europe about the size that he is — he actually looks like he’s wearing the car when he’s driving it — and he just drives around the country and stops at people’s houses and sits on the porch for a couple of hours and just talks to people. He’s really a down-to-earth kind of guy.”
Conway will stop in Toledo for two shows at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at Stranahan Theatre. Louise DuArt and Chuck McCann will join him onstage. Tickets range from $30 to $75.
“It’s kind of a traveling Burnett show. It’s about six or seven sketches and some stand-up,” Conway said. “We don’t promise a lot, so [the audience’s] not disappointed.”