A Little Happier: When Carol Burnett Fired Harvey Korman

I was fascinated to read a story from the life of the legendary comedian Carol Burnett.

For years, she headed up the successful TV variety show, The Carol Burnett Show. One of the stars of the show was comedian Harvey Korman.

In her 2016 memoir In Such Good Company (Amazon, Bookshop), she told that story of something that happened one day that during the seventh season. The regulars had rehearsed with that week’s guests, who included singer Petula Clark and comedian Tim Conway (who later became a permanent cast member).

During rehearsals, Harvey Korman was very rude to the guests and the other cast members. Although she usually wasn’t very confrontational, Carol Burnett realized that she needed to intervene, so after rehearsal she went to Korman’s dressing room for a conversation.

He told her to mind her own business. She told him that any issues between the stars and guest stars of her show actually was “her business.”

Korman responded that she couldn’t dictate how he should feel or act, and that he’d just as soon go home and never come back after tonight’s show. He backed her out into the hall and closed the door on her.

Carol Burnett immediately phoned Korman’s agent, telling him that his client would no longer be working on the show. Then she returned to Korman’s dressing room to tell him.

“Well, you got your wish,” Burnett said to Korman. “I called your agent, and he’s aware of the situation. … You were rude to our guests, and because of your behavior I was screwing up all over the place tonight during the show. I can’t work like that, so if you want off, you’re free to go.”

Harvey Korman stopped her and asked if there was anything he could do to make things right.

She told him, when you come back, be cheerful! Never be nasty to a guest or to anyone on the crew. We all have moods, but don’t bring them to work. She told him, “In fact, it would tickle me pink to see you skipping around and hear you whistling in the hall!”

They agreed, but she didn’t know what to expect the next day.

On Monday, when they saw each other, Korman gave her a big smile and took off, skipping, dancing, and whistling down the hall to her office. “I doubled over with laughter,” Burnett recalled. And the next week, she had a plaque put on his dressing room door that said MR. HAPPY GO LUCKY. And from then on, he changed his behavior.

This story makes me happy, because it’s a great example of one person confronting someone about their bad behavior, and that person deciding to do better, and when given a second chance, making an important change.

To tell someone that they need to change, and to hold them accountable for their actions, and for that person to understand and also implement that change, is not easy. It’s very satisfying to hear when it’s done well.




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