Carol Burnett at the Mark Twain Prize ceremony (Photo: Owen Sweeney/AP)
"There are so many people funnier than I am, especially here in Washington. With any luck, they'll soon get voted out, and I'll still have the Mark Twain Prize."
That's U.S. comedian Carol Burnett, speaking at the award ceremony where she was honoured with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humour. The ceremony went down at the Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and featured appearances from some other entertainment greats, including Martin Short, Tina Fey, Tony Bennett and Dame Julie Andrews.
Fey talked on stage about Burnett's huge influence on her: "You mean so much to me. I love you in a way that is just shy of creepy."
The Twain Prize is considered the top U.S. award for comedy, and it honours "people who have had an impact on American society in ways similar to the distinguished 19th century novelist and essayist best known as Mark Twain." Past winners include Fey, Richard Pryor (the first recipient, in 1998), Ellen DeGeneres, Bob Newhart, Steve Martin, Lily Tomlin and George Carlin.
A few years back, Burnett sat down with George to talk about her long and successful career in comedy. Check that interview out below:
Burnett didn't start her career planning to be a comedian: she went to UCLA intending to study journalism, but an acting course thrust her on stage, where she discovered the pleasures of making an audience laugh.
"I played a hillbilly woman, and coming from Texas ... it was real easy for me," she told the Associated Press. "I just made my entrance, and I said, 'I'm Baaack.' Then they exploded."
"I thought whoa! This feels good," Burnett said. "I wanted those laughs to keep on coming forever."
Early in her career, Burnett says her roles mostly involved playing "second banana," but in 1967, The Carol Burnett Show hit the air. It lasted for 11 seasons, ending in 1978, and featured guest spots from everyone from Ronald Reagan to Lucille Ball. The show won 25 prime time Emmys and was ranked number 16 on TV Guide's "50 Greatest Shows Of All Time" in 2002.