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Tim Conway brings legendary humor to Frederick's Weinberg theater

August 18, 2013|By CRYSTAL SCHELLE | crystal.schelle@herald-mail.com
  • Comedian Tim Conway said he started doing funny things when he was growing up in Ohio. He is best known as a cast member on The Carol Burnett Show.
Submitted photo

FREDERICK, Md. — Getting a straight answer out of legendary comedic actor Tim Conway is about as easy as corralling cats.

For instance, the question “What state are you in?” is responded with a depanned, “Depression.”

But it’s that silly humor and quick one-liners that have made the 79-year-old Conway a much-loved fixture on TV, in movies and onstage during his more than 50 years in the business.

Conway will bring his humor to the Weinberg Center for the Arts stage 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22.

So when did Conway realize he was funny?

“This morning. I said to my wife, ‘I think I’m funny.’ That kind of took care of that,” he said with his wry humor.

Born Tom Conway (he changed it to Tim to avoid confusion with another comedian of the same name), he grew up outside of Cleveland. There, Conway said, he was always doing funny things.

“I’d have a mouthful of milk. It would go through my nose. I was always going to be a nose-blower or a comic,” he said.

Both would have to wait. He attended Bowling Green (Ohio) State University, where he majored in speech and radio.

“I went to Bowling Green State for 11 years. It was a very tough school,” he joked.

 After graduation, he enlisted in the Army. His career started in radio when, after his Army stint, he took at job at a Cleveland radio station as a writer in the promotional department.

Later, he worked with the NBC affiliate in Cleveland to work with Ernie Anderson. Then they moved to a CBS affiliate, writing comedic skits.

Eventually, Conway and Anderson caught the eye of comedic actress Rose Marie, known for her work for “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” She helped him land an audition with Steve Allen, who was then producing his popular ABC show, “The Steve Allen Show.”

“That was about the best,” Conway said in a few moments of seriousness. “Steve had already been my hero.”

Allen had also ushered other comedic actors, including Don Knotts and Tom Poston.

“I really wanted to be part of that team,” Conway said.

His work with Allen led Conway to be cast in his first regular TV show, “McHale’s Navy.” Co-starring were Ernest Borgnine and Joe Flynn.

Conway said there wasn’t a big adjustment from doing a skit series to a regular sitcom.

“There was a lot more water on ‘McHale’s Navy,’” he said with a laugh. “I never took the business very seriously. I learned my lines and did them.”

After “McHale’s Navy” was canceled, Conway went to stage his own short-lived sitcom called “The Tim Conway Show” in 1970 (not be confused with a variety show of the same name from 1980-81).

Following the show, Conway was a regular fixture in Disney movies, pairing with Allen alum Knotts. They were seen in “The Apple Dumpling Gang” in 1975 and its sequel, “The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again” in 1979. He continued acting in comedy films into the 1980s.

But it was during his time on “The Carol Burnett Show” that Conway was able to showcase his talents. He won five of his six Emmys from his stint on the show, beginning in the 1975 season.

The way Conway tells it, Burnett told Joe Hamilton, her husband at the time and producer of the show, that she wanted Conway to appear on her show. Conway said Hamilton wasn’t a fan.

“She said, ‘It’s either me or him or nothing,’” he said.

“The Carol Burnett Show” was flexible enough that if the actors felt that something needed to be ad-libbed, they were allowed.

“We used the script as a guideline,” he said. “We could ad-lib only when it helped the show.”

The famous “Elephant Story” skit was one time when Conway decided to use ad-libbing to the benefit of the audience, not those working backstage.

He said the director signaled to the cast that the show was a little long, and wanted them to stick to the script.

“Then I told the story of the elephant,” he said. “I could see him in the booth.”

Laughter was the hallmark of the show. That also meant seeing who would crack under the antics of Conway.

Co-stars Lyle Waggoner and Harvey Korman often were his biggest targets.

“Lyle was pretty easy,” Conway said. “Harvey was a dream. He had a great smile.”

Conway said he and Korman, who died in 2008 at the age of 81, were “pretty close friends.”

“We shared a lot of life together,” he said in another rare moment of seriousness.

Their friendship came through an appreciation of their careers and lives.

“We really understood that we were lucky to be in the business,” he said.

And that is just one of the many reasons that Conway continues to perform.

His stop in Frederick will include impressionist Louise DuArt. He said he was looking for a good addition to the show, and had a stack of tapes to sift through. DuArt’s was on top.

After watching DuArt’s tape, Conway knew she was the one he wanted to add.

“She is the best impersonator I’ve ever seen. She’s a treat to work with,” he said.

Conway said the show he’ll perform in Frederick is something unusual.

“The unique thing about it is that it’s one minute long,” he joked. “We don’t keep you very long.”

He said, seriously, that the show is about 50 percent ad-lib.

“Maybe I’ll try some things. I’ll do different characters, like the Old Man and things like that,” he said. “Kind of a compilation of different things through history. Either they’ll applaud or boo.”



If you go ...

WHAT: Tim Conway with Louise DuArt

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22

WHERE: Weinberg Center for the Arts, 20 W. Patrick St., downtown Frederick, Md.

COST: $57.50 or $67.50

CONTACT: Call 301-600-2828 or go to www.weinbergcenter.org



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