Actress/comedienne Vicki Lawrence, beloved for decades for portraying television’s “Mama Thelma Harpe”’, first on “The Carol Burnett Show” and later in the television situation comedy “Mama’s Family” will be bringing both herself and ‘Mama’ live on stage in “Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two Person Show’ on Wednesday, January 10 at 8 pm at The Parker in Ft. Lauderdale.
The show is a 90 minute one woman show with a brief intermission to allow Lawrence to be herself and answering frequently asked questions about her show business career, especially her eleven years doing comedy, dancing and singing in a variety of comedy and musical sketches on “The Carol Burnett Show” in the 1970s as well as being “Mama Thelma Harper” for five years on “Mama’s Family” in the 1980s.
“I have been performing on stage as both ‘Mama’ and myself for over 20 years, so I have a very good idea what fans want to ask both me and ‘Mama’ on stage,” said the 74-year-old Lawrence in a phone interview.
Lawrence’s responses to anticipated questions are scripted and, although not known as a stand up alone performer, Lawrence has many opportunities doing stand -up comedy before a live audience while taping episodes of “Mama’s Family”.
“I was warming up the live audience at the tapings for 45 minutes or more for “Mama’s Family, so I learned to be funny, spontaneous, and to answer questions on the fly, much like Carol Burnett does on the variety show that was shown in the first scene of her shows.”
In the second part of the show, Lawrence becomes the ‘Mama’ character, the head of a rural dysfunctional family who was fearless in openly criticizing her family, especially her daughter Eunice (played by Carol Burnett) as well as other relatives, such as her son Vint (played by actor Ken Berry) among other characters.
“Mama’ was usually angry and pouting and would be known to embarrass her family by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. During ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ years, the sketches were more like tearjerkers.”
“In fact, Carol (Burnett) was originally chosen by the writers to play ‘Mama’, but Carol felt that the ‘Eunice’ character was better for me. So, she wanted the writers to have me play ‘Mama’ and the rest is history.”
When the sketches turned into the “Mama’s Family” situation comedy series, ‘Mama” was a little less mean and had a more forgiving manner, although never losing her cutting edge, particularly with people and relatives she despised.
“The great actor and comedian Harvey Korman, who starred and was one of my mentors on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ felt that ‘Mama’ had to be toned down a little bit in order for people to want to watch her week after week and he was right.”
Some of the funniest moments in “Mama’s Family” involves plots such as Mama running for Mayor, dancing to the songs from the movie “Dirty Dancing” and Mama’s daughter-in-law, whom ‘Mama” despised, giving birth to “Mama’s” grandchild which was the last episode of the series.
As “Mama”, Lawrence decided to portray her as a character living in 2024, sharing her views on stage on diverse topics, such as marriage and divorce, breastfeeding, twitter, football, Hollywood celebrities, reality television shows and movies, among other topics.
“What fun it is to have ‘Mama’ be contemporary, there is just so much in the world today for ‘Mama’ to comment on. I also expect the audience to see ‘Mama’ do a rap song and dance.”
“’Mama’ speaks her mind, no matter the consequences. She is so popular because I’m told so often how much ‘Mama’ reminds people of a black sheep in their family.”
Lawrence had a hit song in 1971 titled “The Lights Went Out In Georgia” that became a number one hit song that year. She will be singing the song in the show in the first part where she appears as herself.
“I had a bad and brief marriage to the songwriter (Bobby Russell), so the song is bittersweet for me. I was happy at the time to go back to perform comedy on “The Carol Burnett Show’.”
Prior to joining “The Carol Burnett Show” for eleven seasons in 1967, Lawrence was singing with the group “The Young Americans”. At her mother’s request, Lawrence wrote a letter to Carol Burnett stating that she bares a strong resemblance to Burnett.
Burnett met Lawrence at the Miss Fireball Contest that Lawrence entered and crowned her as the winner of the contest. Burnett was convinced that Lawrence resembled her so much that she decided to cast the young high school student in the show to play her younger sister in a comedy sketch…
Starring on “The Carol Burnett Show” at age 17, Lawrence’s comic and music skills led her to play many memorable roles in comedy and music sketches. Lawrence was outstanding playing “Mrs. Tudball” in the “Mrs. Wiggins and Mr. Tudball sketch”, a zany old fortune teller and the dumb young girl with a high pitched voice in numerous comedy sketches in adding to dancing and singing in many choreographed musical sketches saluting movie musicals and composers.
Viewers can watch Lawrence perform in reruns of both “Mama’s Family” and “The Carol Burnett Show” six days per week on the Me TV cable television show.
“I was so fortunate to have both Carol and Harvey (Korman) as my mentors. I felt that I went to the Harvard school of comedy, learning so much from them on how to be funny in sketch comedy.
Unlike “Mama”, Lawrence has a stable family. She has been married for 50 years to makeup artist Al Schultz, who was the makeup artist on both “the Carol Burnett Show” and “Mama’s Family”. Their son Garrett Lawrence Schultz directs Lawrence in her stage show.
Actress/comedienne Vicki Lawrence stars in “Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two Person Show” on Wednesday, January 10 at 8 pm at The Parker, 707 NE 8th Street in Ft. Lauderdale. Tickets range from $49-98.and can be purchased at parkerplayhouse.com or by calling 954-462-0222.