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Whatever Happened To Rural Humor On Television?

By Gary Wien

originally published: 05/20/2015

Whatever Happened To Rural Humor On Television?

Vicki Lawrence will probably always be remembered for the character of Mama — that endearing old lady who was never afraid to speak her mind — that she created on the Carol Burnett Show.  The character was so beloved that it went on to star in Mama’s Family from 1983 to 1990.  

In the years that followed, Lawrence realized she would never fully be separated from the character, so she learned to embrace it.  After the success of the Carol Burnett Showstopper Special in 2001, Lawrence created a touring production entitled “Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two-Woman Show” which was one of the unique shows presented at The Theatre at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCC Arts) this past season.  

“CBS played that special shortly after 9/11”, recalled Lawrence.  “The world was in such a place that when I put the show together I wanted to take people away from everything that’s going on for 90 minutes and make them laugh.”

The live show is a combination of Lawrence presenting autobiographical material first (and she’s had quite an interesting life) followed by Mama coming on stage.  When Mama appears, all bets are off.  She provides cover for Lawrence to say all of the things she wishes she could say  — many of which the audience probably is thinking too.  It’s anything but politically correct.  As Lawrence has performed the show throughout the country over the years, she’s learned that people still respond to Mama and that seeing the character on stage is a unique experience.

“I can’t think of anywhere where you can actually see a character from television come out on stage live like this,” said Lawrence.  “Maybe a person from a sitcom, but not a character like Mama.  She’s so much fun to write for.  I feel she’s my chance to be Chris Rock.  Maybe she’s not quite as raunchy as Chris Rock, but, in my mind, she’s my chance to cut loose and say everything I’m thinking about and that we’re all thinking about.”



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Part of the show’s charm is seeing Mama in parts of the country in which you would never expect her to be.  It’s the classic fish out of water scenario. But the main charm lies in Mama’s humor.  Lawrence laments the current television landscape, believing that the humor found on The Carol Burnett Show and Mama’s Family is still loved by many yet rarely understood by the industry.  Considering that Mama’s Family only ran two of its six years on network television (with the rest on syndication), Lawrence speaks from experience.

“On television, the executives are mostly either in California or on the East Coast,” said Lawrence.  “They just are not aware of what’s going on in the real world — in the rest of the country.  Some of our best, most beloved old sitcoms are rural, but they don’t get it.  When my show went on the air, not only did they not understand rural comedy but they didn’t understand a young woman playing an old woman.  It was like a double dose of ‘What are we going to do with her?’

“I think people are hungry for the good old days,” she continued.  “I think comedy was written better back then and I think people just love those old classics — shows you can sit down with your family and watch together.  You can pass them on to your Grandkids without worrying about it.  My granddaughter is hooked on Mama’s Family and there are far worse things!”

The success of stations like MeTV and TVland suggest that Lawrence has a point.  Both stations build upon the concept of classic television that Nickelodeon’s Nick at Night made popular and can be found on many cable systems throughout the area.  Lineups are filled with popular shows from the fifties through the eighties — MeTV even runs  Carol Burnett and Friends show.

In a strange twist of fate, both Lawrence and Carol Burnett performed in New Jersey within a few weeks of each other, further proof that fans of rural humor are alive and well even in the Garden State.  In June, Lawrence says Burnett is expected to see her live show for the first time.  She thinks Burnett might be surprised at how the character has evolved over the years.

“Mama is very hip and with it,” explained Lawrence.  “My intention was to push her into the new century — just throw this old lady from the Midwest into the middle of the modern world and let her comment on the whole thing.  She’s probably edgier now than she ever was, but she’s still the same great character that you can throw into the arena and people buy the way she comments on it.  She’s got that old Southern / Midwestern mentality and values, and that’s the place she comes from.  So, although she’s more modern, she’s coming from the same heartland that she always did.”

If you miss Mama’s Family, every episode is available on DVD and the show still occasionally run on syndication.  With any luck, maybe a television executive will catch Lawrence’s show sometime and hear the laughter throughout the theater.  A character this intriguing deserves another chance in mainstream media.





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Patton Oswalt To Perform At Beacon Theatre
(NEW YORK, NY) --  Patton Oswalt will take the Beacon Theatre stage on Sunday, March 3, 2019 at 7:30pm. A comedian, actor and writer, Patton Oswalt continues to find success in all areas of entertainment. From his award-winning comedy specials to his many memorable film roles and guest appearances on his favorite TV shows, Oswalt continues to choose work that inspires him and entertains audiences.
Craig Ferguson To Bring His Hobo Fabulous Tour To Mayo Performing Arts Center
(MORRISTOWN, NJ) -- Craig Ferguson's Hobo Fabulous Tour comes to Mayo Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, December 4 at 7:30pm. The show, which will be 100% new material, will never be recorded for any form of broadcast or streaming outlet given Mr. Ferguson's new (ironically) Luddite mistrust of digital technology. Tickets range from $49-$79.
NJPAC Presents Candice Guardino: Italian Bred
(NEWARK, NJ) -- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) Presents Candice Guardino: Italian Bred on Saturday January 26 at 2:00pm and 7:00pm. Created, written by and starring Candice Guardino, Italian Bred is based on true-life events seen through the eyes of a little girl.
SOPAC Presents Todd Barry
(SOUTH ORANGE, NJ) -- Comedian Todd Barry has been performing for decades, bringing his dry humor and sharp wit to stages all over the world. Now, audiences at South Orange Performing Arts Center will get a taste of his special brand of razor-edge comedy on November 17 at 8:00pm.
Kevin Hart To Perform At Atlantic City's Hard Rock Hotel In Casino
(ATLANTIC CITY, NJ) -- Comedic Rock Star, Kevin Hart is bringing his Irresponsible Tour to Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena in the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City on Friday, December 28 at 8:00pm. Tickets range from from $100 to $350.


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"Legal Immigrant" Alan Cumming Brings His Cabaret To State Theatre New Jersey
It was the fall of 2008. Barack Obama had just been elected president. And Scottish-born actor Alan Cumming was sworn in as a citizen of the United States.
“Hysterical!” Gallagher LIVE! at The Strand Lakewood
Gallagher is joking with patrons in the lobby of Lakewood, NJ’s historic Strand Theater this Thursday, May 24, 2018 evening. In his audacious style, he’s grabbing cameras out of the hands of patrons who want to take great selfies with him, while also taking the time to sign T-shirts for stand-up comedy fans waiting for him at the merch table.
So You Want To Be A Comedian?
“I feel I have the kind of life where people think I’m making things up all of the time, but weirdness is kind of attracted to me,” said Jess Alaimo, a comedian from Monmouth County.  “So, I just go with whatever happens to me.”
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Rutgers alum, Ben Rosenfeld released his third comedy album in January.  Entitled, The United States of Russia, the album was released by Comedy Dynamics and continues the Russia born, American raised comedian’s style of mixing tales of his immigrant parents and outsider childhood with topics ranging from millennials, terrorism, politics, and adjusting to life as a newlywed.  We caught up with Ben to talk about the album.






Event calendar
Tuesday, Nov 13, 2018


MUSIC

MARCUS KING BAND WITH SPECIAL GUEST IDA MAE @ The Stone Pony, Asbury Park - 7:00pm

Gunhild Carling & Friends @ Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum, Morristown - 8:00pm

Toto—40 Trips Around the Sun @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm

Newark History Society Sarah "Sassy" Vaughan: The Life and Legacy of Newark's Own @ The Chase Room @ New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), Newark - 7:00pm

Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird @ Pollak Theatre @ Monmouth University, West Long Branch - 8:00pm

Visiting Writers: Michael Waters @ Wilson Auditorium at Monmouth University, West Long Branch - 4:30pm







THEATRE

Seeger @ The Theatre at Raritan Valley Community College (RVCCArts), Branchburg - 1:00pm and 7:00pm

THE CHOIR OF MAN @ Bergen Performing Arts Center (bergenPAC), Englewood - 8:00pm

OPEN Auditions for Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage @ Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts, Maplewood - 7:00pm

Auditions: Cinderella or the Story of Bigfoot @ Studio Playhouse Upper Montclair, Upper Montclair - 6:30pm

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