Vicki Lawrence dropped a perfectly timed a-bomb.
"The Carol Burnett Show" ran from 1967 to 1978 and has been touted as one of the best television series of all time. The cast and guest stars of the show included comedic greats such as Tim Conway, Betty White, Steve Martin, Vicki Lawrence, Dick Van Dyke, Lyle Waggoner, Harvey Korman and others who went on to have long, successful comedy careers.
One firm rule Carol Burnett had on her show was that the actors stay in character. She felt it was especially important not to break character during the "Family" scenes, in which the characters Ed and Eunice Higgins (a married couple) and Mama (Eunice's mother) would play host to various colorful characters in their home.
"I never wanted to stop and do a retake, because I like our show to be ‘live,’" she wrote in her memoir, as reported by Showbiz Cheat Sheet. "So when the ‘Family’ sketches came along, I was adamant that we never break up in those scenes, because Eunice, Ed, and Mama were, in an odd way, sacred to me. They were real people in real situations, some of which were as sad and pitiful as they were funny, and I didn’t want any of us to break the fourth wall and be out of character.”
It was a noble goal, and one that went right out the window—with Burnett leading the way—in a "Family" sketch during the show's final season that ended with the entire cast rolling with laughter.
In the scene, Eunice, Mama, Dan (an old friend of Ed's) and Mickey (Ed's employee at the hardware store) are playing "Password" and the word they're trying to get their partners to guess is "ridiculous." Eunice (played by Carol Burnett) gives Mickey (played by Tim Conway) the clue word "laughable," and after pondering for a bit, he says "elephant."
Eunice scolds him for his bizarre answer, then Conway launches into a wild ad-libbed story about a circus elephant that goes on and on and on.
Burnett is the first one to lose it. The cast barely keeps it together through the sketch.
But that was just one take. Between takes, the director gave the actors a note: The elephant story would be different in the next filming—and good luck.
The next elephant story was even wilder than the first, and Burnett and Dick Van Dyke couldn't stop themselves from laughing. Conway himself breaks a couple of times, and even Vicki Lawrence (playing Mama), who famously never broke character, had to hide her face for a moment.
Then, just when they finally got themselves composed and Burnett was able to deliver her line, "Go on, Mama," Lawrence delivered the most perfectly timed a-bomb and the whole cast exploded:
So delightful. And for an added bonus, watch Vicki Lawrence tell the story about how that scene came about: