In a twist on the traditional parent-child pep talk, a new TV show features kids giving advice to adults before a live audience – and resident matriarch Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett and Russell Peters' new Netflix talk show sees kids dishing out advice
Not every television comedienne can pull off superannuated silliness with the aplomb of Betty White, who is still batting the jokes out of the sitcom park at 96 on Golden Girls.
Disasters happen, too. The greatest comic doyenne of them all – Lucille Ball of I Love Lucy fame – tarred her good name when she attempted a comeback in 1986 with a truly dreadful sitcom, Life with Lucy, cancelled after eight episodes. She was 76.
So what compels a legendary and endearing performer like Carol Burnett, 85, to leap back into the lion’s den of television? After seven decades of sterling comedy success and a lifetime of stardom heaped with praise, wealth and laurels – why would she risk tarnishing her legacy?
In a word – kids. Plus the brutally honest, side-splitting wisdom that pops out of the mouths of babes.
In A Little Help with Carol Burnett – her new comedy talk show that streams on Netflix on Friday – the octogenarian is joined by an honest and unfiltered gaggle of straight-talking five-to-nine-year-olds.
“I love kids, especially that age range. They don’t censor themselves, and everything that comes out of their mouths is the truth, and that appealed to me,” she told The New York Post.
“That, and the fact that it was very easy to do – there’s no script, it’s all improvisation, and we did the whole thing in two weeks. What’s not to like about it?
“I remember when we were auditioning the kids – they’re real kids, not professional actors – and one of the kids’ answers was: ‘You have to go with your heart.’ This was from a six-year-old. It was just so adorable,” she says.
Over 12 hour-long episodes, her opinionated “experts” will weigh in on an assortment of relatable and amusing dilemmas presented by everyday adults. In each episode a brave celebrity contributor will bring in his or her own dilemma for the kids to tackle in front of a studio audience.
Celebrities on deck include: Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things), Julie Bowen (Modern Family), billionaire businessman Mark Cuban (Shark Tank), Taraji P Henson (Empire), Lisa Kudrow (Friends), comedian/actor Wanda Sykes, game-show host Billy Eichner and record producer DJ Khaled.
One can only assume that, for Burnett, this is a labour of love. She has nothing left to prove. Her magnum opus of ensemble sketch comedy and song, The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978), garnered 70 Emmy Award nominations and won 25. She’s personally won six Emmys, not to mention her Grammy, Kennedy Centre honours, Mark Twain Prize for American Humour, Presidential Medal of Freedom and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, to name but a few tributes.
Helping Burnett with the heavy lifting will be her co-host, the inimitable Russell Peters – the Canadian stand-up comedian and actor who enjoys a loyal global following, routinely sells out arenas, starred in The Indian Detective and made history in 2013 as the first comic to get a Netflix stand-up special.
Beyond the fact that adult jaws have been dropping since the dawn of time at the stuff kids say, Burnett’s latest screen adventure has deep roots that predate the telly. In truth, her risk of having a flop is greatly mitigated by the fact she and Peters are becoming part of a proven, winning tradition. The late Art Linkletter, a world-famous American radio and television personality in his heyday, got the ball rolling when he created Kids Say the Darndest Things – a cherished interview segment of his House Party daytime variety radio show (1945-1967) as well as his Art Linkletter’s House Party television show (1952-1969) – which inspired a series of best-selling books.
Building on this legacy, the now-disgraced Bill Cosby gave the concept another winning whirl with his own reboot of Kids Say the Darndest Things, starting with a 1995 CBS television special that led to his 1998-2000 series – so popular that Linkletter himself would occasionally drop by to introduce vintage clips from his era.
A modern practitioner of this kid-baiting prattle is American funnyman Steve Harvey, whose Little Big Shots talent show, now in its third season, feature child performers engaging in offbeat conversation with the affable host. Apparently, modern audiences have yet to grow weary of the concept. Harvey, who co-created the series with daytime talk show personality Ellen DeGeneres, pulled in a staggering 15 million viewers in his 2016 debut.
Of her own upcoming show, Burnett deflects any concerns about her advanced years or ability to perform, with her charming signature sweetness.
“Someone once asked me how old I am inside. I thought about it, and came up with, ‘I’m about eight’. So it’s going to be a lot of fun playing with kids my age.”
A Little Help with Carol Burnett is available on Netflix from Friday