The Everett Collection

During his career in comedy, Tim Conway found hope in his failures

Most comedians can be funny without even trying or thinking about it. Take Tim Conway, for example. He could make just about anyone laugh from a simple one-liner or by a certain inflection in his voice. 

The comedian could be serious offscreen, although he preferred not to be. Still onscreen, he took inspiration from his personal diary of funny moments and transformed the ideas into some of the funniest sketches to ever air on television.

Conway was in a total of 65 episodes as a series regular on The Carol Burnett Show, but his presence was felt throughout the series' entire 11 season-run in many ways.

There were very few situations in life where Conway couldn't find any humor. With a career focused in telling jokes for a living, he was living and breathing comedy. But Conway's beginnings weren't always a laughing matter.

According to a 1978 interview with The Calgary Albertan, Conway said he often pulled from real-life experiences. For example, when he was in the Army and lost his rifle while on guard duty at the special services recreation camp in Washington.

"I was cold and tired," Conway said. "I decided to climb up into the cab of a truck and get some sleep. And I figured if anybody was going to attack, they wouldn't choose my post. But along came a lieutenant with a dog. I challenged him."

Conway said he grabbed the closest thing he could that slightly resembled a rifle in order to cover for himself. Of course, maybe choosing a discarded fluorescent light tube wasn't the best decision for a rifle lookalike.

"For some weeks after that, I picked up a lot of rocks," Conway said. "And then I picked up my court martial papers."

According to the interview, Conway insisted he became a comedian because he always had a knack for saying something funny — even at times when it wasn't necessary — he used humor to cover up for his lack of knowledge.

"I was not at all bright," Conway said. "When they asked me to name the 14th president, I gave them a funny line and everybody laughed, thinking I actually knew the answer but preferred to be funny."

More and more he used this technique while learning less and less — and loving it. As Conway grew older, he began doing the technique in adult situations, like at parties and premieres. He said many of his friends told him he should go into show business — and boy, were they right.

He proved to himself, his lieutenant and everyone else that it paid to be funny. Conway wrote most of Burnett's material while on the series and often reflected on ideas of the day and pop culture moments.

He said the public's ability to accept humor had been changing due to world events. In his opinion, the public's ability to see humor in situations was cast by who the US president was in office at the time. 

He added: "The most difficult time to get a laugh in was when Nixon was in office."

"My comic view of life may be frustrating for some people, my wife included, but I just couldn't look at it any other way."

After 11 years of The Carol Burnett Show, Conway looked back at his career and his many failures in both television and in real life. Conway made something of all his failures and did it with a little humor too.

"I can understand why Carol wants out... after 11 years of putting on chicken outfits," Conway said. "But I will miss working with her. This show is the Cincinnati Reds. There's no one better in town than Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Carol Burnett and myself. You might get a couple of hits against us, but you aren't winning the series."

By using our site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy