Tim Conway sensed a promising collaboration with Harvey Korman when the duo first began working together in 1968 on The Carol Burnett Show. "I knew we had good chemistry even in just talking to him," recalls Conway, "because we could make each other laugh just in conversation with things about our lives — and his emotional state."
During their nine years of inspired sketch comedy work on The Carol Burnett Show — seven in which Conway was a frequent guest star before becoming a series regular in 1975 — the pair took home the Emmy seven times.
"Then one year Chevy Chase won," Korman remembers. "So we went up there and tried to get it away from him."
The Conway/Korman legend grew from sketches like “The Dentist" and "The Old Man" which were particularly memorable for Conway's deadpan attempts at getting Korman to crack up. "What made him laugh," says Conway, "was the fact that I'd write a sketch for us. And since I was a writer I could write one thing. But then when it came to do the sketch, I'd say or do something totally different."
"He was always going after me," laughs Korman. "It was something that the audience expected. And he'd never rehearse. So I'd never know what he'd do until we finally got it out in front of an audience."
Nearly 35 years after teaming up on their first sketch, the duo are working together again on a two-man show that features stand-up, an audience Q&A, and five of their classic sketches. For the last four years they've booked 35 to 40 dates a year, consistently playing to packed theaters and standing ovations.
"People who remember the Burnett show come to see us and bring their children," says Conway. "It's a safe haven for the audience. It's so familiar to everybody — like going to see Andy Williams and he sings ‘Moon River.’”
Korman and Conway have avoided the jealousy and animosity that plagued so many of the great comedy teams. "We don't operate on that level," insists Korman. "We operate on the level that comes from love and respect. And we each think the other guy's real funny."
More than a comedy team, Conway and Korman are friends. Confidants. Protectors. Conway proudly points out that Korman “is a very intelligent guy — he does The New York Times crossword puzzle in about five minutes."
Then he adds: "But he cannot tie his own shoes. So I do that for him. If it weren't for me he'd run into walls and fall off cliffs."
Barely a hundred pounds when he graduated from high school in Willoughby, Ohio, Tim Conway, whose father trained horses in Cleveland, dreamed of being a jockey. But ultimately, deadpans the 68-year-old performer, "the fact that I was terrified of horses and fell off a lot probably was a deterrent."
After graduating from Bowling Green, Conway served four years in the Army. Upon returning to Cleveland in 1960, he found work at a top radio station which soon led to a job directing and performing on local TV. Before long, actress Rose Marie got him an audition with Steve Allen, who summoned Conway to Hollywood to be on his variety show in 1961.
By 1962, Conway was cast in McHale's Navy, which lasted until 1966 and landed Conway his first Emmy. Since his 11-year stint as guest star, then series regular, on The Carol Burnett Show — which earned him three more Emmys — Conway has made numerous guest appearances on variety shows and sitcoms. (He won a 1996 Emmy for his guest spot on Coach.) Conway has also starred in several short-lived TV shows, so many that his license plate reads "13 WKS."
"I was never comfortable having my own show," says Conway. "I was more comfortable with just coming in, doing something amusing and going home. So the perfect playground was the Burnett show."
A father of seven who's been married to his second wife, Charlene, for 18 years, Conway has also starred in various family films including The Apple Dumpling Gang and Gus in addition to his successful Dorf video series. And he's somewhat of a renaissance man, according to Harvey Korman.
"When we go out on the road," reveals Korman, "he writes the material. He builds the scenery. He makes the props. And he sews the costumes. I'm not exaggerating. He's an expert seamstress. Plus he cooks. He'd make a very good wife."
The son of a traveling salesman, Harvey Korman was born and raised in Chicago. "My father was the definitive Willy Loman," recalls Korman. "Driving around with his suitcase down dusty roads, opening up new territories. It was a very difficult life."
Throughout his 20s, Korman endured his own struggles as a salesman. Armed with a degree from Chicago's Goodman School of Drama, Korman set out for New York City with plans of becoming a classical stage performer. After 10 years, he still hadn't made a living as an actor — which led to jobs selling everything from roofing, to toys, to insurance.
A string of guest spots on various TV series including Route 66, Dr. Kildare, and Perry Mason eventually led to a regular spot on Danny Kaye's variety show in 1964. The following year Korman began appearing on The Flintstones, where he supplied the voice for The Great Gazoo. He then guest-starred in a string of emblematic ‘60s shows including The Munsters, The Lucy Show, Gidget and F Troop. By 1967, he was co-starring on The Carol Burnett Show, a 10-year run that won him fame, acclaim and four Emmys.
"Carol always set a great example," remembers the 75-year-old Korman. "By being the star of the show, but also by allowing so much latitude for all of us to shine. Not a lot of stars will do that.
After the Burnett show, Korman went on to star in a handful of sitcoms and pilots including occasional appearances on Mama's Family, a spin-off of a recurring sketch on the Burnett show, with Korman recreating his role as the dimwitted Ed. His most recent television work has included roles on Ellen, The Roseanne Show, Suddenly Susan and Diagnosis: Murder. The father of four (three daughters and a son), Korman is proudest of a pair of films he did.
"When people ask for my bio," says Korman, who's been married to his second wife Deborah for 20 years, “I say I did a couple of wonderful movies with Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety). I did 10 wonderful years at Carol Burnett. And I made enough money so that my first wife could live comfortably for the rest of her life.”
This tribute originally appeared in the Television Academy Hall of Fame program celebrating Tim Conway and Harvey Korman's induction in 2002.