On the whole, the Screen Actors’ Guild Awards were a straightforward, kind of dull affair—with no host and swift (but loving and appreciative) speeches from the winners, there wasn’t much about the ceremony itself to get excited about. Thankfully, Carol Burnett received the Lifetime Achievement Award this year, and none other than America’s favorite awards show duo, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, introduced her—and none of them disappointed.
Fey and Poehler livened up the joint with a fun joke about Todd Haynes’ Carol—the “unauthorized biopic about her lifelong friendship with Julie Andrews”—while gushing about Burnett’s indelible influence on comedy and even sneaking in a sly dig at Leonardo DiCaprio’s intense role in The Revenant.
Following a lovely montage, Burnett took to the stage, and kicked off her speech with a joke about telling her whole life story … and then proceeded to tell us her whole life story. Well, not exactly—but she did talk about growing up on movies as a child and climbing the Hollywood sign multiple times. She delved into getting her start in a musical comedy revue, all along inserting her trademark wit and gift for gab, remembering her co-stars from her legendary variety show along the way. But perhaps the most poignant moment of the speech came when she talked about what she was told before The Carol Burnett came into fruition and became a huge hit.
I had a terrific and unheard of contract that said that all I had to do was push the button and the network would have to give me 30 one-hour variety shows. Yeah. I told them, that’s what I wanted to do, but they said, “Carol, no, no, no, no, look, look, all the comedy variety shows are hosted by men. Sid Caesar, Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle, now Dean [Martin]—it’s really not for a gal. Comedy/variety is a man’s game.”
This little piece of history was a welcome reminder of just how monumental Burnett’s breakthrough as a comedian was, and how lucky we all are that she didn’t take no for an answer.