VAN WERT — Vicki Lawrence has enough talent to front her own show, but today she shares the stage with her alter-ego, Mama, in a two woman show at Niswonger Performing Arts Center.
“We do a stronger show when we’re together,” the 65-year-old comedienne said in a phone interview last week with The Lima News. “I like to bring Mama out of the closet and dust her off now and then. And people always love Mama. I really believe I could fall off the face of the earth and nobody would notice, but I’d better save Mama. That’s why I do my half of the show before Mama, so I don’t lose myself in her,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence got her start in show business when she was a senior in high school. She wrote a letter to Carol Burnett mentioning their resemblance, and a show in which she invited Ms. Burnett to see her perform. Burnett came, and as luck would have it, needed someone to play her kid sister on her new variety show. The two joined forces, and The Carol Burnett Show premiered in 1967. During the next 11 years, Vicki earned an Emmy Award and five Emmy nominations for her work.
After that show ended, Lawrence took a character from one of those Burnett scripts, Mama, and launched “Mama’s Family.”
“Many of those skits from the Burnett show were just gut-wrenching and sad, really. When we went to a sitcom format with Mama, we literally pulled the plug on the show and said Mama isn’t funny on her own. Harvey Korman came over and helped us turn her into a sitcom character. He was really the one responsible for setting her loose,” Lawrence said.
But taking Mama with her on stage for a two-woman performance was daunting for Lawrence.
“I’ve had people tell me they didn’t know I did stand up comedy. Well, stand up or sit down, comedy is comedy. But being out there on your own is very daunting. I opened this show with Mama in Vegas, and I was never so nervous in my life,” she said.
Thankfully, Lawrence said she takes comfort knowing that most people believe they know her after seeing her grow up on television.
“People know me and already feel comfortable with me. I always tell people that I go into a room of fans, and I go out with a room of friends. It’s pretty nice.”