Speaking with … Vicki Lawrence

Vicki Lawrence photo

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
September 6, 2002

Vicki Lawrence is one woman who gets along just fine with her Mama. She likes her so much, in fact, Lawrence is on tour and she’ll be the opening act for the cantankerous old lady.

“It’s a two-woman tour that’s really been years in the making,” says Lawrence, 53, phoning from New York. “I’m thrilled to be doing it. It’s me on stage for an hour for the first half and then Mama comes out for the second half.”

Of course, Mama is really Lawrence’s alter ego. The character first turned up more than 30 years ago when Lawrence made the part her own on “The Carol Burnett Show.” Originally, the part was supposed to be played by Burnett, but the veteran comic decided she wanted to play the daughter Eunice, instead.

“Mama has really ripened with age,” says Lawrence. “I was 24 when I first did her and everyone relates to her because everyone has a grandma or a mother who’ll say whatever’s on her mind. She is a wonderful character to play because you can just disappear in the role. Plus, I can’t talk about everything. But she can say anything and people will accept it.

“What’s really been great is to bring her back for people to see her in person. Audiences get such a huge kick out of seeing her. At first I was scared to open up for her because people know me as having done sketch comedy and the Burnett show. But I don’t think people think of me as a standup. I hope I’m a nice surprise.”

HERE’S WHAT ELSE LAWRENCE HAD TO SAY:

Chicago vs. New York: Chicago to me is like a little New York, but a little more intimate and a lot more clean.

Movie I’d like to see: My husband’s Greek, so of course “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” We haven’t been to a movie in a long time. We go in spurts.

Favorite food: I love it all, but my husband and I both really like Greek food a lot. He’s half Greek, so we do a lot of Greek cooking–all the soups, stuffed grape leaves and a lot of other delicious things. I’m grateful for any recipes his mother is willing to pass down to me.

Carol Burnett is … : The most supportive person in the world.

Favorite thing to do in Chicago during your time off here: It’s got some great stores, so shopping always is fun.

Favorite outdoor activity while in town: We’ve been sailing there. We have a lot of friends who live in the Chicago and Michigan area, so it’s always fun. We know the Great Lake area very well.

Spill it–do you watch “Mama’s Family”?: We catch the show when we’re traveling and we still sit there and howl at them. It was a funny dang little show.

Biggest difference between you and Mama: She’s a rock star. I’m her opening act. I often say she has a bigger career than I have.

Favorite books: Oh, there are so many! Watership Down [by Richard Adams] was great. I was so in love with The Prince of Tides [by Pat Conroy] that I read the last 30 pages very slowly. I didn’t want the people to go away. I hated the movie version. I also liked Memoirs of a Geisha [by Arthur S. Golden], The Joy Luck Club [by Amy Tan], all four Harry Potter books [by J.K. Rowling]. I could go on forever.

Best thing about playing to Chicago audiences: They’re loyal.

The last word on Chicago: I love Chicago. It’s a great town.

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