What You See is What You Get 

Ten minutes with comic Tim Conway

When given the opportunity to interview a famous actor, it's often with some degree of trepidation that an interviewer agrees. It's hard to know what to expect. The person could play sweet, generous characters on the big and small screens but be a curt, difficult snob over the phone. I'd watched Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show for years, had seen more than one story of his life on the Biography channel and had read quite a bit about him. I got the impression that he was as nice in person as he seemed on film and my impression was not wrong. When I called him to do this interview, he answered the phone by pretending he was me. I was caught off guard, but in a way that set the tone for the rest of the call. Although I only spoke to him for 10 minutes, it was evident that Conway is a kind, funny guy, and his humor and wit kept us both laughing through the entire interview.

Boise Weekly: Thanks for agreeing to this interview.

Tim Conway: Thanks for calling me, or I'd have been sitting here talking to no one.

I have fond memories of watching the Apple Dumpling Gang [a 1975 film starring Conway and Don Knotts as a couple of fumbling Old West outlaws].

Well, Don [Knotts] really got me into this business. After watching him on the Steve Allen show and that crazy character he played [Mr. Morrison], I just said, "If I could be in the business and be as happy as that guy and doing what he is doing, I think that's what I want to do." I met him through the Steve Allen show and we came to be very, very good friends. We got to do a couple of Disney movies. I wrote a couple of movies for he and I. It was a wonderful, wonderful association with a wonderful guy.

You and Harvey Korman have been on the road a long time.

It's been eight years.

I didn't realize it had been that long.

We didn't either.

Do you have any extended periods of time off for vacations?

We're doing about 150 shows a year, so we're pretty much always working. We occasionally get a few days off. We wander around the country or go to New York or something.

How many shows do you have left?

About seven. Actually, Boise is the last place that we're going to play. We're going to start our retiring shows.

Retiring shows?

Yeah, like everybody else does. They retire nine or 10 times. So this is our first retirement.

It would be safe to say that after eight years, you've got your shows pretty well nailed down ...

We've almost got them rehearsed, yes.

But, there's quite a bit of improv in each show, right?

Yes. As a matter of fact, when we were playing somewhere in Canada ...Vancouver, I think. During a question-and-answer thing, some guy stood up and said, "You know, with all this ad-libbing you do, when are we ever going to hear the material we were supposed to hear?" We basically do the same show every time, but we don't always know where we're going to go with it. Somebody in the audience may do something that we'll take off on, so it's also different each time for sure.

Do you add any current events into your shows?

From time to time, but not really. We don't want to denigrate anybody. People make a point of ruining their own lives in public so we don't need to pick on them.

Is there a particular character of yours that you're most fond of?

I think the old man is the best because it's easy to do and for some reason [he] just captures people. It's the fact that this guy is not going to do anything in a hurry. We have a sketch where Harvey needs to catch an airplane to New York in a hurry and I'm the guy who's giving him the ticket.

My favorite sketch with the old man is the dry cleaner sketch where [he] keeps getting hung up on the rotating rack.

They actually couldn't stop that rack. That was the problem. It got stuck going around so I just went with it. I was on there for some time.

Is there a particular character of Korman's that you like?

I never cared for any of them.

So, I guess it's a good thing you guys are going into retirement.

Yeah, I guess it is. No, he used to do a character of a ham actor which I really enjoyed.

I was told you were recently spending 12-hour days in the studio recording. What are you working on?

I just tell my manager that so he'll leave me alone. I was actually at the dentist. Actually, I do a lot of things like Spongebob [Squarepants] voiceovers.

Were you working on Spongebob?

Actually, we're putting together a video tape of this [Together Again] show so I was working for about five days editing that, just trying to edit Harvey out of most of it.

I read that when you were recording the voice of Barnacle Boy for Spongebob, you didn't know that's what it was for.

You record, especially for cartoons, about a year in advance. You do a voice and somebody says, "This is going to be a cartoon someday," and you go, "Oh. OK." So my granddaughter said, "Hey, I think that's you doing that voice!" And, by golly, it was.

Do you have people come up to you and instead of saying, "I loved you on McHale's Navy," or "I loved you on the Carol Burnett Show," say "I love Barnacle Boy?"

Absolutely, and I don't know how they put it all together. I mean, they don't see a face.

And he doesn't look much like you...

Pretty much now he does. It really amazes me that people recognize me from just the voice.

Do you have any TV or film projects in the works?

We're doing a bunch of stuff that's going to be interesting because it's going to be on the Net. You know, the networks are tough to work with now and I don't think I'd ever go back to that. It just isn't the fun that it used to be and you have to use foul language and you have to be nude and I've seen Harvey nude and I don't want to subject myself to that again.

Is there anything you'd like to say to add?

We just hope people come out to the show. They'll be seeing the Burnett Show if they come. Everybody they're familiar with: The Old Man, Mr. Tudball, the tennis sketch and things like that. It's kind of a coming home show.

Tim Conway and Harvey Korman: Together Again, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., $35, $45, $55, call 426-1110 for tickets. Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane on the Boise State campus, http://mc.boisestate.edu.

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