We love old comedy television shows. Why do they tickle our funny bones quite so well?
Because they’re timeless, that’s why! The slow shopper at the supermarket checkout will always be exasperating. A businessman tripping over an obstacle and losing the contents of his briefcase will always provoke a guilty chuckle. And airport security will always be the biggest, most ludicrous headache of all.
The creators of The Carol Burnett Show knew what they were doing back in 1967. Which could be why the show enjoyed success for 11 glorious seasons across 11 years.
In 1978 on this date we aired the last Carol Burnett Show, no one told me and every week I still show up for rehearsals.
The show was sharp-witted and observant. One particular scene holds fast in the memories of comedy fans everywhere: the 1976 “Airline Security” sketch. Parade Magazine even ranks the sketch as one of its all-time favorites.
The comedy capers of Tim Conway and Harvey Korman featured regularly on the show, and the pair were much-loved by viewers. Appealing to anybody who had ever been (and ever would go) through airport check-in, the “Airline Security” sketch perfectly captured the tension, aggravation, and sheer absurdity of the experience.
Harvey Korman plays a filmmaker. He is headed to tinseltown with a briefcase full of film reels. Tim Conway is the jobsworth check-in official and security agent for “Speedo Airlines” who serves him. Ironically, Conway’s official doesn’t appear to be in any rush whatsoever, much to the consternation of Korman, who has only five minutes to spare before his flight departs.
The scene unravels like a soupy nightmare: the characters wade through a maelstrom of nonsense, only to end up making very little progress whatsoever.
Korman’s documents are stamped multiple times, he is asked ridiculous, superfluous questions, and his briefcase is farcically broken into after Conway breaks the key in the bag’s lock. Conway’s attempts to open the case include using a clothes hanger, a drill, and a hacksaw.
The hilarity (at poor, exasperated Korman’s expense) continues.
Conway’s hacksaw pierces an aerosol can of shaving cream and the filmmaker’s film reels are covered in white foam. The unyieldingly useless official then proceeds to wrap the destroyed briefcase in tape, and declares, “That’ll hold her!”
Mirroring the moods of irate airline travelers the world over, it is safe to say that Korman’s filmmaker is not amused.
But we, the audience, are of course delighted.
What makes this particular scene so amusing and so timeless is the viewer’s glimpse into the experience Korman and Conway had whilst filming it. Conway regularly goes off-script: Korman can barely control his laughter in response to his co-star’s hilarious ad-libs. The cast of The Carol Burnett Show clearly had so much fun in filming this scene that we can’t resist chuckling along with them.
The Carol Burnett Show first aired September 11, 1967 and 34 years later after 9/11 the gang got together to share some…
The airport experience has evolved considerably since 1976, of course. Technology prevails, metal detectors sift out the worst offenders from bags, briefcases, and unwitting pockets. But the absurdness of the interactions, the farcical nature of the packing, unpacking, re-packing, questioning, and excruciating waiting around, still persists.
Korman and Conway may not have known just how accurate they were.
As difficult as it may be to do so, remember Korman’s encounter the next time you’re stuck at airport security. You may have it bad, but Korman had it worse!
Are you a fan of The Carol Burnett Show? Share this article, re-watch the video, and enjoy the timeless hilarity of the “Airline Security” sketch for yourself!