A chat with Tim Conway, Tim Conway interview, Carol Burnett Show, Hot in Cleveland
Tim Conway

Interviews Home / TV Home / Bullz-Eye Home

There are fewer and fewer individuals left among us who can truly be defined with the phrase “comedy legend,” but if you would argue that Tim Conway is not among them, then I would kindly ask you to put up your dukes. With a resume that includes not only long-running stints on “The Carol Burnett Show” and “McHale’s Navy” but also guest appearances on more recent series like “30 Rock” and CSI,” Conway has built a television legacy that will last far beyond his lifetime. Not that he’s planning on an end date for that life any time soon: even at the age of 76, Conway continues to tour the country with a stage show called “Tim Conway and Friends,” he and his friends Chuck McCann and Louise DuArt split their time between telling stories, singing songs, and performing classic comedy sketches.

Bullz-Eye had a chance to talk to Conway before his stop in Newport News, Virginia…well, actually, I talked to him for The Virginian-Pilot, so please be aware that portions of this piece have already appeared within that esteemed publication…and he spoke on all of the above topics, as well as his work for Disney, his collaborations with Harvey Korman and Don Knotts, how he made it from Ohio to California in the first place, and why he recently ended up in “Hot in Cleveland.” First, though, Conway had to start our conversation by completely throwing me off-base. I suspect his opening salvo is the sole reason he prefers to have journalists call him, rather than the other way around, but I have no complaints. You can’t beat starting an interview with a laugh.

Tim Conway: Will Harris’s office.

Bullz-Eye: (Long pause) How very odd.

TC: (Laughs) And how very lucky, huh?

BE: You turned the tables on me. (Laughs) I did not expect that. Well, it’s a pleasure to speak with you, Mr. Conway.

TC: Isn’t it, though? You know, I was just thinking the same thing. “By golly, why not?” I thought. “What the heck. What else am I doing?”

BE: (Laughs) Well, I’ve been a fan for many, many years. In fact, my wife and I were just talking, and for both of us, some of our earliest memories of watching TV with our families involve watching “The Carol Burnett Show.”

TC: Oh, great! Well, me, too. I used to watch it, too, you know. (Laughs)

BE: Well, I thought we could just kind of go through your career, talk about some of the highlights, and if you’ve got some pleasant memories or fond recollections, feel free to share them.

TC: It’s funny you should say that, because I’m just putting the finishing touches on a book that I’m writing, and I was looking at some of the antics that I’ve done through my life…and not just in show business. Do you have kids, by chance?

BE: I do. I have a five-year-old daughter.

"I was never really looking to be in this business. I was actually looking to be a jockey when I was younger. My dad had a couple of horses in Cleveland that the people he was working for were training, and so I was going to be a jockey…and if I hadn’t fallen off as much as I did and become totally scared of horses, I think I probably would’ve been a world champion jockey. But things led the other way."

TC: A-ha! Well, I have six kids, and…I had three boys who were playing Little League. Timmy was on second base, Patrick was on first, and Jamie – the youngest – was at bat. Jamie had to play because we were one short, and he hits this little roller to the pitcher. Now, I had pictured that if he had gotten a hit, I would have three Conways on base, and since I was umpiring first base… (Starts to laugh) I can see that he’s going to be out by a mile, but, still, he’s chugging down onto first. Timmy’s already on third, Patrick was on second, and Jamie’s heading for first. The first baseman on the other team had already had the ball about an hour before he ever got there, but as he hits the bag, I say, “Safe,” because I wanted three Conways on base. And you want to talk about people going nuts…? I thought they were going to come out and lynch me! And as I look through these memories that I’m jotting down, it looks like most of my life has been spent screwing around. (Laughs) I don’t know what other job I would’ve done outside of show business, where they allow you to screw around. But it has been some ride. It really has.

I was never really looking to be in this business. I was actually looking to be a jockey when I was younger. My dad had a couple of horses in Cleveland that the people he was working for were training, and so I was going to be a jockey…and if I hadn’t fallen off as much as I did and become totally scared of horses, I think I probably would’ve been a world champion jockey. But things led the other way, and…I think I used humor a lot because I was so small. You either were funny or you got beat up, so I just started joking around in school. And in college. And in the Army, which had no sense of humor, might I add. (Laughs) Not about my humor, anyway! And the next thing you know, I’m writing for a disc jockey in Cleveland. You just wrote jokes for him and picked records for him in the morning. One thing led to another, and I started doing promotional work for the station, then they said, “Geez, you know, you have a good sense of humor. Why don’t you try to be in show business?”

I started out as a director in television, but we had a show in the morning where I was directing, and it would go on at 8 o’clock and was supposed to go off at 10, but I could never figure out how to back-time the movie properly so that it would end at 10. So there were never any endings for the first week, and people would call up and say, “Hey, where the hell’s the ending to this picture?” I said, “It’s ‘Citizen Kane.’ It’s a sled. C’mon, I’m in trouble down here!” (Laughs) And it went from that. I just kept messing around, and Rosie Marie from “The Dick Van Dyke Show” happened to be coming through Cleveland at the time, she saw what was happening at the station, and she said, “This is hysterical!” And I said, “Really? Because I’m fighting for my life here!” So she took some stuff out to Steve Allen, who was doing the Sunday show at the time, in competition with Ed Sullivan, and he put me on one night, introducing myself, the Smothers Brothers, and Jim Nabors all on the same show.

BE: Wow!

Tim ConwayTC: The show went well, the reviews went well, a guy named Ed Montain called me up, who was going to do “McHale’s Navy,” and said, “I want you to come out and play this Ensign Parker.” I said, “Well, I don’t think so.” And he said, “Excuse me?” (Laughs) I said, “No, I’m working here in Cleveland on this show, which really stinks, but it’s so much fun, because it really annoys people.” He said, “You’ve got to be crazy!” So I told the station manager of this plight, and he said, “You’ve got to be nuts! You’ve got to go out and do that!” So I said, “Well, you know, I don’t think so.” And the guy said, “Okay, then, you’re fired.” He fired me so that I’d come out there and do “McHale’s Navy.” And then from “McHale’s Navy,” I went on to a host of my own shows… (Laughs) …which I was never really comfortable in. One time, the president of CBS – Perry Lafferty – called me in, and he said, “We’re taking your hour show off. We’re canceling it.” I said, “Okay.” And I hadn’t even finished lunch when he said, “We’d like you to do a half-hour.” So I said, “Okay, well, geez, I didn’t even have to tell my family that I’d been fired!” (Laughs) So I did the half-hour show, and…oh, it was just a whole series of things that never worked. I was never comfortable doing my own show. I said, “Just let me do Carol’s show and screw around, and leave me alone!” So as it ended up, I did enough of Carol’s shows that she said, “You know, you’re practically a regular on this show. Why don’t you just become a regular?” They were doing 33 shows a year at the time, and I said, “Well, I’ll tell you what: I’ll do 32 weeks, and I’ll leave one week open in case sometime else comes up.” She said, “Okay.” And with that week off, I would guest on “The Carol Burnett Show.” (Laughs) And beyond that…well, Don Knotts and I became very good friends. I wrote a couple of movies with Don, and we did a lot of stuff at Disney together. It’s been a very, very unusual ride!

BE: Well, my full-time gig is as a TV critic, and having just watched “CSI: The Tenth Season,” I’ve seen that you’re still very much active in the business. How did your guest spot on that show come about?

TC: Well, it started with “30 Rock.” Tina Fey called and said, “We want you to play this character on ’30 Rock,’” but I looked at it, and I said, “Well, I don’t know, Tina, it’s really a straight part. Don’t you want me to play a character or something?” She said, “No, just be yourself and do it.” I said, “But it doesn’t make any sense? Not for me, but for you. People are going to expect one thing, and they’re going to see something else, and they’re going to be confused. And I don’t want that responsibility to fall on you. Let it fall on me!” She said, “No, just do it!” So I did it. And I won an Emmy for it. So that’ll show you how much I know. (Laughs) And “CSI” was the same way. I said, “Geez, guys, this is really just a straight part…” “Nah, c’mon, it’s kind of a diversion from what you’ve been doing. Just come in and do it.” Which I did.

BE: I was wondering if there’d been some requirement on your part that you had to be the killer.

TC: (Laughs) Yes, well, I’ve often thought of killing a lot of people, so I guess it was just kind of a natural thing.

BE: You were also on an episode of “Hot in Cleveland” recently.

"(Ernest Borgnine) is a great, great guy, he really is. When I came out to Hollywood, I knew nothing about the business. I mean, I was just floundering around here, doing what I do and hoping everybody liked it. And he just took me under his wing and, you know, I’m working with an Oscar winner. I’m a guy who doesn’t know anything about the business. We were the alpha and omega of show business!"

TC: Yeah, with Betty White! I called her up the other day, and I said, “Betty, stop telling people that I’m the funniest guy in show business. You’re really beginning to annoy me.” Because she used to be a regular on the “Burnett” show, and, my God, we loved when she came in and spent the week with us. She’s such a delightful person. Have you ever talked to her?

BE: Yes, I met her at the TCA Awards a few years ago.

TC: She’s about as genuine as they come. I did it just because of her. It was such a delight to work with her again for a week.

BE: It’s funny: Cloris Leachman was at the TCA tour this year…

TC: Oh, there’s a nutcase… (Laughs)

BE: Someone made a comment where they compared her to Betty White, and she just shook her head and said, “I am so sick of Betty White.”

TC: (Laughs) That’s funny!

BE: You brought up “McHale’s Navy” a moment ago. Clearly, you and Ernest Borgnine must have gotten along fairly well, since you’re still working together even now on “Spongebob Squarepants” as Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy.

TC: Yes, we worked together yesterday, in fact, on “Spongebob.” Oh, he’s unbelievable. He’s 92 years old, he just bought a Smart Car, and he looks like he’s wearing it. (Laughs) He barely fits in it. It’s like a suit for him. But he just drives his car around, goes around the country, he’ll stop at somebody’s house, go up to the front porch where they’re sitting, and go and talk to them. Sometimes he’ll spend a couple of days in town. He’s a great, great guy, he really is. When I came out to Hollywood, I knew nothing about the business. I mean, I was just floundering around here, doing what I do and hoping everybody liked it. And he just took me under his wing and, you know, I’m working with an Oscar winner. I’m a guy who doesn’t know anything about the business. We were the alpha and omega of show business! (Laughs) But he was just delightful. Always has been. He’s such a wonderful, warm guy who just loves people and loves to just sit down and chat.

BE: Did you see him on “Saturday Night Live” this week?

TC: No!

BE: He was part of this sketch called “What’s Up with That,” sitting next to Morgan Freeman, and he just could not have looked like he was having more fun. I don’t think he even had a line. He was just supposed to sit there. But he grinned the entire time.

TC: (Laughs) That’s him! They probably gave him that after awhile, after he couldn’t remember his line. They probably said, “Look, just sit there and smile.”

BE: So how did the “Spongebob Squarepants” gig come about? Was it a case where they approached both of you simultaneously, or did they approach one of you first and then go after the other one afterward?

TC: Well, you know, I didn’t even know I was on the show until my granddaughter told me. (Laughs) You know, you do these things ,and then they send them to China to draw them, I guess, for a year or whatever. So the show was on, and my granddaughter said, “You know, I think that guy on that show is you!” And I said, “Geez, let me see…” So I watched one, and I said, “By golly, you’re right!” So, yeah, I don’t know how they came up with those two characters or why they ever selected us. It should’ve been (Adam West and Burt Ward), you know? But Ernie is just…he’s a delight to work with. The hearing’s kind of gone, though, so there’s a lot of problems with communication between him and the booth, which becomes hysterical. (Laughs) He’s talking over them, they’re talking over him, nothing gets recorded. But he loves a good time.

BE: Well, you’d certainly been animated before “Spongebob,” because I still remember when you appeared on “Scooby Doo.”

TC: Oh, yeah! I’ll tell you, when you look back at what you’ve done after you’ve done it, it’s amazing how much…crap I’ve done. (Laughs)

BE: There’s another animated performance I was going to mention, but it ties in to a couple of non-animated ones. You’ve played yourself a few times, including on “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Newhart,” and, yes, “The Simpsons.” How challenging was that for you?

Tim ConwayTC: Pretty challenging, because I don’t know who I am. (Laughs) Speaking of Newhart, he was just inducted into the Academy for being in show business for 50 years, so Mike Connors and I were to give this speech about Bob. I got up, Mike was standing next to me, and I said, “Bob Newhart is without a doubt the funniest man in show business.” And I started to go on, and Mike said, “Excuse me, if we’re going to talk about funny people in show business, don’t you think we ought to include Chaplin?” I said, “Maybe you’re right. Okay, the funniest man in show business besides Chaplin is Bob Newhart.” And then I said, “But if you’re going to have Chaplin, then wouldn’t you mention Sid Caesar?” And Mike said, “Yeah, you’re right. So outside of Sid Caesar and Chaplin, Bob Newhart is the funniest man.” I said, “Well, what about Gleason?” So we start doing names, got through about fifty people, and by the time we got through, I think we finally decided that Bob might’ve been funnier than Pinky Lee… (Laughs)

BE: You’re working with Chuck McCann on this tour. I know you starred with him in “They Went That-a-Way and That-a Way,” but how far back does your friendship go? Did you know him before that?

TC: Yeah, I knew him in New York when he had the kids show with puppets and everything. He’s another nut case… (Laughs) …and that’s what we need nowadays. Or, at least, I do next to me. So when Harvey decided not to do this anymore…and I don’t know what the hell’s the matter with him, because I haven’t talked to him in a long time… (Laughs) …we needed somebody. And I had worked with Don Knotts before, so he’d done it a few times, and then Harvey, obviously, we did it for eight or nine years together. So I asked Chuck, he said, “Yes,” and we saddled up. Yeah, he’s a very funny guy.

BE: You mentioned Don Knotts. I still have fond memories of going to see “The Private Eyes” in the theater when I was a kid.

TC: Ah, yes. Oh, he’s another beauty. Yeah, we were good friends for about 45 years. I think that if I’ve really modeled my career after anybody, it’s after Don, because we used to talk about, y’know, what people expect of us and what you deliver, and he just said, “I’m not comfortable with language or nudity. In my own home I am…” (Laughs) “…but certainly not on television.” And he said, “You know, people expect one thing, and if you don’t give it to them, not only is it disappointing, but it really doesn’t make any sense for you to, say, become a killer or something.” He and I became very good friends.

On the classic "Dentist" sketch on "The Carol Burnett Show": "I never showed Harvey (Korman) the Novocain part of it until we were actually doing it, and all week long he was saying, 'You know ,this sketch really stinks, there’s nothing funny about it.' And I said, 'Well, you know, I’m going to try to put together a little something...' If you ever look at the sketch, you will see that, once he realizes that I’m going to immobilize myself with this Novocain, he begins to go, 'Oh, my God…'"

We were doing “The Apple Dumpling Gang” one time, and we were supposed to be disguised as dance hall girls, trying to avoid this bad guy, so we had on stockings and lace garters, high heels and skirts, brassieres, red wigs, the whole thing. We would get dressed in the morning, and Don would say, “You know, it’s so cold in those dressing rooms in the morning when I’m trying to put all that crap on.” So I said, “Why don’t you have the wardrobe guy and the makeup lady come to your room and put that stuff on in the morning?” Because I was driving him to work, and I said, “And I’ll drive you to work, and you’ll be all set to go.” So he said… (Launches into a perfect Don Knotts impression) …”You know, Tim, by golly, that’s a pretty good idea!” So he gets the wardrobe guy, and he gets dressed in his room in the morning. I’m driving him back and forth, and we’d stop next to cars on their way to work, and here’s Don in this rig next to me. (Laughs) People are going, “What the heck is that?” So one night we’re coming home, and I said, “Don, I’m going to go across the street and have a beer before dinner, so I’ll let you off at the motel, and you get undressed.” He says, “Okay, fine.” Now, we’re in Stockton, where they hate actors. I mean, these are cowboys up in this country. I mean, they really are not too fond of people coming up there. They’re not fond of anybody, let alone actors. So I’m in the bar, drinking my beer, and in comes Don…in the rig. The stockings, the garters, the skirt, the wig…all of it. And he comes over to me at the bar and says… (Doing his Don Knotts impression) “Tim, have you got the key to that room?” And I looked at him, with all of these people looking at me, and I said, “You know, ma’am, I think maybe we ought to talk about price first.” “Don’t screw around, Tim!” (Laughs)

BE: I wanted to jump back to “McHale’s Navy” for a second. What was your experience on the show like, since it was your first real full-time gig?

TC: It was great because…well, obviously, Ernie was the head man, and he was a fun-loving guy, and he dictated the whole atmosphere of the set, so everybody was just having fun. Carl Ballantine is another mental case…or was. All of those guys…some of them had been on “Sgt. Bilko,” so they were really, y’know, just carry-overs as far as military knowledge and everything like that, and it was great, ‘cause it was all guys working together. Not that we had anything against women, but the only time they came on the show was when they were nurses or something to that effect. So it was just guys spittin’ and swearin’ and smokin’ and, you know, just having a great time. And Ernie, as captain of the ship, just kept it going with that atmosphere for three years. The only reason it went off was because we had done three years in black and white, color was coming in, and they thought, “Well, if they’re ever gonna rerun these things, they’ll never do it in black and white.” So they ended it. But obviously they did, and they still do. It’s still on in Australia. It’s a regular thing there. They show it two or three times a day.

BE: With “The Carol Burnett Show,” my all-time favorite sketch…not just from that show, but from any comedy-variety show, really…is the one about the Siamese elephants. I know it’s ostensibly an outtake, but it’s got to have as much mileage on it as anything this side of the “Gone with the Wind” parody.

Tim ConwayTC: Oh, well, that was…you know, Carol was awfully tough to break up. I wasn’t actually trying to do that, but Harvey and I had a relationship that was kind like Jack Benny and George Burns: he’d just look at me, and he’d go nuts and just start laughing. So it wasn’t too hard to break him up. But with Carol, it was kind of tough. So that night, Joe Hamilton – her husband at the time – said, “We’re very long in this sketch, so when Carol gives you the clue to the game you’re playing, just say ‘elephant’ and get off, because we’re way too long.” So, instead, when she said “elephant,” I went into the Siamese elephant story, with the “Gnorrkeee!” and the thing about how one would sneeze and blow the other one’s brains out. And Carol just fell down laughing. And then when Vicki (Lawrence) said, “You wanna make sure that little asshole’s through…?” (Laughs)

BE: By the way, I have to tell you that when I mentioned on Facebook that I was going to ask you about the Siamese elephants, someone actually took a shot at spelling “gnorrkeee.”

TC: I wish they’d write that down for me!

BE: (Laughs) I’ll be sure to E-mail that to you.

TC: Okay!

BE: And my wife wanted me to tell you that she’s a big fan of the “Mrs. Wiggins” sketch.

TC: Oh, God bless her. Well, that kind of started with a situation in reality. I was a writer on the show, too, and we only had five writers at the time. Now you do a show, and there’s 47 of them, but we only had five. And we were at an office way down the hall from the secretaries, so whenever you had something that you wanted to correct or something you wanted to ask, you had to go all the way down the hall and ask this girl Charlene, “Could you do this?” So they finally put in this stupid intercom that only had one button, and it just said “talk,” so when you pressed it, that’s what you did. So in trying to test it out with her, we would say, “Charlene, can you hear…” “Hello?” She’d press the button and talk. “Charlene, don’t press the…” “Hello?” “Don’t press the button while you’re…” “Hello?” (Laughs) So it was just as much work to go down and tell her to shut up and not press the button while she was talking.

BE: Do you yourself have a favorite sketch from “The Carol Burnett Show”?

TC: I think the dentist sketch, because that one I also wrote, and…I never showed Harvey the Novocain part of it until we were actually doing it, and all week long he was saying, “You know ,this sketch really stinks, there’s nothing funny about it.” Which there wasn’t, because it was kind of just chit-chat until we got to the Novocain. So he said, “They’re not even going to do this, I’ll bet you.” And I said, “Well, you know, I’m going to try to put together a little something.” “Ah, nothing’s going to help this thing.” So as we were doing it, if you ever look at the sketch, you will see that, once he realizes that I’m going to immobilize myself with this Novocain, he begins to go, “Oh, my God…” Well, he actually ended up wetting his pants… (Laughs) …because he just had no control whatsoever.

BE: Do you remember the point when you discovered just how much of an easy target Harvey was going to be?

TC: I think it was when we said “hello.” (Laughs) I had never met him until the “Burnett” show. I had seen him on “The Danny Kaye Show,” and he did some very funny stuff on there, so when Carol introduced us…I don’t know, it was just a union made in Heaven. We had the same personal life going: we were two screw-ups as far as marriage was concerned, and…he was probably one of the brightest guys I’d ever met, and he was always on me about not knowing anything, but I told him, “I pride myself on being the dumbest guy in show business.” But we’re eating one night on the “Burnett” show, and we had roast beef, and they put this, like, real thin gravy on top of it, and they had those paper plates where…they looked like papier-mâché, just all stuck together. So he has this piece of roast beef on there, and he’s cutting his meat, which was really tough, and I notice that, as he’s talking and telling me how stupid I am because I don’t know anything about politics, he’s cutting not only his meat but the plate. So he takes his fork, sticks it in the meat, and I see he’s got part of the plate on his meat. So he sticks it in his mouth and starts chewing, and I say, “Well, you know, Harvey, I may be stupid, but I’m not dumb enough to eat my plate.” And he looks at it and he says, “Well, that’s how dumb you are: you don’t know how good these things taste!” (Laughs) So, yeah, it’s amazing: I don’t think we ever had two moments of conflict the whole time that we were involved with each other, which is pretty unusual in two people who are doing the same thing on the same show.

BE: Did you guys ever do “The Sunshine Boys,” by any chance?

TC: No, we got offered it a couple of times, but we never got around to doing it. I think had he stuck around a couple more years, we probably would’ve ended up doing that.

BE: I just realized that I haven’t yet asked you about the whole “Dorf” phenomenon.

Tim ConwayTC: Yeah, that was actually a sketch that we had done on the “Burnett” show, a takeoff on “Fantasy Island” where I was doing Hervé Villechaize. I actually had my knees sitting on the shoes, and I said, “You know, if you put holes in the floor, I could put my feet in the floor and put my shoes on my knees that way, and it would look like I’m actually standing there. You could see around the back of me and everything.” So they did that. And we took that and went out the golf course, they buried me all over the course, and…there was one thing: when I was in the middle of a fairway with nobody else around, the camera was miles away taking a long shot of me just standing there by myself, and a dog came up to me and peed on me! I guess he thought I was a fire hydrant or something. (Laughs) It was quite a comment on my acting ability, I felt.

BE: Were you surprised when there continued to be such a demand for the “Dorf” videos?

TC: We were, yeah. One of the reasons I did it was because people said, “You can’t do something like that. If it hasn’t been on television and people aren’t used to seeing it…I mean, you’re starting from scratch. No one’s going to watch that!” But I played golf twice a day, so I knew golf, I knew the game, and was involved with it. Harvey and I and Joe Hamilton and Ernie Anderson used to play every Monday. So I said, “You know what? I’m just going to go out and give it a shot.” And Harvey’s going, “Please.” Because I’d asked him to play the tall guy, you know, and he’s, like, “God, you know, this is just another one of your stupid ideas…” Okay, we’ll see how that goes. (Laughs)

BE: In the ‘90s, kind of out of nowhere, you did two movies back to back: “Dear God” and “Speed 2.” Did you just suddenly get the hankering to dive into feature films again?

TC: Well, in this business, you just kind of do whatever comes along. There have been a lot of things that I’ve turned down because of language or nudity or unsavory dialogue that I just didn’t want to be associated with, a lot of stuff with which I probably would’ve had a more notable career, as they say. But I didn’t really want to do that crap.

BE: Is there anything that you passed on that you regret in retrospect?

TC: (Long pause) Not really, no. There was one that Chevy Chase ended up doing, and I don’t recall, actually, what the name of it was. But that would’ve taken me in an entirely different direction, and I didn’t want to do that, so, no, I’m much happier the way things are…in my smaller house. (Laughs)

BE: I just wanted to ask you quickly about “Ace Crawford, Private Eye.” I remember that it was on, but, uh, I don’t remember much else. (Laughs) Were you surprised that it was so short-lived?

TC: I was surprised that…well, actually, I’m never surprised. (Laughs) When personalized license plates came out, mine was “13 WEEKS,” because that’s how long my shows lasted. But, again, I never felt comfortable being the head man in a show. I enjoyed doing “Ace Crawford.” Billy Barty and I were good friends, and, you know, I put him in as the bartender, and all you ever saw was the top of his head, because he was behind the bar the whole time. (Laughs) There was some supposedly funny stuff happening in there! But those kinds of things, where I was the head man, just don’t jive with me. I’d rather be the funny guy way in the back, doing stupid things.

BE: To kind of bring this full circle with your life, I guess you got to utilize at least a little bit of your previous desire to be a jockey in the script for your movie “The Longshot.”

Tim ConwayTC: (Laughs) Yes, quite a bit! Well, that’s actually about three other guys in New Jersey that I used to go to the track with a lot. Tony DeFranco was actually a guy who tried to barbeque inside the car when it was raining… (Laughs) …and we’re all sitting there with this fire going in the back, sucking all of the oxygen out of the car, and I kind of notice that everyone’s kind of dropping off, and I’m, like, “Holy Christ, open a window here, or we’re all going to die!” (Laughs) But, yeah, the track has always been…I have a benefit that assists injured riders and jockeys, and we’ve been going for about 22 years with that thing. Every time they take a tumble… (Hesitates) Chris McCarron, who’s a hall-of-fame jockey and a great, great rider, and I were talking one time, and I said, “Let me contribute to the jockey fund,” and he said, “We don’t have one.” I said, “Well, let’s start one, then, because you guys are always falling off and getting hurt.” So he said, “Great!” And we started the Don Macbeth Memorial Jockey Fund, we’ve been doing it for 22 years, and we kind of help guys who take a tumble from time to time. It is the most dangerous occupation outside of deep sea diving, and Chris was paying $27,000 a year just for insurance to ride. It’s a thrilling sport, it really is, but very, very dangerous. One time, they mistakenly put me in the starting gate, because my dad would just kind of let me walk the horse around the track on the outside and canter a little bit, but one day the starter said, “Okay, let’s get them in here,” because the horse was going to race, and you have to have them go in the gate three times before they race, to make sure they’re going to be okay. So they stick the horse in the gate, and…horses go from zero to 40 like right now when that gate opens. So the starter goes, “Are you ready?” And I said, “Yeah!” Now, I’d never been in the gate before, I’m sitting on the horse, the gate pops, and this horse goes from zero to 40 miles an hour…and I’m sitting on the ground, looking down the track through the gate, going, “Geez, I wish I was on that horse.” (Laughs) So I think if I had been a jockey, probably the people who would have bet on me – if there was anybody that stupid – would be a little disappointed, because I don’t think they would’ve gotten the best ride.

BE: Last one: what would you say is your favorite project that you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?

TC: Ah, my gosh. Well, one I think got the love it did deserve is my family. (Laughs) I’ve got six kids, and also a stepdaughter that worked out pretty well, so that’s kind of where my life is, I guess. But…geez, I don’t know. I’ve enjoyed myself so much that I don’t know. I stopped reading reviews about myself back in 1964, I guess. The last one I got was, “Tim Conway has made the same impression on show business as the Super Chief going through Elkhart, which is…” (Makes honking sound) So I said, “Well, to hell with that. This is no good.” (Laughs) So I haven’t read a review on myself since, and I just go out there, and I count on an audience to say “you’re very funny” or “you stink.” And I’ve gotten very few you-stinks. But I think all the pleasure has come from just having people laughing at you, because that’s your job. You’re going to out there, they’ve laid down some pretty nice money to come and see you, so let’s try to entertain them. And I think of all the projects…of the plays, the nightclubs, all of that…the reward is really an audience and what they think of you.

BE: So you’re planning to do it ‘til you drop, then?

TC: Oh, yeah. Which could be pretty soon. (Laughs)

BE: Well, I’ll be sure to be at the show at the Ferguson. If it’s going to happen here, I wouldn’t want to miss it.

TC: That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? I’ll try to arrange that for you!

BE: Would you? I mean, really, what a post-script that would be for the piece!

TC: (Laughs) All right!

BE: Well, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you, Tim. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.

TC: Well, thank you very much! Bye-bye!

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Around the Web
ENTERTAINMENT NEWS