Okay, we may be exaggerating. Cleveland's finest comic talent (sorry, Drew Carey) and the controversial MC did cross paths way back when, but that was only to rap together -- yes, that's true -- on the opening theme to Conway's 1986 movie, The Longshot. "I think the motion picture company that was doing it at that time [Orion] suggested, you know, you might as well have some kind of communication with youth," says Conway. "I was totally void of how to do all of that. So yes, he was my first teacher."
Conway couldn't have known his onetime duet partner would be a future menace to society, but his career has always been unpredictable. Whether inflicting his subtle spontaneity on others or getting a few surprises of his own, Conway has made not knowing what the hell is gonna happen next an entertaining, often remarkably hilarious experience.
Witness what happened when Conway, still kicking at 68, joined Carol Burnett, Vicki Lawrence and longtime pal/victim Harvey Korman for a Carol Burnett Show reunion special last November. About 30 million people tuned in, landing it at the top of the ratings that week. What should have been just another sweeps-month trip in the way-back machine became one of the most talked-about television programs of the year. Surprisingly, Conway plays down the show's success, saying it was just another instance of being at the right place at the right time. "After September 11, I think that people were kinda looking for security blankets," Conway says. "I think that one of them was the Burnett Show when it was originally on, because it was such a family-oriented show."
Conway is underestimating the anarchic effect he and his cronies had on folks. Hell, watch an episode of Saturday Night Live these days: Cast members are emulating the Burnett Show ensemble more than their Not Ready For Prime Time forefathers. (Will "I'll Wear a G-String for a Laugh" Ferrell practically does an homage to Conway every time he steps on-camera, while the easily amused Jimmy Fallon is vying to be the Korman of his generation.)
But local audiences looking for the authentic article can see the relentless Conway give his go-to guy (still Korman, at age 75) a steady case of the giggles in a live sketch-comedy show this Sunday at Jones Hall. "It isn't just people who watched the original Burnett Show that we get," says Conway of his theater crowd. "Their children's children are bringing people to the show. It's just old-fashioned sketch comedy that is pretty funny."
And maybe, just maybe, he'll bust a freestyle for all the peeps who've been down with his skills since he was a shorty coming up, ya heard?