“Remember, you’re in the funny business. You’re not in the ‘me’ business.”
Such were the words of wisdom from a woman who knows: 95-year-old Betty White.
A seven-time Emmy award-winner, who also boasts a Grammy and three Screen Actors Guild awards on her mantle, White joined CNN’s Brooke Baldwin to reflect on her time in the industry, all 78 years worth.
“Do you remember the first time that you got a laugh?” Baldwin asked as the pair shared french fries in a Los Angeles restaurant.
“I think when I came out of the womb,” White, naturally, joked.
The interview comes ahead of CNN’s “The History of Comedy” series, which airs Thursday at 10 p.m.
“It was a little out of character, a little unfeminine, to be … you shouldn’t be funny,” recalled White, reminiscing about her early days in Hollywood, when comedy was often left to her male colleagues. Noting that women were expected to simply “come in and be pretty,” White countered: “No, it’s so much more fun to get that laugh.”
Active since 1939, White’s first signature role came in the 1970s, when she appeared first as a guest star — and soon after as a series regular — on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” To a younger generation, however, White will forever be known as the naive simpleton from St. Olaf, Minnesota: Rose Nylund.
“‘Golden Girls’ was a big breakthrough,” noted White, referring to the iconic 1980s hit. “A situation comedy about old women? What is that? I think it changed a lot of the thinking and opened the way for a lot of older women.”
White has met multiple presidents, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. However, it’s the latter’s canine companion that truly captured the star’s heart.
“I spent about an hour sitting with Bo on my lap, in a room all by myself,” recalled White, a known animal lover and 1987 American Veterinary Medical Association Humane Award winner. “I’m having a better time even than I would sitting with the President, and I love the President.”
CNN’s comedy series — which sets out to explore “what makes us laugh, why, and how that’s influenced our social and political landscape throughout history” — will feature a section dedicated to “groundbreaking women in comedy,” a class in which White is no doubt a charter member. It’s her work of nearly eight decades that helped pave the way for the modern females of funny, including the likes of Amy Schumer and Melissa McCarthy.
“Tina Fey may be the best,” White noted, lengthening the list of noteworthy women in comedy. “They’re craftsmen, they know what makes it work. They know timing.”
For White, though, time is of no essence.
“I am the luckiest old broad on two feet,” she told Baldwin. “I’m still able to get a job, at this age. I will go to my grave saying ‘Can I come in and read for that tomorrow?’ “