• July 19, 2024

Good Lord! Vicki Lawrence, ‘Mama’ set for music, comedy and politics

“Vicki Lawrence and Mama: A Two-Woman Show,” making a stop Thursday at the Sands Bethlehem Event Center, not only touches on the Emmy winner’s iconic turns on “The Carol Burnett Show” and “Mama’s Family,” but also revisits her brief recording career.

When first putting the show together, “I know everybody loves Mama; I kinda had a feeling what I would do with her, but I need to be me before I’m not anymore,” Lawrence said. “My half is gonna be autobiographical, everything I know everybody would ask me if we did a Q&A — how I met Carol, how I met my husband, how I had one big hit record. If you have one juggernaut of a hit, you must sing it.”

In the middle of her run on Burnett’s show, the actress’ 1972 single, “The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia,” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. Written by then-husband Bobby Russell, the song features in “A Two-Woman Show,” as does “Mama’s Family” theme “Bless My Happy Home,” for which Lawrence wrote the not-heard-in-the-series lyrics.

“I feel like my life’s been a series of serendipitous, hysterical things that have happened to me,” Lawrence said of her sole top 40 pop hit. “I was married to the guy who wrote the song for like 10 minutes. It’s the only good thing that came out of a totally dysfunctional marriage. He hated it. I said it was a smash.”

After Lawrence recorded the “Night” demo, “we brought it out to Hollywood. They tried to give it to everybody. They couldn’t get rid of it. Sonny Bono said it would offend the entire South, and said Cher won’t do it until it was rewritten. Bobby hated it as it was, and said, ‘Why would I rewrite it?’ The producer threw his hands up and said, ‘Let’s go in the studio with Vicki.’ I lobbied long and hard for the guy who arranged the song, Artie Butler. He was largely responsible for the success of the song.”

When planning “Vicki Lawrence and Mama,” which debuted in 2002 shortly after 9/11, “I remember saying to my writing partner, ‘We are not going anywhere political,” the comedian said. “I just want to take people away for 90 minutes, make them laugh and not think about it.’”

Lawrence — who also tours speaking to women’s organizations about her life/career, women’s health and being a woman in a man’s world — then opted to give the already-outspoken Mama a political voice. “Politics started getting silly. This last go-around was absolutely ridiculous. We dipped our toes into the political waters. It’s fun to keep Mama really topical. People don’t expect that so much, so that makes it really fun.”

In 2008, Lawrence published her second book, “Mama For President: Good Lord, Why Not?” Now, “I think I really didn’t have the right publisher,” she said of the collaboration with comedy writer Monty Aidem. “It should be reissued as ‘Mama For President: I Told You So.’”

Around the time her two-woman show debuted, Lawrence appeared as herself and Mama on episodes of “Hollywood Squares.” A fixture on game shows throughout her career, she also hosted NBC’s “Win, Lose or Draw” from 1987 to 1989, for which she earned two Daytime Emmy nominations. Most recently, Lawrence competed on ABC’s “Celebrity Family Feud” in 2015. Coincidentally, on the morning of her Pocono Record interview, GSN aired a 1983 episode of “The $25,000 Pyramid” featuring the game-show aficionado.

“I just love playing games,” she said. “In the first season of the Burnett show, there was a show called ‘Stump the Stars.’ It was charades. Carol said, ‘We’re going on to play.’ Halfway through that show, Harvey was looking at me going, ‘You guys are nuts.’ We’re both game players. We like to win.”

Since “Hollywood Squares,” Lawrence has dragged Mama out of the closet for, among other appearances, a Betty White birthday special, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and promo spots for MeTV, which airs “Mama’s Family” reruns. Lawrence, who doesn’t get MeTV where she lives, would film additional spots if requested, as “everybody has loved those.”

With numerous classic series returning with new episodes, the award-winning star hasn’t closed the door on a “Mama’s Family” revival. “They always talk about it. I don’t know. Maybe. That would be fun.”

Now around the age Mama — these days more gray-haired than silvery-blue — was portrayed as on “The Carol Burnett Show” and “Mama’s Family,” does Lawrence find herself relating more to the purse-lipped Harper matriarch?

“Probably so. You get maybe a little more opinionated as you get older, most of us. You get to an age where you sort of earned the right not to mince words, say what you’re thinking. I agree with her a lot. Sometimes, she goes off the deep end, but pretty much, I think I agree with her.”

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