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Carol Burnett gives USA TODAY an earful with her famous “Tarzan yell.” Burnett is the recipient of the 2016 Screen Actors Guild Life Award, which will be presented in January.
Robert Hanashiro

A good comedy bit is timeless, as The Carol Burnett Show has proven for a half-century.

The legendary performer offers a sampling of the iconic musical-comedy variety hour’s greatest hits Sunday with The Carol Burnett 50th Anniversary Special (CBS, 8 ET/PT), a two-hour show taped in early October.

“When we were showing the clips, which are some 45, 50 years old, the studio audience was in hysterics,” Burnett, 84, tells USA TODAY. “It holds up. Funny is funny.”

That audience was dotted with celebrities, as was the stage, where Burnett was joined by co-stars Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner and performers who grew up as fans, including Amy Poehler, Kristin Chenoweth, Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader. (The comforting reminiscence bumped into today’s news as Kevin Spacey, who performed in a musical segment, was edited out after accusations of sexual misconduct arose weeks later.) 

Longtime fans of the Emmy-winning Burnett, which ran from 1967 to 1978, will enjoy rewatching the classics — including movie send-ups of Gone With the Wind and The Postman Always Rings Twice; “The Family,” with Lawrence as Mama; and the farcical pairing of Mrs. Wiggins (Burnett) and Mr. Tudball (Tim Conway, who couldn’t make the taping) — but Burnett was pleased with how well those clips played with first-time viewers.

“When we were rehearsing and showing clips, there were these young cameramen who were screaming with laughter, because they hadn’t seen some of this stuff. I got the biggest kick out of that,” says Burnett, whose show still draws viewers on DVDs, MeTV and YouTube.

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Carol Burnett tells USA TODAY’s Bill Keveney about her favorite guest stars on her hit variety TV show. ‘The Carol Burnett Show: The Lost Episodes,’ a new DVD collection, features episodes that haven’t been seen in over 40 years.
Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY

The anniversary celebration also includes tributes to the late Harvey Korman and to costume…