Hedley, not Hedy. Blazing Saddles, one of Harvey Korman’s best roles. If you were alive in the 1970s you were aware of The Carol Burnett Show and the sketch comedy mastery of Harvey Korman. Frequently paired with Tim Conway, Korman was often the straight-man on the show, populating zany characters, he allowed his co-stars to go for the big laughs while he pitched them hanging curveball material.
Korman spent his career playing the second banana or supporting player on television and film, first achieving notice on the Danny Kaye Show in the mid-1960s before joining the cast of new The Carol Burnett Show during which he would win four Emmy Awards. Playing a variety hapless, neurotic and over the top characters, he wore funny costumes, disguises and accents, and could be counted on to overplay his part when needed.
During the Burnett years he co-starred in two of Mel Brooks’ best films, as the villain in Blazing Saddles and High Anxiety. He brought the right level of madness to these films. Could you imagine anyone else playing the roles he did in these films? I cannot. His greatest gift was giving up his own character to become whatever was needed. Whether it was large and loud, egotistical, sniveling coward, hapless victim, bland everyman, or cartoonish character, Harvey Korman played them all and more.
During the final years of the Burnett Show, he was offered his own sitcom and left the nest. Unfortunately, the show failed so he continued his journey of sketch characters, guest starring roles and minor film roles. In his later years, Korman and Conway traveled the country in a two-person show that featured some of their best-known sketches.
Korman died seven years ago but his legacy lives on, courtesy of DVDs and cable television. Carol Burnett and Friends airs during the weeknight at 10pm Central. Her hour-long musical-variety show has been edited down to a 30-minute format of just the sketch comedy. Most nights you can catch Harvey and Tim together, or Harvey supporting Carol in a comedy sketch.
Here’s an example of how effective he was as a performer when he essentially had no lines and was relegated to the background. In a Burnett Show sketch, Tim and Carol play boxers who are squared off against each other in the ring. The entire sketch is Tim and Carol talking, not boxing, as Harvey zigs and zags around them as the referee. They aren’t fighting but no matter to Harvey who bounces around, inspecting their gloves, looking in as they step around, like a nervous Jack Russell Terrier he looks for the slightest infraction. Classic Harvey, he takes the smallest fragment of character and creates something interesting and funny.
Known for his great versatility, Harvey Korman was never professionally known as Harvey Korman. He played every kind of role imaginable but we never really got to know who Harvey Korman was. That’s the danger of putting on the face paint, mustache and wig, costume and assuming a bold accent – we never know the man underneath. So we will have to settle for the 1,000 or more characters he played, a mosaic of a talented actor and comedic mind. Second banana maybe but a major scene stealer always.