April 26 could easily be called the day comedy died. It could also be called the day sketch comedy was born.
The date marks two momentous occasions — the day Carol Burnett was born and the day Lucille Ball passed away.
The pair first met backstage at Burnett’s Broadway show, Once Upon a Mattress, in 1959.
“She called me ‘kid’ because she was 22 years older than I,” Burnett said at the SAG Awards in 2016. “Just as she was leaving, she said, ‘Kid, if you ever need me for anything, give me a call.”
Burnett called in the favor a few years later when CBS approached her about doing a variety special. The network told Burnett she could do the special only if she could get a big name, so naturally, she contacted the funniest person on television.
The special ended up being Carol +2 (video below) and premiered on March 22, 1966. It eventually led to Burnett’s eponymous show a year later.
“She would always send me flowers on my birthday,” Burnett said. “She died on April 26th. That afternoon, I got flowers from her that said, ‘Happy Birthday, kid.”
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When Carol Burnett didn’t have jobs lined up after her big success in Once Upon a Mattress on Broadway, and Lucille Ball showered her with various opportunities. Ball hired her as a guest star on The Lucy Show before she got her big break in 1967 with The Carol Burnett Show.