On Tuesday, comedian Betty White accepted the Jack Benny Award at UCLA for her achievements in comedy. She spoke to the Daily Bruin’s Laurie Allred about the award, her current projects and how comedy has changed over the course of her career.
Daily Bruin: How does it feel to be a recipient of the Jack Benny Award along with other comedians such as Judd Apatow, Conan O’Brien and Adam Sandler?
Betty White: Jack (Benny) was something special, and all the comedians since then have come down the pipe. … I’m deeply flattered and thrilled to be getting the award. Jack was the originator of a lot of stand-up (comedy), but everything has gotten a lot more harsh in a sense. His was a gentle comedy, but funny.
DB: In all your past experiences in comedy, who have been your favorite comics?
BW: When you’ve been in the business for 63 years, it’s hard to know. I would say Jack (Benny) and of course George Burns and the older ones like that. I also love Jay (Leno) and love the nighttime comics. I think Jack Carson was my favorite.
DB: So many UCLA students along with other college kids absolutely adore you. What’s your secret to appealing to younger audiences?
BW: Oh, I don’t know if that’s true. I would like to think it is. I only hear about the people who like me.
DB: When did you realize you were a comedian or enjoyed comedy?
BW: At the breakfast table at home. I was an only child, and my mom and dad had a wonderful, wonderful sense of humor. We laughed a lot. When I found out I couldn’t be a forest ranger, because girls couldn’t be forest rangers at that point, I decided I wanted to be in show business.
DB: Do you think comedy has changed since you first started in the entertainment industry 63 years ago?
BW: It’s gotten a lot raunchier, and a lot of the standards have changed, but I think the thing that changed most is the audience. Back when comedy started, we didn’t know every joke (and) we didn’t know every plotline that was coming up like the audience does now because they get it in their living room all the time. So, it’s a much harder audience to surprise and make laugh these days than it used to be.
DB: What comedy do you enjoy?
BW: My schedule is overly busy and I don’t get the movies as much I would like to. I’m a televisionkid. I grew up in television and I love it. What I love most about television is that you’re only playing to two to three people. If there are more than three people, they’re talking to each other and they’re not listening to you. You’re just playing to a small audience. It’s not like the stand-up comics who are playing to a big house. I thoroughly (love) television comedy.
DB: What projects are you working on?
BW: I have a book (“Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo”) coming out November 21; it’s my seventh. It’s (about) my work at the L.A. Zoo, all beautiful zoo animal pictures. I’ve been with the zoo for over 50 years, so a lot of those animals in the pictures are my personal friends.
DB: Tell us about your upcoming animated movie, Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax.”
BW: It’s a lovely animated film. It’s just beautiful. We’ve been working on it for well over a year. We go back every once in a while and get some parts finished and come in and do voice-overs. I guess it’s been almost two years now.
DB: What is it like being a voice actor as opposed to acting on screen?
BW: The good part about animation is that you don’t have to push your eyelashes on, you don’t have to get into makeup and you read your lines. What could be better than that?
DB: What do you think is the biggest lesson you learned from being in this industry?
BW: Various people out there are so different. You get to judge people a little faster in this business and the support of the audience is the wonderful part because we couldn’t do it without that warmth, and we get back in the other direction.