I remember sitting down in my recliner chair, back when it wasn’t an effort to get out of it, and watching the Carol Burnett Show. My Labrador, Rusty, would curl up at my feet, and the joy of watching those brilliant sketches lightened up the evening. Among the sketches I fondly remember, and one I recently got to see again, was the ‘Vacuum Salesman’ with Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence.
Tim Conway was a maestro in comedy. He had this knack for blending simplicity with absolute hilarity. He portrayed Mr. Willard, a vacuum salesman who decides to visit a home and ends up not only trying to pitch his vacuum cleaner but inadvertently letting the woman of the house, played by Vicki Lawrence, perform the pitch herself.
The onset of the sketch was classic Tim Conway – he starts by gifting a little keychain flashlight that’s hilariously impractical. It was such a simple start, but knowing Conway, it had me waiting for the belly laughs to ensue. I remember those early model cars we tried to fit all the great-grandkids in. It seemed practical at first glance, but you’d be better off with a horse and carriage!
Throughout the sketch, Vicki Lawrence was an impeccable counterpart to Conway. She always maintained a strong presence, making the comedy even richer. It wasn’t just Tim making the audience chuckle; Vicki, too, had her moments of brilliance. Her character’s exasperated reactions to Conway’s antics were golden. She reminded me of when I tried to fix the plumbing at home and flooded the kitchen. My wife was Vicki, and I was good ol’ Mr. Willard!
The Davis vacuum cleaner, their main prop, became a central character as the skit progressed. The “error info terminal,” a feature supposedly unique to this vacuum, was comedic gold. And, as the sketch evolved, watching Vicki try and navigate the sales pitch turned the whole situation on its head. It made me recall the days we tried to work on those new-fangled gadgets. A can opener shouldn’t be rocket science, right? But there I was, battling with it like it was the final boss in one of those video games my great-grandkids play.
For those who remember, this wasn’t just a skit. It was an era of history where comedy was innocent, smart and didn’t rely on flashy sets or over-the-top antics. It was about relatable characters, everyday situations, and masterful actors who knew their craft.
Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence’s chemistry was always electric. With every skit, they reminded me why I was such an ardent fan. As Mr. Willard fumbled with the vacuum, trying to impress upon its features or lack thereof, Vicki’s character looked on, partly amused and partly irked. There’s a moment when she has to look up the price of the vacuum herself, and her reaction is just priceless. It’s as if someone handed me a mobile phone for the first time and asked me to send a text.
In the grand tapestry of the Carol Burnett Show, this sketch stands as a testament to what comedy was and should always strive to be – natural, engaging, and oh-so-memorable. The effortless comedic flow between Tim and Vicki was reminiscent of a waltz, with each one taking the lead at the perfect moment.
For those who’ve seen it, this sketch is a delightful trip down memory lane. And for those who haven’t, I urge you to find it and experience comedy in its purest form. And if you enjoyed this piece of nostalgia, do share it with your friends and family.