Betty White is being touted as Hollywood's oldest comeback kid, but really the comedian—known for her starring roles in The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls—never left. Still, after 62 years in the business, she's enjoying a surge in popularity and isn't done adding to her résumé. Her newest gig? Hosting Saturday Night Live. After a Facebook campaign and more than 500,000 fans demanded "Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!", Lorne Michaels and the gang have bestowed her with the honor of hosting this year's May 8 Mother's Day episode. Recently, Betty opened up about her rejuvenated popularity, what jokes she will never tell and her SNL jitters.
Q: So, what do you think of this newfound popularity?
A: It blows my mind. I can't get over at my age what all's going on. So all I can do is roll with the punches and enjoy it thoroughly and be grateful for it.
Q: How did you find out about the Facebook campaign to get you as a Saturday Night Live host?
A: Well, all of a sudden people would tell me that they saw this Facebook thing and all these people had joined in. I couldn't believe it. At first I thought they were putting me on, because it just came out of left field and I was astounded. I told my agent to please say: "Thank you. I appreciate it, but no thank you," and he said: "You have to do it. If you don't do it, I'll divorce you." I love my agent, so here I am doing it.
Q: Why did your agent think it was so important that you take advantage of this opportunity?
A: Well, I'm an old broad. At my age to be invited to do a show as current and choice as Saturday Night Live, he thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to enjoy a different direction. I said I'd rather watch it than do it, and he said no, no, no. So I trust his judgment. He's done a wonderful job for me. So here I am, going to do it and scared to death.
Q: What you're most nervous about?
A: The fact that I understand you work from cue cards, and I never have been able to work from cue cards. I memorize everything or ad lib. I know with the changing scripts, it changes as you speak, but with cue cards, I hope I don't have to wear my glasses. I hope the print is big enough. If it isn't, I'll do the show with my glasses.
Q: What do you think [of] your appeal with such a young audience, people that maybe weren't even born when Golden Girls was still on the air?
A: Well, the amazing thing is—and the same is true of the Mary Tyler Moore Show—some of the kids grew up with me, but their parents also grew up with me, and in many cases, their grandparents grew up with me. I've just sort of been around, you know, as a fixture. When I do a book signing or anything like that, the kids come up and they weren't born when Mary Tyler Moore came on. And now as you say, even when Golden Girls was on the air they hadn't been born yet. But that's what comes of good writing. That's what keeps bringing them back and makes them work for any generation because it's funny.
Q: A lot of your appeal with the younger audiences is certainly because you push the envelope. You did even with Sue Ann Nivens, given the time. Is that the real you?
A: I've always had a bawdy sense of humor. My father was a traveling salesman, and he would bring jokes home and he'd tell [them], and they'd never explain them to me. If I got them, that was fine. If I didn't, that was fine. But he'd say, "Honey, you can take that one to school, but I wouldn't take that one to school." But it was always both my mom and dad who had a wonderful sense of humor. We would get through some of the grim times by at least keeping a little sense of humor. It sure beats the alternative.
Q: And you've been at this for a while now.
A: Sixty-two years.
Q: Has comedy changed at all? Has it evolved or gotten better or worse over the years? Will you go into Saturday Night Live doing anything than you would have 50 years ago?
A: No, I don't think so. I think what's changed the most is the audience, not the comedy. The problem is the audience has heard every joke. They know every storyline. They know where something's going before we even take off. That's hard to write for, and that's hard to perform for because it's a tough audience to surprise. So you just have to take your best shot. And I find I do better if I just sort of shoot from the hip and hope for the best.
Q: Is there any sketch or subject that SNL ran by you that you didn't want to do or something you didn't want to participate in on the show? Or is everything fair game?
A: I haven't any idea what I'm going to be doing. All I know is I have veto power if it's something I really don't want to do. They promised me I wouldn't have to do any nudity. And I won't do any dope jokes. I don't like dope jokes. I don't think dope is a joke. And so that's about the only no that I would, let's say, resist doing.
Q: Next up, you're doing a sitcom for TV Land, Hot in Cleveland. How's that going?
A: Oh, this is a delight. Jane Leeves and Wendy Malick and Valerie Bertinelli are the three stars of the show. And their chemistry together is wonderful. Their characters have come to Cleveland, and they're renting a house because they're going to stay there for a while. I have been housekeeper at that house for 50 years, and they inherit me along with the house. And of course I'm a pain in the neck.
The pilot got picked up so fast that it blew all our minds. We actually start working on that series the day I get back from Saturday Night Live. So it's a quick turnaround, but I think it's going to be great fun.
Printed from Oprah.com on Saturday, December 7, 2013
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