Your typical “miserable” comedian, Harvey Korman tended to fret and complain. While he was brilliantly funny to audiences on “The Carol Burnett Show,” he wasn’t exactly hilarious to her. At one point, she confronted him about it. She said something like, “If you’re not having a good time, maybe you should leave.”
That snapped Harvey out of it. At least, he knew to keep his misgivings and insecurities to himself. Perhaps the closest character to the true Harvey Korman that he played, was Bud Abbott in the ill-fated made-for-tv movie that co-starred Buddy Hackett. He portrayed Abbott as the worrier, the one who carried grim realities with him, which included his own physical failings (epilepsy). While Costello was freewheeling on stage, getting the laughs, Abbott had the responsibility of keeping his partner from ad-libbing too much and milking the laughs.
In TV sketches and also in films, Korman kept an edge of reality to his work, and let Mel Brooks, Tim Conway or other top bananas make the faces and get the big laughs. He got chuckles from his chagrin and his frowns and his inability to make sense of the idiotic world around him. One of the biggest laughs on the Burnett show was when Carol descended a staircase wearing a curtain for a gown, complete with rod. Korman, as Rhett Butler got some laughs by remaining dead serious, and failing to see how ludicrous this outfit was.
I mentioned to him once that I thought he was a fine dramatic actor. At the time, the movie “Shine” was in theaters, and as I watched Armin Mueller-Stahl I kept thinking, “This would’ve been perfect for Korman.”
Harvey often teamed up with Tim Conway for live performance tours, and did find some reasons to be cheerful, sometimes. But he remained a realist. When Viagra became available, Harvey was not that thrilled. As he put it, "It's like putting a new flagpole on a condemned building."
One thing Harvey didn’t do much of, was sing. For some reason, one night the Burnett show cast performed a kind of tribute/parody to C&W and "The Grand Ol' Opry." Each cast member got a solo. Just why they chose the grim Shel Silverstein song “25 Minutes To Go” for Harvey to sing, I have no idea. It was a hit for Johnny Cash, but it doesn't really suit Harvey's style. He doesn't have the outrageous personality that makes such a chilling song wild and over the top. Silverstein's original version of it is hoarse and manic. Cash drawls many a colorful line. But Harvey is a bit more like Hedley in "Blazing Saddles," viewing the proceedings with a certain understandable distaste. Note that the song is chopped from 25 minutes to 15 (and leaves out the anti-social stuff about hating the warden, the sheriff and the governor). It’s quite a curio, though, and was never released as a single.