After more than 20 years, The Carol Burnett Show’s Vicki Lawrence, 69, is starring on a television series.
The Cool Kids, which follows a group of four unlikely friends living in a retirement community who are up to what Lawrence calls “Leisure World shenanigans,” is the rare TV series whose core set of leads are over 50. Lawrence stars alongside David Alan Grier (In Living Color), Leslie Jordan (Will & Grace), and Martin Mull (literally every show ever made) in a series created by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Charlie Day.
Lawrence says she hopes The Cool Kids will be like an older version of Day’s FX comedy. “It’s just going to end up being silly, and I feel like that’s missing from sitcoms now,” she tells EW. “They all have a message; they get sort of dark. I think that’s really missing — just being able to laugh at something because it is silly and stupid.”
Ahead of the series Sept. 28 premiere (8:30 p.m.) on Fox, EW caught up with Lawrence to get all the dirt on why this show brought her back to a leading role on television, how this ensemble stacks up to her legendary costars on The Carol Burnett Show, and whether The Cool Kids could take The Golden Girls in a fight.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’ve certainly worked steadily but this is really the first sitcom you’ve headlined since the 1980s. Why the long gap and why was this the one that brought you back?
VICKI LAWRENCE: Honestly, I didn’t really want to go in for the audition. Every time I go in for an audition, people almost always say, “Oh my god, you’re so much younger than we thought you were.” They expect Mama [from The Carol Burnett Show and Mama’s Family] to walk in. People don’t have much of an idea of what I look like or how old I am. Anyway, this script was really cute. As it turns out, the casting gal knew she wanted me for the part. She just wanted to know how we got the chemistry on The Carol Burnett Show.
You’ve been playing old ladies essentially since you were in your early twenties. Do you find a certain poetic justice in starring in a comedy set a retirement home?
[Laughs] I hadn’t really thought about it. I was just so happy to be playing somebody that’s more my age. There’s an episode coming up where I’m traumatized because I’m turning 65, and I said to the writers, “Well, yes I was.” It’s fun to be playing more my age and finally be able to put Mama in the backseat for a little bit.
There are not a lot of shows or films about older people — what do you feel The Cool Kids has to offer in that regard or was filling that gap something about the show that appealed to you?
I think maybe we’re being recognized a little bit more. People are realizing that we are a demographic to be reckoned with. The boomers have needed to be reckoned with our entire lives. It’s no different now. We are not going down without a fight…The boomers have all that disposable income too. It’s such a fertile playground for comedy. I go out and I play a lot of these retirement communities. It’s busy out there. Those folks are having fun, in every way you can imagine. It’s a good area for comedy and probably will push the boundaries far more than The Golden Girls ever did. Leslie [Jordan’s] calling it, “The Golden Girls on crack.”
You’re no stranger to ensemble comedy — how does this trio of guys stack up to some of the core ensembles you’ve been a part of in the past?
We feel like we’re on our fifth season. Almost instantly we felt that way. I didn’t know any of these guys, but I was a fan. Carol [Burnett] always calls it playing in the sandbox, and I really feel like I’m getting to go to work and play in the sandbox again.
Your character, Margaret, seems like she has a wild past. Have you created a backstory?
Me and the wardrobe girls did. Margaret was probably a “banger sister.” She hung out with the bands, and she spent a lot of time in Vegas, on the buses, in the casinos. She’s a wild gal who’s really been around the block.
You and Carol Burnett are both still working. Do you turn to her for advice still? If so, did you talk to her about this show?
I didn’t. We saw each other recently. She had just finished a pilot, and I had just finished this pilot. We talked about them. She’s always incredibly supportive. When I emailed her and told her I got the part, she said, “You have always been a cool kid, and I know you will be funny. I know you will be wonderful.”
Part of Margaret’s storyline is infiltrating this boy’s club. Do you feel that in any way is a metaphor for your own life or something you wanted to speak to in the #MeToo era?
We will probably reference the #MeToo movement a bit because it’s so prevalent right now. These guys, their characters, are definitely of that generation. None of them are those guys. It’s one of the things I love so much about working for all these younger guys. I’m working for guys that are my kids’ age, so a completely different generation. I feel like the generation right behind the #MeToo generation was probably raised by stronger women who were very outspoken about how you should behave as a man. These guys are as aghast as the rest of us at the stuff that we’re finding out. I don’t know any other actress that I can think of that hasn’t been through some sort of a #MeToo situation. For us, every time the other shoe drops, we’re like, “Yep, okay.” My daughter came to a script reading, she was down here visiting, and she said, “God, different world, huh, Ma?” And I said, “Yeah.” She said, “There are no old men in suits.” I said, “No, they’re gone. They’re gone.”
You’re pretty outspoken politically. You are going to be airing after Last Man Standing, which many see as a more conservative show. Do you have any thoughts on sharing a time block with it?
I think the show is funny. I get a kick out of him [Tim Allen], and I think it’s a well-written show. My husband and I are both fans of that show. We were surprised when it was canceled. I’m hoping we’re not going to be political at all. There’s enough of that going on. I want to take [people] away from all the s— that’s happening, and I want to make them laugh. I don’t think anybody else needs to be political. The whole country is consumed in all of this stuff — up to our eyeballs [in it] — so let’s just laugh for a half hour.
Is there a potential storyline you’re really eager to explore? Maybe something you’ve never done before?
When we did the Television Critics [Association presentation], people were asking, “Are you going to address the fact that seniors have sex?” Because everybody acts like old people don’t do that. We’re going to address all that stuff. We’re going to be busy old people. When we were first picked up, somebody tweeted that Fox was picking up a show about geriatrics. We’re not geriatrics. Geriatric is when you’re in the home and the nurse has to come feed you every night. Retirement communities are getting more popular than ever. There are a lot of people opting out of [the] real world and going into these retirement communities because they have everything at their fingertips. We’re certainly not geriatric. Not yet. Give us a few seasons.
If the Cool Kids faced off against the Golden Girls in a fight, who would win?
Oh gosh, that’s tough because we’ve got both male and female points of view. We’re very physical for a bunch of old farts. We might just beat the crap out of them.