Greatest All-Time Variety/Comedy Shows

Whatever happened to the variety/comedy shows? You know, the ones where they played before a live audience, mixing comedy skits with singers, guest stars, dancers and an hour of laughter. The best ever, in my humble opinion, was the Carol Burnett Show. She had it all. Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and the best; herself. Every show began with a monologue, questions from the audience with ad lib quips, that Tarzan sreech, and the washer woman character that no one could imitate.

As the saying goes, they don’t make like they used to. The younger folks don’t know what they missed without seeing these wonderful shows. Yes, I’m glad I was around when they were big hits, but they also sadden me when I watch the poor excuses we have today for comedy in comparison.

No canned laughter for these folks. But it wasn’t needed. Just watch any episode of “Burnett” or “Jackie Gleason” and you’ll find plenty of that authentic laughter coming from the people in the studio. Something about fake laughter that I resent. It’s as though the producers of these shows don’t trust us to know what’s funny.

Anyway, here’s my top ten for the greatest variety shows of all time. (With a few links to spice it up)

The Carol Burnett Show

YouTube -Tim Conway’s Elephant Story  

The Jackie Gleason Show


The Dean Martin Show

YouTube – Drunk Airline Pilot

Sonny And Cher

Click here: YouTube – Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour #4

The Smothers Brothers

YouTube – The Smothers Brothers – Part 3

The Colgate Comedy Hour

YouTube – Jerry Lewis Colgate Comedy Hour

colgate comedy hour Videos

The Show Of Shows

The Ed Sullivan Show

Red Skelton Show

Milton Berle Show 


What say you…my fellow senior citizens?












16 Responses to Greatest All-Time Variety/Comedy Shows

  1. Frank Piloto September 19, 2009 at 8:40 pm #

    Marshall, for me, the best one was American Bandstand

  2. Lew Garnett September 19, 2009 at 8:44 pm #

    Except for Sonny and Cher, I agree completely. In fact, I believe Carol Burnett’s show to be one of, if not the best variety show ever, largely because of Tim Conway and Harvey Korman.
    Only one not mentioned was Ted Mac’s Original Amateur Hour, which I thought was pretty good.

  3. Roger L. Cox September 19, 2009 at 8:48 pm #

    I agree somewhat because I haven’t watch a sitcom or variety show since the mid 70’s.

  4. Darell Porath September 19, 2009 at 8:59 pm #

    I’d put Steve Allen somewhere in the mix (with Tom Poston, Louis Nye and Don Knotts), otherwise, excellent list.

  5. Jane A Farmer September 19, 2009 at 9:38 pm #

    All those and Laugh In ( with Goldie Hawn and the Poetry Guy who deid this week). Thanks for the memories, Marshall.

  6. marvin September 20, 2009 at 5:50 am #

    AM I the only one who remembers Arthur Godfrey?????????

  7. Helen Bennett September 20, 2009 at 6:46 am #

    I just taught a summer course at SAIL which featured my favorite comedian in two shows: Sid Caesar in Your Show of Shows and the Sid Caesar Show. After these, I vote for the Carol Burnett Show.

  8. george wolf September 20, 2009 at 6:55 am #

    Really enjoyed!, especially Burnett, Gleason and Martin & Brooks.

    Those shows were real comedy.

  9. Les September 20, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    I loved Ernie Kovacs and the Nairobi Trio. Also Jackie Gleason in all his incarnations. But for my money, Ed Sullivan had the greatest acts of his time.

  10. Tom Ault September 20, 2009 at 4:37 pm #

    As usual, you have done a great job and named the better ones. I just received an email with Red Skelton giving a brief lecture to kids about the meaning of each word in the Pledge of Allegiance.

    Today, he would have been shut off by our network executive nitwits.

    Keep up the good work Marshall.

  11. Ed Hensley September 20, 2009 at 4:43 pm #

    Seems like the real “Live” talent on TV was launched in the 50’s, burned bright in the 60’s, held strong through the mid 70’s but petered out in the late 70’s & 80’s. I enjoyed all your picks Marshall, so much I won’t even state a favorite.

    Say a cherried out white 1955 two door
    chevy sedan, on the way home from church
    this morning & I remembered this blog,
    so thanks for the memories Marshall!

  12. Gladys Broderick September 21, 2009 at 12:09 pm #

    I love them all and would include some of the Victor Borge shows and a couple of the
    Rat Pack (routines?, or live ad libbing).

  13. David R. Ward September 21, 2009 at 2:37 pm #


    I loved that time and all those shows. To bad they don’t do those anymore. My favortie was The Dean Martin Show


  14. JeanneD September 21, 2009 at 5:11 pm #

    I also enjoyed Tennessee Ernie Ford and Perry Como.

  15. Christopher Korman September 21, 2009 at 10:48 pm #

    As far political satirical pre john Stewart and Steven Colbert there was laugh and the Smothers brothers and Flip Wilson.
    My favorite years of SNL were the Eddie murphy years with Joe Piscopo and the Billy Crystal-Christopher Guest years.Dean Martin was probably the hippiest variety show.Sonny and Cher was prety funny.The Burnett Show was brilliant.The Shows success depended heavenly on the chemistry of the Core of the group.The Went with the Wind sketch and Torchy Song and the Sunset Blvd parodies were were done briliantly.I think Carol Burnett’Show as a whole was far more brilliant and executed flawlessly without breaking character.I personally didn’t like Tim Conway breaking up my father or the guest stars because I found it amateurish at best.My personal opinion is if you don’t trust the material before you go to air then
    don’t perform the sketch as written.I Believe personally my father the late Harvey Korman was far more disiplined before Conway got on the show.My dad honed his sketch comedy skills with Danny Kaye.My dad along with Carol who got her second Banana badge of honor under Garry Moore.I Thought that Vicki who gave my father alot of credit for her success in dialect and comedy technique is one of the finest comedians around including Lucy-Imgogene Coca-Nanette Fabray.I think Carl Reiner along with Howard Morris and Coca were the spine of Caesar.For My money Carl Reiner and My father were two of the best Straightmen in the Biz.Dean Martin could charm the pants of the audience and somehow made breaking the fourth wall apart of the charm of the show.Deans Show invited that kind of repartee with the audience the whole show was a in joke he made you feel as if you apart of the cast.

  16. Jerry Reichardt September 22, 2009 at 5:50 pm #

    There is nothing on today that comes close to any of them. Several I watched with my parents. Those were the good old days.