Emmy winner Betty White isn’t big on playing pranks, which is why she says it took a lot of convincing for her to host the prank reality show “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers,” which features senior citizens who are paid to do crazy things in front of unsuspecting prank victims. NBC’s “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers” debuted in January 2012. The show returns for its second season on January 8, 2013, with two back-to-back episodes at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time. Joining White for the comedy segments are celebrity guests Psy, Kim Kardashian, Howie Mandel, Nicole Richie, Steve O, Nick Lachey, NeNe Leakes, Ed Asner, Nick Cannon, “The Biggest Loser” trainer Bob Harper and “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” co-stars Adrienne Maloof, Camille Grammer and Kyle Richards.
The first season of “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers” earned White an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Host of a Reality or Reality-Competition Program. White has also been getting recognition for her work on the TV Land sitcom “Hot in Cleveland,” which has earned her the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by Female Actor in a Comedy Series in 2011 and 2012. She’s nominated again for the prize in 2013. And let’s not forget that on January 17, 2013, she turns 91. White talked to reporters during a telephone conference call about “Betty White’s Off Your Rockers” and why she has no plans to retire from show business.
Can you talk about what it was like to have Ed Asner on the show, and what you did together?
Oh, it was such fun, and Ed and I stay very close. We’ve always adored each other. I don’t think we’ve ever said a nice word to each other, but we adore each other. You know that kind of a friendship. He always yells at me and I yell at him and lovingly. He did the show and when you work that closely together, you just - somehow you fall into a pattern, and it’s as though you saw each other yesterday, even if a little time has gone by.
And when you were filming with PSY, what did you make about his “Gangnam Style” dance?
Oh, he was very, very nice, and so funny. I don’t think he wanted to teach us the dance, but I tried to copy him anyway.
Do you feel your spicy humor and sense of mischief help keep you young?
Well, I don’t know. I was an only child and my mother and dad were great and good buddies, and my dad would bring jokes home. He was a salesman, and he would bring jokes home, and he’d say, now, sweetheart, you can take that one to school, but I wouldn’t take that one to school. I don’t know. I always see more than one meaning to a word, so the double entendre kind of came naturally. But a double entendre is one thing, and then dirty humor is something else. I don’t like dirty jokes, but I do enjoy a double entendre.
What type of attitude do you recommend for longevity?
Oh, honesty. You can fool everybody else maybe that you know, but you can’t fool that camera. That camera will know when you’re faking it every time.
In your opinion, the best prank you’ve ever pulled, the funniest one?
I’m not a real prankster. I love doing “Off Their Rockers,: because the other people are pranking, but I will maybe kid my friends and say one thing or tell them something happened that didn’t really happen, but I straighten it out pretty fast. The trouble is you can paint yourself into a corner if you try too many pranks, you know?
Why do you think “Off Their Rockers” appeals to all age groups?
Well, it’s silly and nonsensical, but good-spirited. We’re never mean-spirited, and that’s the iron rule.
Is that why you wanted to do the show?
Yes, yes. It makes people know they’re being kidded and all that, and when we reveal that they’re not any the worse for it. I think some of the other ones that try to get a little sensational get a little cruel sometimes.
What do you say to people who ask you, “Why haven’t you retired? Why do you keep going?”
Because why quit something you’re enjoying so much? I know I do, and it’s such fun, and who at the - who would ever expect at 91 to still get invited to do shows. I mean, that’s unheard of, so if they don’t want me to do it, don’t ask me, because if they ask me I’ll take it.
Betty, you have a birthday coming up, so how do you plan on celebrating?
Well, I think NBC is taking care of that. Last year [in 2012] they did a Betty White’s 90th birthday party on television. We got nominated for an Emmy for it, and this year they’re doing Betty White’s second annual 90th birthday, so they’re doing another one on camera, which should be fun.
And what was your favorite part from the 2012 birthday special?
Oh, my favorite part? Being surprised with a number of friends, celebrity friends that showed up. Each one was such a lovely surprise, I mean, to have Mary [Tyler Moore] there … I’ll leave somebody out, and I don’t want to do that, but it was just delightful. Each person that was there or said a few words just knocked me out. It was great fun.
When you were first approached about doing "Off Their Rockers," did you immediately know you wanted to do it? Did you think about it for a little while?
No, I was not enthused about doing this. First of all, well not so much for the show but because my schedule just didn’t tolerate it, so I thanked them very much and said, “No thank you.” But they kept coming back. It was a show that started in Belgium, and it was the most popular comedy show in Europe for a while. So when they invited me to do it. I said “That’s very nice, but I just can’t work it in.” And they kept coming back, and of course I had the backbone of a jellyfish, here I am doing it, but I’m having a good time.
Is there anyone else that could host this show better than Betty White? It seems like this was tailor-made for you.
Oh, my goodness, and believe me, it’s the show that works. And anybody can do all I do, are the wraparounds, but I have fun being associated with it and we get a lot of on the street comments. It’s interesting, a lot of them will come up, and even before they talk about “Hot in Cleveland,” they come up and say oh, I love “Off Their Rockers,” or they’ll pick up some incident, one episode on “Off Their Rockers” to talk about. It’s fun.
Betty, you’ve worked on a lot of sets, and we always here great stories about pranks being pulled on television sets. Has anyone ever pulled a really funny prank on you during your career?
From time to time, particularly when we all love each other and have a sense of humor, every once in a while, but I can’t think of any really specific one that you weren’t on to kind of right up front.
And now that you do this show if someone did try to pull a prank on you, do you think that you might see it coming, that you might have a sort of radar to detect something like that?
I don’t think so because really all I do on the show are the wraparounds. You know, I talk about it and I enjoy the show along with the audience, but I’m not involved in the actual pranking, so I don’t think I’d get as hip to it. I think we all as we get older we tend to read people pretty well, but sometimes they can fool you.
Betty, you’ve had an incredible career. What changes in television or film have impressed you or surprised you the most with regard to either content or what audiences want to see?
I don’t think the television has changed nearly as much as the audience has changed. When I started out, television was just starting out, and everything was that miracle on the box in the corner of the room where people were actually moving around, and over the years, as television got to be such a major part of our lives, the audience has heard every joke. They know every storyline. They know where you’re going almost before the first line is out. That’s a hard audience to surprise and a hard audience to entertain, and it gets more difficult all the time. That’s why the real movers and shakers in the television business are the writers. They have a bigger challenge every day.
Is there anything outstanding that you haven’t yet done that you would like to do?
Robert Redford. No, no, no. It’s been 65 years and I think in that time I’ve been the luckiest person on two feet, so I think I’ve done about as much as I can do. I’d just like to keep on doing the same thing.
How so you keep your energy going?
Well, my problem is I love what I’m doing and I love this business and I enjoy the work and I love the people that I work with. I’ve been so lucky for all those 60 years. Everybody says, “Well, when are you going to retire? Why don’t you quit? How can you quit something that you enjoy so much?” I’m blessed with good health and blessed with good energy, so as long as they ask me, I’m thrilled to say yes.
Might you get a famous animal like Uggie the dog from “The Artist,” to bring and tie everything together, your love and all the great work you’ve done for animals along with the show itself as perhaps a guest and a prank?
I would love nothing better, and Uggie is such a special [dog]. The Friars’ Club roasted me, I don’t know, about a year ago I guess it was, and they had this long dais of people. Oh, it was, along with so many wonderful celebrities coming to roast me, and sitting in the middle on the table looking out at this audience of 1,500 people was Uggie. He sat there looking out at the audience as though well, they’ve all come here for me. And he sat there for the whole roast. He was such a good boy.
Because of all this resurgence of your popularity and everything else, you seem to be surrounded by a lot of young, attractive men. When women are middle-aged and with younger men, they’re cougars. What do they call a woman in her 90s who is with a younger man?
Well, in your 90s, my problem is all my life I never was interested in younger men. He always had to be a little older than I, and my problem now at 90 is I can’t find anybody older than I.
So you have no choice than to go after younger ones, now, is that it?
Yes, well … let’s face it. I enjoy men.
What is it in the way you grew up that helped you develop the sense of humor that you have and the love of laughter, and your amazing sense of comic timing?
Oh, that was my mother and father. I was an only child, and we had the best time together. My dad was a salesman, so he would bring jokes home, but also he’d ask me how things went at school, and I would start telling him, and pretty soon we’d begin to make jokes about it, and it was a love of laughter at home that just was a precious commodity to have with your folks. Sunday morning breakfast would last two hours sometimes when we all giggled and scratched and talked.
And your sense of comic timing? You can do a deadpan face, and deliver a line better than anybody.
Oh, well, that’s a tremendous compliment. I don’t have to believe it, but it’s so good to hear. Humor is like music. It’s a rhythm, and you just kind of get the rhythm of it, and you have to know not to let the beat go too long, but to leave a beat in there for it to gel. It’s hard to explain.
A lot of people want to know if on the show if that’s really your house that you’re filming from?
No, no, it isn’t. I wouldn’t use my house. I like a little more privacy than that, but it’s fun. It feels like home.
You have a lot of gay fans obviously from “The Golden Girls,” and they say they want to see more pool boys in “Off Their Rockers.” They want more yard workers and hot guys on the show, so they’re hoping for that for the next season.
Well, I wouldn’t mind that, either. Let’s start a movement and get that to happen next year. My only problem is I have the nicest pool boy at home, but he didn’t look like those other pool boys.
What advice you can give for other women who are starting in the business?
I’ve been so lucky. I just can’t tell you how lucky to get to this age. Who would ever dream that you’d get to be 91 years old and you’re still working as much as I am? But I think it’s because I thoroughly enjoy what I do. I love this business, and I’ll quit when they ask me to, but as long as they keep asking me to work, I’ll keep saying yes, and it is such a privilege.
I think women have come a long way over the years in being you know, coming into their own and roles that they get and in the whole business, and women executives and all that, but it still is a very lovely position to be in to be taken seriously as well as laughed at.
Could you elaborate on some of the challenges that goes on during the filming?
The challenges are to try to keep it fresh, to try to keep any semblance of freshness going. Well, after this number of years of all the shows and all the jokes and all the scripts, that’s a major challenge. So what you do is keep reworking the same old material and try to put a little new slant on it, and then with fresh people in the role, it’s amazing how long you can milk stuff.
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