Vicki Lawrence on her new show 'The Cool Kids' [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

Vicki Lawrence

Vicki Lawrence talks about her exciting new series and new personal adventures

Vicki Lawrence is a truly joyful and kind person. She makes a habit of putting good vibes out into the world and they come back to her.  She is happy in her personal life and she is starring in a new series The Cool Kids, and its seriously funny.

Last year, we had a great conversation with Vicki Lawrence where we discussed many topics in great detail including her early life, career, how she connected with Carol Burnett by writing her a fan letter, what she likes to do for fun her commitment to CIU and You and so much more.

Interview: Catching Up With Vicki Lawrence of 'Great News'

Since our last conversation, Vicki Lawrence wrapped up Tina Fey's series Good News, was a vital component of The Carol Burnett Show 50th Anniversary Special, continues to tour around the country performing her iconic Mama character in Vicki Lawrence & Mama: A Two-Woman Show and still made time to enjoy her family and work on her beloved charitable endeavors.

Not long ago, her agent approached her with the role of Margaret in a new series called The Cool Kids.  This show is set in a retirement community and also stars David Alan Grier (The Charmichaels, In Living Color),  Martin Mull (Veep, Roseanne) and Leslie Jordan (Will and Grace, American Horror Story), and tells the stories of a group of rule-breaking friends who will stop at nothing to have a good time since they love life and don't think they have much to lose. Even the concept is funny.

Vicki Lawrence spoke with Michelle Tompkins for The Celebrity Cafe about her new series The Cool Kids, how much fun they have together, what she is watching these days, what she wants people to know about CIU & You and gives an important message on what everyone could do to have a better life.

 

Vicki Lawrence

Michelle Tompkins:  What's been new with you in the last year?

Vicki Lawrence:  Oh [laughter], well, I'm starting a new series next week and our daughter got married, and I've been busy here.

Michelle Tompkins:  Congratulations on your daughter's wedding. That's wonderful. And you mentioned last time that you like the guy, so that's a plus.

Vicki Lawrence:  Yes. He's just wonderful.

Michelle Tompkins:  And I loved your presence on The Carol Burnett Anniversary Special.

Vicki Lawrence:  Oh, yeah, I guess— somebody just told me the other day that that got nominated for an Emmy. I did not realize that.  So happy for her.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now please tell me about your new show.

Vicki Lawrence:  Well, the new show is called The Cool Kids.  It's going to be on Fox. It's premiering Sept. 28, 8:30 p.m. It's a Friday night timeslot. Basically, it's about four old crazy people in a retirement village. My daughter's calling it 'Leisure World Shenanigans' [laughter]. I kind of like that! That's pretty good! Leslie Jordan is calling it The Golden Girls on crack [laughter]. So it's going to be a lot of fun. We're actually having our first table read on Thursday and then we officially start production next week.

Michelle Tompkins:  Oh, that sounds so wonderful.

Vicki Lawrence:  Yeah, we've been spotting billboards all over the city and we're like, ‘Oh my God, we're poster kids [laughter]!’

Vicki Lawrence on the changing landscape of Hollywood

Michelle Tompkins:  Well, people are always talking about how one of the big problems in Hollywood is ageism, so I'm so glad there's going to be a show about older people!

Vicki Lawrence:  Oh, yeah! No, I think that maybe that's changing. I've been reading a lot of stuff about how finally the studios are understanding that the baby boomers are the largest portion of the population in this country and that we have all that disposable income. I've never understood why 18 to 49 is the target audience. Half of those people are back at home living with their parents [laughter], you know? Seriously!

And they always say, ‘Oh, well, they target the younger people because they haven't formed their grown-up habits yet and older people won't try new products,’ and like, they try new stuff all the time! You know? I don't get it. Anyway, I think they're finally catching onto that and there actually have been, I think, more movies about older people, like Last Vegas and— what else? Bucket List, and more— anyway, I think they're finally catching on a little bit that we are fun and we're interesting and there are a lot of us.

Michelle Tompkins:  And that you have a life! That there's life in people! I mean, there's a lot to do.

Vicki Lawrence: There actually is and we still just want to have fun. Actually, we're just—the fellow that wrote the pilot is Charlie Day, and he's one of the executive producers, writers, and stars of Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and he is a great, funny guy and he's—I mean, he's the age of my kids, so it's just so fun working for all these younger guys. But he said, ‘I just think this is such fertile ground, and if we have guest stars we can have all these wonderful old stars that are sitting at home that just want to come and work.’ You know?

Michelle Tompkins:  I do!

Vicki Lawrence:  As Carol would say, they want to come and play in the sandbox. So I think it's really going to be fun.  I've been binge-watching It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia because I didn't really know Charlie, and oh my God, I love that show. It's just so silly and I hope that's what he's going to infuse our show with, that it's really high school in your 70s you know what I mean [laughter]? But nothing really changes too much. It's still about who's the most popular? Who's the cutest? Who's the best? Not a lot of changes.

Michelle Tompkins:  I'm curious about this, is that a lot of people who reside in nursing homes want to go home, but they can't. Will this be addressed in the show?

Vicki Lawrence:  Well, this isn't a nursing home. This is a retirement community, and I go out and play a lot at these retirement communities and they're busy.

Vicki Lawrence talks about her character and addresses some of the naughty adventures that will be on The Cool Kids

Michelle Tompkins:  Do you believe the jokes that they’re having very active sex lives and causing lots of trouble?

Vicki Lawrence:  Oh God. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. My son and I just went down to Florida, we played two big, actually gorgeous retirement communities. And I mean the homes are lovely, there are movies, there are doctors, there's shopping, there are restaurants. Everything is right there, everything is more affordable, and they're just living the life. They're loving it.

Michelle Tompkins:  How were you approached to do this show?

Vicki Lawrence:  I guess my agent found the script or the casting, I'm not sure. Maybe the casting person contacted my agent, but she was a huge fan, and we were right in the middle of doing the Carol Burnett Reunion Show, and I didn't want to go read. I said, ‘I never get the part.’ Everybody always says, ‘Oh. You're younger than we thought you were going to be.’ So I think they expect mama to walk in, right [laugher]? And the actual breakdown in the script, when it first came to me, was a woman in her 70s. And I'm like, ‘You know what? I know I'm old, but I'm not 70 yet, so no, I don't want to go read.’ And my agent said, ‘But you're perfect for this part.’ And I said, ‘Yeah’, but like I said, doing the reunion. I just wanted to go to CBS and see all the cool people that were going to be on that show, and hang out with Carol, and see all my old friends, and just be in that studio again. That's kind of where my head was.

My agent literally just drove me nuts. He would call me every day and go, ‘She'll stay open tonight.’ I said, ‘I'm not going to the middle of Santa Monica at nighttime [laugher]. Leave me alone.’ And then he'd call the next day and say, ‘Anytime. She's happy to see you anytime you want.’ And I said, ‘Jeffrey, I do not want to go read. I do not want to go do this.’ Finally the last time he called me, I said ‘All right.’ I looked at my calendar, I said, ‘Okay. Thursday at 11:00.’ Because I'm thinking all right, I can miss the traffic going up to town and then I'll read, and I'll get on the freeway, and I'll miss the traffic coming back. So selfishly I thought 11:00 would be perfect, and he said, ‘All right. I'll make that happen.’

I went in to read for her, and  it was almost more than reading for her because she was a huge fan, and she said, ‘I know you're perfect for this part. I want you to tell me how you got the chemistry on the Carol Burnett Show. How did that happen?’ And I just laughed, I said, ‘I don't [laughter] know that you can plan that. That was just magical.’

And we talked about the way everybody was cast on The Carol Burnett Show, and it was just really random. It was crazy. And I don't know how you capture that chemistry, but I feel like maybe we've captured it. We all feel like we're in our fifth season, we just kind of bounce off each other, and it was sort of instant. Well, we all love each other, we're all fans. Not that we all knew each other very well, but we're all fans of each other. And we're all, as Leslie said, we've all been around the block so many times we're dizzy, so there are no divas, there's no pitching a fit or anything. It's running smoothly, and it's just fun, it's really fun, and it just feels to all of us so comfortable already.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now quickly, Leslie Jordan, David Alan Grier, you, and who's the other person? I'm sorry, I don't remember.

Vicki Lawrence:  Martin Mull.

Michelle Tompkins:  Thanks. What a great group?!!!

Vicki Lawrence:  Yeah. So it's just a great, fun cast.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now tell me about your character, Margaret.

Vicki Lawrence:  She's she's my evil alter ego, I would say. My daughter always says to me—we'll be talking about something that happened. And I'll say, ‘You should just march over there and tell them, 'son of a bitch,' and blah blah blah. And you give him a piece of your mind.’ And my daughter always goes, ‘Your inner child is just such an evil person [laughter].’

I feel like Margaret is my inner child. She kind of says everything she's thinking. She's feisty. She is not going to take any crap off these guys. She's fully convinced that women are much smarter than men. My whole backstory came when we were doing wardrobe. The wardrobe girl and I decided that probably Margaret was a Banger sister; she hung out in Vegas; she hung out on a lot of buses; she was with the band. I'm not sure whether the band outgrew her or she outgrew the band. But she's old and she's alone now. So she moves into this retirement community. That's my backstory and I'm sticking to it. Charlie said, ‘That's an excellent backstory.’

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, do you have any friends or relatives who are actually in these retirement villages?

Vicki Lawrence:  Not that I know of. I have performed in a lot of them. And Lord knows, they're all hanging out at our Trader Joe's here because we have a leisure world very near us. So driving in that parking lot is always an adventure [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Now, will Mama ever make an appearance on the show?

Vicki Lawrence:  Oh, I hope not. We'll see. Actually when I read for the part, she said, ‘Would you be adverse to a wig or if they wanted to age you?’ I said to Wendy (the casting director), ‘Wendy, it's the story of my life so whatever.’  When I went in to read for Charlie and they were talking about some wigs and things, I said, ‘Whatever you need to do.’ And he said, ‘You know what? I want you to be you. I want you to come to work and have fun.’ So he said, ‘I want you to be you.’ He actually sort of altered the ages a little bit because he ended up casting people that were a little younger than what the script said. But we're still all leisure world-age. They were telling us some of the storylines the other day. They'd written one where Margaret gets extremely depressed because she's turning 65, so the guys take her out on the town to cheer her up. That's where I am, 65 I guess. And I said, ‘Yes, that's right. I did get extremely depressed when I turned 65.’

Vicki Lawrence as "Mama"

Michelle Tompkins:  But that's when Social Security kicks in. 

Vicki Lawrence:  Then you get excited about the Medicare card. It's like yeah, finally that Medicare's going to kick in. But other than that, it's a little depressing.

Michelle Tompkins:  Well, you talked about this a little bit earlier. But baby boomers are entering retirement age. Do you think they're going to be the main demographic of your show? Or do you think it's going to be much broader?

Vicki Lawrence:  I think it'll be broader than that. But that's probably the main demographic. We gave a lot of work to a lot of senior citizens on our pilot. It was great. It was great for everybody's health insurance.

Michelle Tompkins:  I plan to watch it. It sounds like fun.

Vicki Lawrence:  I think it will be a lot of fun. I believe it will cross a larger demographic than just the boomers because I think people are just sort of hungry to laugh at something silly. And I think these guys are going to be silly. If you're not old, you're certainly around somebody old. Like Charlie said, you're around your parents. Some of them are still around their grandparents. Or he said, ‘We're all looking at that,’ going, ‘That's where we're going to end up.’ And he said, ‘Damnit. I hope I'm as much fun as you guys are when I'm your age. I think everybody will have fun.

Michelle Tompkins:  Well, what I remember most about our conversation last time is how joyful and grateful you are. You're you just love life and love people and were kind.

Vicki Lawrence:  Oh well, that's nice. Thank you. I'm glad I gave that impression. That's good. I think we're all grateful. Martin, we were talking one night, and he said, ‘I've had such a lovely career.’ And he said, ‘To have this happen at our age, it's like the cherry on top. Isn't it’? And I said, ‘Yup, it totally is.’ It's just a gift to all of us and we are all grateful and we are all just enjoying the hell out of it.

I said to my husband, you'll get a kick out of this one. I said to him the other day because marijuana is now legal in California. And I said, ‘I'm going to go with Garrett.’ That's our son. I said, ‘I want to kind of check out our store.’ And Al said to me, ‘Vickie, you're about to be a cool kid. You can not be seen in the marijuana store [laughter].’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah, I guess it's changed since on TV regularly. Hasn't it, I guess’? He said, ‘Yeah, I have a feeling it's about to really, really change dude and you haven't been there. You haven't been there when all this was going on.’ I always talk about how social media is just such a huge part of everything now and it wasn't when I was young. When I was doing TV there was no social media. You made a mistake you could make it. It was okay. Now, oh my god.

Michelle Tompkins:  Well, what are you reading and watching these days?

Vicki Lawrence:  What am I reading and watching? Well, as I said, I'm binge watching It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia. And our daughter came home this week and she's now got me hooked on The Crown which I had not seen.

Michelle Tompkins:  That’s a good one. 

Vicki Lawrence:  And I said, ‘We can't watch an episode last night.’ I said, ‘We can watch an episode tonight because the final of the Bachelorette is on and I need to know who she's going to pick [laughter].’ But Courtney, who never watches any of that stuff, watched the finale with me. So now she totally knows who Blake is and she knows the Garett one. And that Garett and Becka are the couple. And I said, ‘So, Blake—we didn't stay up and watch the whole thing. I just wanted to know who she picked. I said, ‘I'm assuming Blake will be the next bachelor.’ She said, ‘Oh my god, so now I'm going to be hooked on this? And I'm going to be calling you going, 'Who do you think he's going to pick’? I said, ‘I don't know. Possibly [laughter].I don't know.’

Anyway, other than the Bachelorette we're kind of sitting around waiting for the fall season to start. That's the other thing about seniors I think that we'll find a show immediately is they're not the ones that are watching Netflix or Apple TV or any of Roku or any of those. I think probably the seniors are still watching television. And so, they'll probably find us first. But good lord you can watch stuff anywhere, any time, many, many ways nowadays.

Michelle Tompkins:  You can. It's both wonderful and maybe a little not wonderful at the same time [laughter].

Vicki Lawrence:  I know, I know. On the other hand, I can download an entire season of Always Sunny and watch it on a plane trip which is great. You sit there and laugh and you're not so aware of the fact that you're on a plane.

What do you need to know about CIU?

Michelle Tompkins:  It surely makes time seem to go by much faster.  Here's the topic that I know is near and dear to your heart. As I'm actually an allergy sufferer myself, so I know how uncomfortable hives can be. Are you still an advocate of CIU?

Vicki Lawrence:  Oh, yes, absolutely. We've expanded the website. We've expanded the social media quite a bit we're going to—getting ready to do our fall satellite media tour and talk to everybody in the country and keep everybody aware and, yeah.

Michelle Tompkins:  Can you remind us of how this came to affect you?

Vicki Lawrence:  Oh, yeah, just like seven years ago I was diagnosed and had never heard of such a thing, so. And I was just really fortunate that my allergist knew what it was and I think that's just really the message of our website is to get to the right allergist that's familiar with CIU so that you can put a treatment together for yourself and manage the hives. And I don't know if I said this to you but they're not—it's not curable but it's totally manageable so you just want to get with the right doc, but the million and a half of us that have it it's chronic which means it could come back tomorrow. And then I guess we'd have to do it an episode of the cool kids where Margaret gets hives, I don't know [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  I hope so because just so uncomfortable to have itchy skin. 

Vicki Lawrence:  I've had no further recurrence. I have not seen them in a number of years and thank you.

Michelle Tompkins:  I'm happy for you on that. Well, what are the symptoms of this condition?

Vicki Lawrence:   Well, the itchy hives. But I think there are so many different skin conditions, I think it's just— it's really important to get the right allergist that can ID all that and help you figure out what's going on. And the other thing is if it's more than six weeks, the doc will make you go through six weeks of testing, and searching, and trying before he'll give you that diagnosis. So, that's the nice thing about the website, there's a downloadable tracker, a symptom tracker so that you can really keep a diary for yourself and then if you don't find the right doctor at two or three weeks, at least you will have three weeks behind you of all these pictures and entries in your little diary so that you can tell him or her what's been going on, so that maybe you can get that diagnosis a little sooner than later.

Michelle Tompkins:  I think that's a very good tip.

Vicki Lawrence:  And then get a treatment plan together. Yeah, that's one of the nice things about the social media and the cell phone is that you can really be in touch with other people. You can find out what they're doing. You can find our website really easily now when you Google CIU, and you can take pictures. I think when my kids were little a picture would've been worth a gazillion words to the doctor, rather than trying to describe things.

Michelle Tompkins: Are there any CIU events or campaigns coming up soon?

Vicki Lawrence:   Well, I’ve been working on the CIU & You program for a few years now, which is supported by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and made possible by Genentech and Novartis. This year, we added new resources to the website, CIUandYou.com. I’ve always said what a great resource it is, and we recently added videos with me and a few others talking about our experiences with CIU. We discuss our path to diagnosis, how we found support and some lessons we learned along the way. There are some really great tips in there to help others better understand their own journey. And if you check back in the fall, you'll find a fun new way to share messages of support with the CIU community to show those living with CIU that they are not alone in their journey. Be on the lookout for posts on my social channels for more information, and as I always say, if you think you have CIU, please talk to an allergist to get the support you need in managing this condition!

Michelle Tompkins:  Now is there any other charity work that you'd like to mention?

Vicki Lawrence:  Mostly the same things that I've always done. I'm still involved with the Humane Society and I'm still rescuing little pups and I still try to be involved with the Heart Association when they need me for the Go Red For Women mostly. I think that's it right now, mostly.

Image result for go red for women

Michelle Tompkins:  Are you still spending a lot of time on your boat?

Vicki Lawrence:  We sold our big racing boat. Has that been since I talked to you? Yeah, I think we've sold it. It was just logistically too difficult. I've been on the road so much and it was hard to plan regattas and it's hard to get the crews together and the crews all want to be paid now. So, it's not like who's bringing the beer and who's bringing the sandwiches and let's go out for a sail, it's just not like that anymore. It's turned into a huge business for these guys. And that's not really what we enjoyed so much. I don't even hardly understand about it all. In the last America's Cup I told my husband, ‘They've got to get back to monohull beautiful sailing boats because I don't think people understand this.’ Most people don't understand sailing anyway. And then you look at the contraptions they're sailing on nowadays and it like, ‘Good God [laughter].’

I don't think it's really good for the sport. I think they are going back to the monohulls for the next America's Cup, which will be nice. Let's have some beautiful sailing boats out there again so that people can kind of grasp what the hell's going on. I think that's much better for the sport. So currently we do not have a big boat. We have our little electric boat. And we cruise around the bay here. And that's nice, but I think both of us would love a smaller boat that we could take to Catalina, just the two of us. So that might happen. We'll see.

What Vicki Lawerence is doing for fun and what is on her watch list...

Michelle Tompkins:  Are there any recent travels that you'd like to share with us?

Vicki Lawrence:  Since I talked to you—when did I talk to you, Michelle?

Michelle Tompkins:  It's been about 14 months.

Vicki Lawrence:  Fourteen months. So had I gone to Italy with Courtney yet?

Michelle Tompkins:  I think you were about to go to Italy.

Vicki Lawrence:  Oh, if we were about to go, it was an amazing trip. It was absolutely amazing. We had a ball. We're trying to decide where our next amazing trip is going to be. She said, ‘Are we going to go back and do the southern half of Italy or are we going to go to Paris? Are we going to go to Nice?’ We're trying to decide [laughter].

Michelle Tompkins:  Well, I love that you travel and your family likes to go with you. So I think that's so nice.

Vicki Lawrence:  I can't honestly say that I love to travel. Our daughter has such a wanderlust. She has been all over the flipping world, Michelle. And, I mean, she's been to India. Her favorite European city is Istanbul. She just got back from Germany and Switzerland. She goes all over the world because she's in forestry, and environment, and conservation, and all of that. And so she goes to these conferences all around the world and has colleagues all around the world. And other than that just absolutely loves to travel all around the world. She had a girlfriend, who was Indian, who was at Stanford with her. They did their undergrad and they were roommates. And she went over to India for three weeks to go to a family wedding.  She invited Courtney. So she had this whole Indian experience.

I want to be where the Ritz Carleton is [laughter]. That's kind of more me. And so Italy was great fun. We did Rome. We did the wine country. We did Florence. And we ended up in Venice, which we absolutely fell in love with. And now we're thinking it might be fun to do Roma and go south, down the Amalfi coast, and Sicily, and all of those places. Or Paris. I said, ‘A girl's shopping trip to Paris could be awfully fun [laughter].’ And the Louvre, and all the fun stuff—the Eifel tower and the Louvre would be fun. I don't know. We'll see. But she's much tougher.  She's a tough little traveler. But she's fun to go with. But really I have to say I'm much more of a homebody than she is. Way more. I don't know where she got it because Al's really a wanderlust either. We're homebodies.

Michelle Tompkins:  And this year you've been performing a lot too. Is that correct?

Vicki Lawrence:  I have been. But I won't be. I've moved all of my show dates to the spring so that I can reserve all of my energy for this show. I think all of us really would love for it to be a hit. So we're all going to work really hard on it.

Michelle Tompkins:  I hope so too. Is there something you'd like to say to your fans?

Vicki Lawrence:  Just thank you. Thank you so much for hanging in for all these years and keeping tabs on me. And now I am encouraging everybody not only just to follow me, and David Allen Grier, and Leslie. I don't believe Martin's on Instagram, maybe twitter. But then there's a darling Instagram site called Cool Kids Fox, which is posting a lot of really fun [laughter] stuff. And we're just trying to get the word out to our fans and bring them on board.

But I mean you're always grateful to all these people that have followed you all these years. And it's just incredible. I was talking to Carol recently about how the fanbase just keeps widening and widening. It's incredible. That you have fans that were not even born when you were doing Mama or the Carol Burnett Show. It's pretty incredible.

She was doing a question and answer thing a few months ago. She said, ‘You'll love this.’ She said there was a little guy, a really young kid, in the front row who was raising his hand like crazy, waving it around. And she said, ‘I called on him. And he told me his name.’ And she said, ‘I look at him and I said, 'How old are you?' And he said, 'I'm nine.'‘ And she said, ‘And you know who I am, huh?’ And he said, ‘Surprisingly, I do [laughter].’ I said, ‘Oh, my God. Isn't it incredible?’ It's just incredible. That's very special.

Michelle Tompkins:  Now is there anything else you'd like to add?

Vicki Lawrence:  No, nothing. Just keep laughing. We have to laugh. Don't forget to laugh. Especially nowadays. You know what I mean, Michelle? Especially nowadays. We must laugh.

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Vicki Lawrence returns to TV on Sept. 28 on Fox with The Cool Kids and you can follow her adventures here.

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Michelle Tompkins

Michelle Tompkins is an award-winning media, PR and crisis communications professional with more than ten years experience with coverage in virtually every traditional and new media outlet. She is currently a communications and media strategist and writer, as well as the author of College Prowler: Guidebook for Columbia University. She served as the Media Relations Manager for the Girl Scouts of the USA where she managed all media and talking points, created social media strategy, trained executives and donors and served as the organization’s primary spokesperson, participating in daily interviews with local, regional, and national media outlets. She managed the media for the Let Me Know internet safety and Cyberbullying prevention campaign with Microsoft, as well as Girl Scouts’ centennial Year of the Girl To Get Her There celebration in 2012, which yielded more than 800 million earned media impressions. In addition to her extensive media experience, Michelle worked as a talent agent in Los Angeles, California, as well contracting as a digital content developer and her writing has appeared in newspapers and online. She is passionate about television, theater, classic movies, all things food and in-home entertaining. While she has lived and worked in NYC for more than a decade, she is from suburban Sacramento and gets back there often to watch the San Francisco Giants on TV with her family.