Don Knotts once explained how Tim Conway turned Mayberry's biggest goof into a ''straight man''
"Where Andy pulled back for me, I had to pull back for Tim."
Image: Buena Vista Distribution
There was nothing straight about Mayberry's squawking, twitchy, well-meaning deputy Barney Fife. He spent half his time on the series with his eyes bugged out of his head as far as they could go, while Sheriff Andy Taylor would shake his head at good ol' Barn.
But once Don Knotts left Mayberry for a movie career, Knotts found himself sharing scenes with The Carol Burnett Show funnyman Tim Conway in movies like The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Prize Fighter and Gus. Suddenly, one of them had to find some semblance of restraint as a comedic actor, and according to an interview with Knotts for the Archive of American Television, it was Don:
"Tim’s a funny guy. He’s a great comedian. Everybody knows Tim Conway is a wonderful comedian. I had to change my style for Tim because Tim’s the real crazy one. Where Andy pulled back for me, I had to pull back for Tim, because he was the guy doing the really crazy stuff. So, I was still being a comedian, but in a different way, because I had to play straight for Tim."
Knotts went on to compare his work with Conway in Seventies films to one of comedy's greatest duos of all time, "So like in Laurel and Hardy, I became the Hardy for Laurel, and it was a switch for me – and it was fun!"
Of course, Knotts' idea of a "straight man" isn't quite the same as Andy Griffith's, who was one of the greatest and purest straight men of all time. In his movies, Knotts delights with typical Knotts antics, it's just a bit more subdued any time Conway's in the scene.
This type of special chemistry and necessary restraint is often cited as a key to The Carol Burnett Show's success, where in skit after skit, the different players would take turns holding back to give the spotlight to each other. Apparently, when it came to making movies with Tim Conway, it was Knotts' turn to tone it down, but he reiterated, working with Conway was well worth it: "I enjoyed that. Tim is hysterical."
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