Ron Howard remembers the first time he saw Don Knotts
''Is that man crazy?'' Ronny asked his pa.
"Is that man crazy?" little Ronny Howard remembers asking his dad, Rance Howard, the first time he saw Don Knotts on the set of The Andy Griffith Show.
"No, no, no," Rance told Ronny. "He's a very funny actor."
Ron Howard soon learned just how funny. Growing up on The Andy Griffith Show, the young boy never saw anyone make the show's star Andy Griffith laugh as hard as Don Knotts.
But when Knotts was getting started, the actor — who was surely one of the funniest physical comedians to ever perform on TV — wasn't brimming with confidence. Instead, he felt deep pessimism.
As you might expect, the actor who became famous for playing twitchy characters had a lot of uncertainty about his abilities to make it in Hollywood.
Way before Andy and Don got together for their classic sitcom, Andy remembers Don coming to see him in his dressing room to perform a skit. Don wasn't sure if anybody else would really like it. It was a sketch Don had written earlier for an audition, but he got shot down for a role following a prior performance. Still, he'd cautiously decided to revive the comedy bit.
The skit was, fittingly, about a nervous man who had never given a speech before. He steps to the podium for the first time. In a book about the actors' friendship called Andy and Don, Andy remembers Don demonstrating the skit. The piece ended and Don had one uneasy question to put to his honest friend Ange: "Is it funny?" We imagine Knotts' eyes bugged a little when he asked.
"Lord, Don," Andy recalled saying. "That’s brilliant." To prove it, Andy then broke into a fit of laughter that lasted a long time and stretched pretty much through the duo's life-long friendship.
After Knotts performed this skit for Andy, Griffith encouraged his friend to use it to try out for No Time for Sergeants. This time, the skit was a hit! So of course, Knotts got cast and from that point on, he trusted that Andy understood not just his sense of humor, but his value as a performer. For many classic TV fans, the pair’s comedic chemistry remains unrivaled.
Howard got one of the earliest glimpses of this genius, but like anyone taking in a strange sight for the first time, he was baffled by Knotts a bit. At just five years old, Howard had to adjust to the chaotic energy that Knotts brought to set — both onstage and off.
Behind the scenes, Ron says Don didn't tone anything down. He remembers Andy and Don singing country tunes that Don always cranked up a notch. "He'd get Andy singing and doing these kooky harmonies," Howard said.
For Knotts, the impression he got of his young costar couldn't have been further from the way he felt about his own acting. "To be as good as he was at the age of five was incredible," Knotts told EmmyTVLegends.org. "I couldn't believe it."
It was young Ronny's range that struck Knotts as inspiring: "He could do a tearful scene or a funny scene. Whatever you gave him, he just instinctively knew how to do it. Amazing."