A comedian drew laughs from a packed Earle Theatre as she told stories of her father’s early career.
Karen Knotts, daughter of Don Knotts, who played Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show,” performed a show which is new to Mayberry Days and Mount Airy on Friday.
Knotts told the nearly sold-out crowd she has performed “A Deputy’s Daughter” in 26 states, though Friday was the first time in seven years of Mayberry Days appearances for Knotts. She is set to perform “Tied Up in Knotts” today.
“This is a little more like we are just sitting in a living room,” explained Knotts in comparing the two programs.
She showed slides as she presented information, riddled with enough humor to keep the crowd chuckling throughout the program.
Knotts said Don Knotts’ story started in West Virginia, where her father grew up poor in a boarding house run by his grandmother, but Knotts — from an early age — sought stardom.
His first attempt at achieving that came as a ventriloquist, said Karen Knotts. Though her father went to New York as a comedian, he wouldn’t catch his big break and foster a life-long friendship that helped define his life until he landed a part in a Broadway show — a part he never should have had.
Knotts said her father was late to auditions for No Time for Sergeants. He left unhappy, but a casting manager chased him down before he boarded the subway. He ended up landing a role as an army psychologist and also developing a friendship with Andy Griffith.
That’s also how Griffith got the nickname Barney so frequently called Andy Taylor on the iconic television show — Ange.
“My father’s name was Jesse Donald Knotts, but he hated the name Jesse,” explained Karen Knotts. “So, of course, that’s what Andy called him. He shortened it to Jess.”
She explained her father countered by nicknaming his friend Ange.
While Knotts shared many stories about the show and the interactions between her father and other characters, one personal story drew much applause from the crowd.
Her father had been serving in the army during World War II, while her mother spent the time in college. When all the guys returned, a sorority party was planned as a welcome home.
Knotts said her mother drew much attention from all the guys, “but she couldn’t go out with all of them.” Instead, she offered a challenge. The first guy to fix a lamp which hadn’t been working at the house would get a date.
While all the other guys began tinkering with the cord, switch and other parts, her father took a different approach.
“He walked over and took the shade off the lamp,” Knotts told the crowd. “He put it on his head and ordered my mother to turn him on.”
Apparently, she did, said Knotts.
“I had two great parents and a brother I adore,” said Knotts. ” I was very naive and thought everybody had that.”
Knotts said many children grow up without such a supportive environment. For some of them, “The Andy Griffith Show” was about much more than laughs.
“The show taught values and morals some kids don’t learn at home,” said Knotts. “You’re not going to get that from shows on the air today.”
Knotts said that’s one of the reasons the show remains on the air 56 years after the first episode. It’s one of the reasons it will likely continue to show for decades to come.
Knotts’ “Tied Up in Knotts” performance is set to begin at 11:30 on today at The Andy Griffith Playhouse. Tickets are $20 per person and may be purchased by visiting the Surry Arts Council or calling the organization at 786-7889.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.