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Harvey Korman's Legacy Lives on Through His Son, Christopher

Harvey Korman’s Legacy Lives on Through His Son

June 13, 2021 39 min read

The Emmy and Golden Globe winner Harvey Korman was a staple on the Carol Burnett Show making America laugh in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time he was also raising a family, including his son, Christopher, who had a learning disability and speech impediment. In this episode, you will learn how Harvey Korman’s legacy lives on through his son and their contributions to the special education community. Special Educators will hear about techniques Chris learned from his dad and the theater that helped him overcome his learning and speech challenges.

Chris and I had a great conversation about his childhood growing up in his famous father’s shadow and the wonderful life lessons he learned from his dad which have helped Chris be successful today. We talked about the schools he went to (including post-secondary vocational programs), theater troupes, and other programs that promote inclusion. Parents, special ed teachers, speech therapists, and young adults with special needs will enjoy this episode.

Harvey Korman or Carol Burnett Show fans will learn something new about Harvey and his son. In addition, I really must recommend Chris’s book, “OMG! It’s Harvey Korman’s Son.” It is uplifting and full of fun behind-the-scene stories of Harvey’s life from the perspective of his son. Harvey loved his family and got involved in the special needs community and used his name to raise funds for several organizations (which we don’t really talk about in the interview). Just like Patricia (wife of Chris) said, the book is a love letter to Harvey’s fans.

Since this episode is being released before Father’s Day, this book would make a fantastic Father’s Day gift, especially for any dad over 40 years old who would remember growing up with the Carol Burnett Show. Click one of the links in the Resources and Links section below to purchase. (They are NOT affiliate links).

A lot of times famous people get forgotten at time goes on, especially those who were at their height of popularity before the internet. So it is heartwarming to know that Harvey Korman’s legacy lives on through his son! Thank you, Chris!

Listen to the episode on the audio player below or scroll to the bottom for the written transcript for this episode.

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Episode 27 Show Notes

Guest: Chris Korman

Harvey Korman's Legacy Lives on Through His Son, Christopher

Chris Korman (producer), is the son of beloved comedian Harvey Korman, Chris has fifteen years of experience in the entertainment industry, working with artists in various capacities, including brand building and agenting. A graduate of Lesley College in Cambridge, MA, where he studied theatre history, he received training in stage management at Colorado Mountain College under Thomas Cochran. Following in the tradition of his father, Chris has supported such charitable organizations as the non-profit Marianne Frostig Golf Tournament, which he co-hosted and served on the board for twenty-two years; Keshet of Chicago, for which he served as spokesperson in 1997; and the Learning Disabilities Association of America, for which he gave a keynote address in 2017. Chris has worked behind the scenes of TV Confidential since 2016. Chris’s first book Oh My God its Harvey Korman’s Son was released in 2020 by Bear Manour press. He is married to writer/artist Patricia Morris Korman, and they have one son, Scott Korman.

Photos of the Korman family and Chris Korman’s book are used with permission from Chris Korman.

Resources and Links:

Purchase Chris Korman’s book: OMG! It’s Harvey Korman’s Son! on Amazon (Kindle, hardback or paperback)

Purchase Chris Korman’s book: OMG! It’s Harvey Korman’s Son! on Bear Manor Press (Ebook, hardback or paperback)

Connect with Chris on Facebook

Chris Korman on LinkedIn

“Under the Umbrella” Podcast with Chris Korman and Katie Cummings – has not been released yet.

Learning Disabilities Association

Pink Umbrella – Accessible Theater for All. Milwaukee

A.B.L.E. Ensemble – Artists Breaking Limits and Expectations. Chicago

Break the Barriers – Celebrating Victories and Inclusions. Fresno, CA. Promo Video

Berke Emotional Intelligence Assessment

Frostig School – Individuality, Dignity, Kindness, Pasadena, CA

Threshold Program | Lesley University – Two-year, on-campus college experience for students with diverse learning, intellectual, and developmental disabilities. Cambridge, MA

Keshet – Special Needs – Extraordinary Opportunities. Chicago

Landmark College – For students who learn differently. Putney, VT

Chris invites individuals or families who are interested in post-secondary programs such as Keshet, Threshold or Landmark to reach out to him for assistance. Mention that you heard his interview on the Help for Special Educators podcast.

LA Times Article about Harvey Korman’s Life and Career, after his death

Interview with Chris about his father and golf tournament

Sketch from the Carol Burnett Show with Harvey Korman, Tim Conway and Carol Burnett, YouTube Clip

Harvey Korman as Mother Marcus on The Carol Burnett Show, YouTube Clip

YouTube clip of the Flintstones TV Show with Harvey Korman as the voice of the Great Gazoo

Danny Kaye Variety Show

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and resources/links provided on this podcast are that of each guest and do not always represent the views of this podcast or the host. In addition, each listener is encouraged to research all strategies, lessons, curriculum, etc. before using them with students to be sure they are in line with their beliefs, their school district policies, etc.

About the Host

Lisa Goodell, host of "Help for Special Educators" podcast

Lisa Goodell, M.A., launched the “Help for Special Educators” Podcast on April 1, 2019. She has taught for 26 years, including third grade, resource/inclusion (RSP), and mild/moderate self-contained (SDC). Currently, she is an itinerant orthopedic impairment (OI) specialist/teacher for students birth to 21 years old in all general ed and special ed settings.

Lisa has a master’s degree in special education and six special ed and general ed teaching credentials. She has been honored as “Teacher of the Year” at both the elementary and secondary levels. She lives in rural Central California with her family and a bunch of cats. Connect with Lisa here.

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The Help for Special Educators podcast has been listened to in over 65 countries around the world. Thank you to all my listeners!!

Transcript*

*Note: An artificial intelligence (AI) transcription service converted the audio file of this podcast episode into the written words below. The file is mostly accurate, however, be aware that spoken words and conversations are not the same as a conversation in a novel. This means that there will be some inaccuracies or accidental errors (i.e. missing punctuation and words, misspellings, etc.). Thank you for understanding.

Transcript for Episode 27: Harvey Korman’s Legacy Lives on Through His Son

Harvey Korman was a household name in the 60s and 70s. He was a star on the Carol Burnett Show, which was a variety TV show and a pre-cursor to Saturday Night Live. He earned four primetime Emmys and a Golden Globe. But during that time he was also raising a family, including his son, Christopher, who had a learning disability and speech impediment. In this episode, you will learn how Harvey Korman’s legacy lives on through his son and their contributions to the special education community. Special Educators will hear about techniques Chris learned from his dad and the theater that helped him overcome his learning and speaking challenges.

Chris also shares a ton of resources regarding schools he attended and theater troupes which focus on special needs today. So parents and teachers will be interested in this episode.

[Intro] Do you ever find yourself barely able to hold your head above water? Waves of IEPs, data collection, assessments, parent conferences, not to mention lesson plans and seasonal activities are all crashing around you. You need help, but not just from anybody. Grab the lifeline that is the Help for Special Educators podcast. We will equip you with creative solutions and teacher-tested strategies so you can navigate the rewarding, but difficult job as a special ed teacher. This is Lisa Goodell, your host.

Lisa:

[1:54] I’m so excited for this episode! Chris and I had a great conversation about his childhood growing up in his famous father’s shadow and the wonderful life lessons he learned from his dad to which have helped Chris be successful today. If you’re not familiar with Harvey Korman you can go to the Show Notes for this episode and I have links to some popular YouTube videos from when he was on the Carol Burnett Show and some articles on him. There are also links to the al resources we talk about. So check that out at LISAGOODELL.COM/PODCAST27.  

Lisa:

[2:54] So Chris, welcome to the show!

Chris:

Oh, thank you, Lisa, for having me on your show, I was looking forward to it. Oh, and Happy Easter.

Lisa:

Oh yes, thank you. Happy Easter to you too.

Chris:

So I was really thrilled that you responded to my email because talking about the genesis of my journey successfully compensating and learning disability, sometimes the hurdle was, it wasn’t really the disability itself. It was the idea of, oh, you come from a famous father, you have money, what problems could you possibly have? So the image was you have a disability, but the fame of your father wipes that out. But I don’t see where those two correlate, because at the end of the day I had a learning disability. I go to school. I’m Chris Korman, I’m not, Harvey Korman’s son at school. So differentiate between Chris Korman, the student, and Harvey Korman’s son, outside of school. Those are two different realities I have to balance.

Lisa:

Oh yeah. That’s a unique situation to be in growing up. But before we go further, just for those people that are younger and might not know who he is, can I get you to just take a moment and tell us briefly about your father, Harvey Korman…one of the greatest comedians in the 1960s, seventies and eighties?

Chris:

Majority of, I think 25 and older, would know him from the Carol Burnett show, and movies Blazing Saddles, High Anxiety. Young children or pop culture historians would know that my father was the voice of the Great Gazoo on the Flintstones (TV show).

Lisa:

I was over at my brother’s today, since it is Easter. And I was telling him I was going to be doing this interview with you. And he was like, oh man, the Carol Burnett show. That was my favorite. Oh yeah. Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Carol Burnett, Vicki Lawrence. He just went on and on. So my generation definitely remembers the Carol Burnett show and your dad.

Chris:

Wow.

Lisa:

But let’s start with you. Do you want to talk about the school you went to when you were a young child or maybe, about your learning disability and speech disorder?

[4:56] Chris:

I went to a school, a very progressive school, called the Marianne Frostig School for Educational Therapy. Marianne Frostig was a pioneer in special ed. She was the first person to link perceptual disturbances with LD. And her approach was attend to the whole child. Don’t dwell on the negative part of the child or their weaknesses, but to appeal to the whole child. And that was the blueprint for my success. I wasn’t focusing on my weaknesses. It was figure what his strengths are, but in the seventies, people were disabled so much so that it becomes a detriment that people don’t see the whole child. They don’t see who they can be, who they can evolve into. They fixate on the word disabled. I’m able to learn. I learn differently. I have a specific learning style. That’s how I have to articulate it.

Lisa:

So what are some techniques or lessons that you learned that helped you to learn despite your learning disability or LD as you called it?

Chris:

Well, I’ll tell you. It’s funny. My father always had a underlining reason for everything he did because he knew I had a retention problem with money. He said, you learned better when you have a hobby or a subject that you like, like baseball. So if you like something, learning is easier. If you can apply it to something that you really like, retaining information is a lot better. So he said, what do you like to do? I said, I like to do theater. I like acting, so he said, let’s take this approach. Don’t do it because you want to become famous. Do it because you learned the discipline of short-term and long-term memory. I said, what do you mean? It’s like, well, if you got a script on Monday, by the time Wednesday comes, you’ve learned Monday through Wednesday’s script. And then the director comes to you and to make some changes. Now you have to retrain your brain to reassess what the new material is there. By Friday, you’ve now trained your brain to purge and bring in new information in your brain. I thought about it like, God, he’s right. It was the discipline of also the social development part of being a troupe or theater. It wasn’t enough that I was Harvey’s son. It was that I had to raise my game, that those people who do this for a living. So if I was around theater arts people, I couldn’t use the LD as a crutch. I had to up my game. And my dad said that is the part of the social development thing that you learn is the art of compromise. Having a childhood learning disability is no different than managing a production. It has to be a selfless inclusive process. It can’t be any ego, there can’t be pride in that.

Chris:

It’s about the product as a whole. So he always took that approach. You know, it was don’t do it because you want the attention, take the skill of learning new material, short term, long term memory. And then you can apply that to other parts of your life.

Lisa:

Right.

Chris:

Because I’m going to script on Monday for a school play. And by the end of the week, I had the 150 pages memorized. He said, take five pages at a time, memorize it. Then take another five. I’m thinking, oh my God, okay. My dad got a script on Monday. He got four more scripts by Friday. He’d seen the same script revised 20 times. He had a retention problem too. The percentages of males being diagnosed with LD (learning disability) is greater than women, because women have a better sense of maturity about themselves and how to prioritize and how understanding their mind, where a guys just have this sports mentality. I’ll just play sports. It’s like, I’ll just get through. I don’t worry about the grades. My father will bribe the administrator or something like that. But my father said, no, no, you’re not going down that path. Everything you do should go towards the idea of wanting a discipline that you can take with you for the rest of your life. And I didn’t think about it until I did a couple of shows where it became easy for me to retain information.

Lisa:

Now, when you started doing these shows with this high school or college or…

Chris:

Junior High, actually.

Lisa:

Oh… early on, that’s good.

Chris:

Yeah, I did. Bye Bye Birdie. I did play two roles in that and I have to tell this story. I’ll make it brief, but we did a Saturday Night Live version, back in junior high. We did a Christmas tree lot. Different people with different accents and dialects. And my father brought my idol. Dick van Patten. The father from Eight is Enough. So I looked down stage left, and then there is Dick van Patten and my father laughing. So he brought my idol.

Chris:

But I tell you, I took this in high school. I took this to college with me. It was really the art of compromise and the discipline of being around other people who did this for a living. I couldn’t play the Harvey card because it didn’t matter who my father was. It was can I deliver the goods? My director said, I don’t care who your father is. You have to be off script in a week. So sometimes my name was a hindrance sometimes its a help. It has its pros and has its cons. And I’ve learned that over 45 years in the public eye, because my father and I did share for 13 of the 22 years, a golf tournament for children with learning disabilities.

Lisa:

So was this golf tournament for the school that you went to, then?

[10:01] Chris:

Yeah, Marianne Frostig… yeah. So from the age of five to the age of 22, I was in the public eye with my own golf tournament, and to be on stage performing in front of Gerald Ford [president of US], Clint Eastwood, and hobnobbing with people from American airlines and Lexus. This is not normal.

Lisa:

Right.

Chris:

But my father said Chris, LD, or no LD, speech impediment or no speech impediment, you’re out there because you’re the face of Frostig. After the thirteenth year, after he got tired of the bureaucratic part of it, he said, oh, you can do the tournament now. I said, Dad, they aren’t going to come from me. People come because it’s you. He said, Chris that’s not true. I said, who comes from me? He said, I have Peter Marshall. I have all these famous people calling me and saying, is Chris doing the tournament this year. You represent the best of what Frostig has to offer. People come to see your evolution. But I didn’t think of it in those terms. I thought of it as the image of oh there’s Harvey Korman. They’ll come for Harvey because he’s a name, he’s a brand. He said they tolerate me, but they love you. And me, the age of five, I started public speaking with a speech impediment and learning disability. And I had buck teeth. I’ve had surgery on my teeth. I had reconstructive jaw surgery. I’ve had surgery on my eyes. And if my bio doesn’t tell you this, I had a thing called Hyliene, H Y L I E N E disease, which is what John F. Kennedy Jr. had. Lack of oxygen to the brain and the central nervous system for a preemie. So from early age, I had suffered brain damage. I wasn’t supposed to live past 72 hours, but the fact that I’m sitting here talking to you is a pretty miraculous thing in itself.

Lisa:

Never say never.

Chris:

Never say never. So the blessings in my life are multiple. I’m married, have been for 18 years to my wife, Patricia, I have an 18 year old son, Scott. And if you had told me that was possible, I would told you, ha ha, but that goes back to my dad’s life credo. He said, Chris, the only time in life you ever fail is when you don’t try. And that is the life credo he imposed on me at an early age. I will not let you use the LD as a crutch. And it’s very easy for our parents to use the LD as a crutch. Maybe the parent is suppressing the fact that they have a disability, so they don’t self-diagnose themselves. So they say, well, just go do sports. Just don’t worry about the LD. And we’ll take you to school. But life isn’t about just getting through something. You have to take responsibility and have a game plan. And he never let the LD be the crutch. And he also said, when I’m gone, it’s like you use my name to help other people. That is the best way to use our name and honor me and honor yourself is to use it to elevate other people. I hope I’ve done that graciously on his behalf. Because my dad says fame is fleeting, but family’s forever. He was a very wise man. And that’s really why I wrote the book. It’s called, “Oh my God! It’s Harvey Korman’s son.” And the real reason for writing the book was to celebrate that he’s a father first and celebrity second. And it was hopefully to be a motivating factor as far as opportunity to seminars and speaking engagements. And then the pandemic happened. I’m still planning on doing the once the pandemic ends. I plan on doing some speaking engagements and talk about my journey with my LD, with other organizations all over the country.

Lisa:

I really enjoyed reading your book. One thing it talks about is how your dad really was a spokesman for the learning disability community on top of doing the fundraising golf tournaments for Frostig. I love how you are wanting to follow in his footsteps. And like you said, honor his name by your own involvement in organizations that help people that have disabilities. Do you want to talk more about that?

Chris:

And I’m involved with one Milwaukee right now. It’s called the Umbrella Theater of Wisconsin. It’s run by Katie Cummings and we’re actually launching a podcast called “Under the Umbrella with Chris and Katie.” And we’re going to celebrate people who have made seminal contributions to society who have a disability.

Lisa:

That’s awesome. I am sure that my listeners of this podcast would want to check that out.

Chris:

So we’re securing the funding now for it. So I think people want something dynamic coming out of this pandemic. They want something that’s going to be inspiring. Somebody needs a forum to talk about their process. There is a program called the ABLE Ensemble program in Chicago, run by Katie Yohe, who is Katie Cumming’s good friend. And there’s a program in Detroit and Arizona that do the same thing. It’s a theater program that serves people with disabilities. And I gravitated towards Wisconsin cuz my mother’s from Wisconsin. My dad’s from Chicago.

Lisa:

Now, something we have in Fresno is Break the Barriers. It’s kind of like the inclusive theaters you’re talking about, but they break the barriers of disability through their integrated programs that have kids and adults. And they focus on gymnastics, dance, martial arts…they have adaptive sports for veterans. When my daughter was little, I took her there. And so she didn’t have a disability, but they’re integrated classes.

[15:01] So anyone can go. So there were kids in her class that had all kinds of physical disabilities, as well as intellectual disabilities, but they, they see what their strengths are and they work with that. They also have a performance gymnastics group, which is incredible. They perform at professional basketball halftime shows. They’ve gone to other countries like China. And I think they did start doing some theater or at least I remember they did, like a special Nutcracker performance. And they have been around, I think, since like the seventies. I’ll put links in the show notes for Break the Barriers and the Umbrella Theater and other places that you were just talking about.

Chris:

That’s wonderful.

Lisa:

Can I ask you a follow up question from something you said earlier, when you were talking about how you get a script on Monday, you have to work through it with a short-term memory, the long-term memory. So what I wanted to ask is with that skill that you learned from your theater classes, since you did that at an early age, starting in junior high, were you able to transfer that to other subjects in school when you have to learn information far as history or math or English?

Chris:

Yeah, mostly English class… Math, not so much, but psychology class. When it came to test time, that was the key. When you have four finals in two days, English, math, science, and the say psychology. I took the two that are more difficult for me to absorb. And I took those two days to prep those two classes and then the classes I knew that came easily for me. I didn’t bother so much and I did better because I prioritize my time. The point wasn’t to try to trick us up, like, you know, the DMV. The point was to study and pass, but the material in schools can be so dry. So you had to keep it interesting. So I said to the teacher give us the bullet points so we can study per chapter. What really is the point of each page? He said, that’s a really good idea. So he would make bullet points. So he would do five chapters. He’s all learn these chapters and what the content of those chapters are. So absorbing eight pages at a time, six pages at a time, I applied what I did with theater, with my other classes. And that’s how I found learning easier. If you apply it to something that you love. So my dad always kind of reason why he had me involved with theater was not a, I want you to follow my footsteps. It was a calculated thing for him to say, find things in your life that are going to make your life easier skills, disciplines that you can take with you. And I thought, okay, like I’m doing ratios in math. So he said, okay, let’s apply it to baseball.

Lisa:

Yeah, since you liked baseball so much.

Chris:

Let’s figure out what the batting average of the player is. Okay. So three hits out of 10 that’s 300. So you could do percentages. I said, well, if I have to be percentages just without baseball, it’s a very dry and boring subject.

Lisa:

What would you suggest for special ed teachers or speech therapists?

Chris:

I’m glad you asked that because it’s something that I had been trying to explore, but the speech pathology association for different cities is, I contacted some of them. And I said, how would you apply the idea of speech pathology to a child with speech impairment. So what my speech pathologist did now, mind you, I would just use pathologists prior to the surgery on my jaw and post surgery, because I had braces on my teeth. And when you have braces on your teeth, it’s hard to talk a lot about saying, right? Each my speech pathologists took tongue twisters and certain songs because you hear in sports, a muscle memory. So it’s the same thing with the tongue. An actor or a singer has to know where the tongue has to be for every same note on every song. So I said, in order for me to accelerate my ability to work on fiction and do something, again, back to my father was the speech pathologist had to understand that I was saying the tongue twister of a song or a song that’s fast. You’re having that student listen to the song. And I said, take certain chunks of each lyric of every song. And eventually what happened is they know where their tongue has to be for every lyric, every song, every word. And that’s how I used theater to apply to the speech pathology part of my struggle. If you’re going to sing a song fast, like say Robert Preston in The Music Man. “We have trouble right here in River City.”

Lisa:

Oh Right! I love that. My husband’s favorite musical is The Music Man.

Chris:

Mine too. (And I idolized Shirley Jones who played Marian.) Robert Preston was not a natural singer. He talks sec. [sprechstimme] And that’s a skill that I learned.

Lisa:

Oh, And you know, and he does do that in that music. Right?

Chris:

What people don’t realize when he said We had trouble right here in River City, he’s actually singing to his own voice. It’s a prerecording of his voice. You would never know if you hear it. Because most people they do playback and they record the song. And then he have to try to lip sync it. He actually did that live.

[15:00] But one of the things I really want to gravitate towards at least speech pathology is singing is fun, if you like it. Doing a play is fun, if you like it. So for someone with a speech impediment, I talked with Katie Cummings about this, As she modifies all the roles for people, depending what disability they have. So it goes back to the issue of, okay, it’s diction. It’s clarity. If you have to sing the same song for eight shows a week on Broadway, you gotta be able to have a muscle memory, but my tongue has gotta be up here or down low on this lyric… And you learn that skill as a performer, I use the idea to apply to my speech issues. And that’s one thing that I wanted to talk to the speech pathology industry about. Is coming and talking about how I use tongue twisting songs, how I used dialogue that was very wordy to help me get over diction and clarity issues. And again, back to the pandemic, I was already to go all over the country to do speaking engagements, still have dialog with the speech pathology association. They’re like, well, when this pandemic is over, come back to us.

Lisa:

Did you ever consider pursuing entertainment as a career?

Chris:

Well, one I’m nowhere as close to as talented as my father. He had the training, he went to Goodman Theater for five years. He’s a classically trained actor, but having been around enough well-known people, Lisa, I have found the ability (and I don’t know if I just naturally just cultivated the skillset) is assessing somebody else’s talent. They’re going to what they need. And then saying, or being an agent, you need a manager. What do you need in order to take the next step? So kind of become a under the radar talent scout. And I use that skill, how people can use my name. Most of the time I get, oh my God, I can’t even believe it. It’s Harvey Korman’s son, why are you contacting me? It’s like, well, you’re really talented. What do you do with your current signal? And you know, it’s hard to, in this business. I was like, tell me about it. I know enough about the business not to be in it. I know enough about the business to help others. And I mean, that’s the key is I don’t want to be in the industry and I wouldn’t begin to think I could be as good as my father, because I’m not, I didn’t have that drive, but taking what his cache has provided me and helping getting people get managers or agents. That’s my credibility, is that something assumes that I’ve been around this long enough that I know what talent looks like and I do. But I ask the person who I’m helping just to meet me halfway. Show up to audition, because I can’t get that resource back. If I burn a resource because my name I burn on resource because of my father, not because of me. I can’t get that name back because I networked on my father’s name.

Chris:

There are more people in this industry and performing arts, Lisa, they’re more afraid of success than they are of failure. Is that the idea that they have to sustain that level of commitment is so great. Do I want that burden? Do I want to be the breadwinner for entire family, do I want to have to feel like I have 20 people in my pocket. I know that feeling to be, my father went through that. He was the breadwinner for all the people, right? I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Facebook. I have friends that are actors. Most agencies do not take submissions off the street. You have to have a name already before they even consider you. It is so cut throat. I have to tell you there’s over 120,000 actors, probably, in Equity, maybe 5% of them work. And it’s the same thing with SAG [Screeen Actors Guild]. They have to really want it,

Lisa:

Right.

Chris:

And there are sacrifices you have to make. My dad always said the biggest sacrifice is sometimes family. They’re the casualty in the success of that person achieves. And my father is a four-time Emmy winner. I have his Golden Globe, by the way, he dedicated it to me when I was seven. This is my favorite son. Love, Dad. 1974, CBS. It’s one of the most cherished in my life because he didn’t have to do that. It was his award, he earned it. But he’s in the Television Academy Hall of Fame. And someone asked me on Facebook and said, what is the pro and con of being in the public eye? It Is you don’t want to accept the fact that sometimes your father’s not at the parent conference. That’s why he said Someday, Chris, I’m not going to be here. Who’s going to be your own advocate? If you can’t articulate what you need, if you can’t articulate your rights, needs and your dreams, who’s going to do it for you?

Lisa:

Right. Well, and he modeled for you how to advocate for you. And then he wanted you to be independent, to do it for yourself. Instead of him feeling that his identity comes from doing everything for you.

Chris:

Right.

Lisa:

That’s good. That’s good for parents of students of all kinds of disabilities. And that’s also good for us special ed teachers as well, because we really need to focus on teaching students of all ages, how to advocate for themselves, because eventually they’re going to be an adult and we want them to be independent and to be able to do it on their own. But we have to start with baby steps when they’re younger.

Chris:

Right. You think about it. We are our own business card. We are our own billboard. We are a brand. And if you take it like that, you’re always evolving the brand going forward, moving forward, because I’m Harvey Kormans son, but I’m a successful person with a learning disability who’s done a lot of great things. So that’s a two-headed brand. Which one am I selling? Depends on who I’m talking to, but I’m always having to push both those agendas forward because my behavior…

[25:00]… is reflective of my father and my mother, obviously. So my efforts reflect their parenting. How do you know what’s possible if you sit in your room, and don’t open the shades and let the sun in, what are you afraid of? No, nobody’s perfect. I said to my dad, that coming from somebody who cross dresses for a living, you really ought not to talk. He said you’re not going to let me live that down are you? I said Nah! [Reference to Harvey’s recurring female roles such as Mother Markus in the sketch “When the stomach turns” on the Carol Burnett Show.]

Chris:

Here’s the funny thing about it is people say, how old is the Burnett show? I’d say 53 years old, because I know that because I was born May of 67 as the Burnett show went on September 11th of 1967. And here’s a generational thing. I didn’t watch The Burnett Show. I would watch it because my father was on it. Half the material on those shows, let me tell you, Lisa was way over my head. I didn’t get the spoofs. I probably dating myself, but my TV shows were The Ghost of Mrs. Muir, Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch. That was my era. So I went to the [Burnett Show] tapings 71 to 77. I went to about 85 tapings. Maybe, maybe more, but that wasn’t my type of programming. I mean, when I grew up, my idols were John Ritter and Robin Williams, not to dismiss my father, but I didn’t grow up with my father, in the sense that he was not my comedic sensibility. That wasn’t my thing. So I have a greater appreciation for him now because when I meet people who know him, who are really well known, I’m talking to the people that idolized when I was young and now they’re still in the business and I’m like, oh my God…

Lisa:

Right, It’s a surreal kind of place to be at times, I’m sure.

Chris:

It is. I met Robin Williams. My dad directed a special with him and Carol Burnett and Carl Reiner, Whoopi Goldberg in 87. And I met Robin when he was backstage. And he said, you have no idea how much I idolized your father. I couldn’t get that around my head. I said, you’re an icon. He said, your father is an icon, Chris. Anybody who watched comedy studied your father! I’m like, wow. It’s a generational thing.

Lisa:

Yeah. But his legacy just keeps on going with the internet with streaming, with YouTube. You can still go and watch scenes from the Carol Burnett show or the other projects that your dad did. And obviously he continues to live on in you, and all the different things that he’s instilled in you. I love some of the different phrases that he taught to you that I’m sure that you have taught your son as well.

Chris:

Thank you, Lisa. I really appreciate you have me on your show. Let me talk about stuff that I don’t normally get to talk about. It’s cathartic for me to actually talk about it because you get to work through things and talking about things that you don’t normally process until you’re much older and you go, oh, that’s why you had me do that.

Lisa:

Yeah. Having the wisdom of age does make a difference. I have found that in my forties and now into my fifties, it’s like, oh, there’s a whole different perspective I have now that I could not have had when I was younger.

Chris:

Yeah. Well, I had that discussion with my son sometimes. He’s 18, I’m 53. So generationally, you know, really bad father jokes. He said are usually really need new material. I said, like Scott, I grew up in, in the eighties, give me a break. My comedic sensibilities aren’t what yours are now. I mean, I mean, he knows who Robin Williams is and he knows all these people, but generational he’s like Aww, you are so out of date with, you know, comedy. He has expressed interest in doing voiceovers and doing dialects. And I said, you know, Scott, you do your schooling and figure out what you want to do. They’d be getting you into that world with me. No problem. But I’ll tell you to do it because you want to do it, not do it because your grandfather’s Harvey Korman. It would be not the right reason to do it because it’s cutthroat.

Chris:

You have to really want to do it to suffer kind of rejections this industry can throw at you. Dad didn’t get his first steady job until he was about 33 on Danny Kaye, which was a variety show back in the sixties and that catapulted him to the Burnett show. But he struggled a good portion of his life. And you remember back then there was only three channels, CBS, NBC, ABC, and then of course we had PBS. But the rat race then isn’t the rat race now. You know now we have all these other channels competing with cable.

Chris:

There’s something else that he did. He would take words you hear on Jeopardy or see in the New York Times…He would take words that I’ve never heard. And he would give them to me on a piece of paper and said, fill in these words and understand the definition of them and use them in sentences. And when I got to college, I took the assessment in my first year at college and my vocabulary tested above college level. And they said, how is it that you know these words, Chris? Because my father taught me how I sound, how I articulate myself how I use them correctly. Right. Everybody can use big words is how you use them. And again, that goes back to not using the LD as a crutch. You are articulating the brand, you advance the brand. I can talk. I never really thought about this until you talked to me and asked me. So I thank you for bringing out these subjects. I mean, because most people don’t ask me about these things.

Lisa:

[24:50] Yeah. Well, this has been fascinating to hear from your perspective and just the background of how you grew up and then just seeing how you’ve been able to apply this to your life. I just think it’s really interesting. I also really enjoyed reading a copy of your book. So I think that listeners might be interested in getting that. I don’t know if you want to stay a little bit about that and tell us how we can get a copy.

Chris:

Well, it is on Amazon.com and BearManorPress.com It is called, “Oh My God! It’s Harvey Korman’s son.” My wife has said like you have all these stories. You have all these incredible memories. Let this book be a love letter to your father’s fans. So I know my wife, the gratitude.

Lisa:

It is, it totally is. That is a very good description. You have a lot of humor. You tell a lot of fun stories of experiences with your dad, with other celebrities, but what really struck me, and which is what I’ve asked you about today is just how he really encouraged you to not give up despite your disability, to not let any of that hold you back from becoming the person that you could become.

Chris:

You must be a great setup man, because you just hit on something that I never talked about… With that issue about the kind of expectation a parent puts on a child. I think the key is for the parent not to accelerate the maturation process so it lets the parent off the hook. In another words, you don’t push your child to succeed faster, just so the parent can feel less insecure. You know what I’m saying? It’s like, my father always said, you have to mature at your own pace at your own time, you have to evolve and become what you became, where you are now, but you had to go through those other stages. You have to know where my father, my mother raised me in the highest society part of the world, since that is where my my father was, it would be very easy for my mom, and my father to say, you have to behave reflective of what we want you to be, not who you are or who you have to become.

Chris:

I have a speech inpediment and a learning disability. We have Carol Burnett. You have all these famous people over at your house. It could have been very easy for my mom and dad to say, you stay upstairs. Like the black sheep of the family. No. They let me come downstairs, they let me engage. Because there again is the idea of unconditional love issue. How do you tell a child? This is not okay to be different… Is it to tell them not to be around social opportunities? How are they going to know what’s right and wrong, behavior wise? they won’t know unless you give them the opportunity to find what’s appropriate and not inappropriate to bring up at the party.

Lisa:

Right. Yeah. And definitely in the 50s, 60s, 70s, those were times when it was much more common for families to kind of push a child that might’ve had a disability aside. I think there were times then when doctors would even recommend maybe institutionalizing a child that has a more severe disability, probably more severe than learning disability or speech impediment. But that certainly was an era where that happened. And it really wasn’t until the seventies, eighties, nineties, when all of that started changing with the federal law coming into effect. Even the fact that you ended up going to the Frostig School, shows that in the time that we grew up, they didn’t have as many learning disability classes on school campuses. They had some, but it was evolving, where in your situation, they probably found that, oh, they could really hone in and focus and help you by going to a different school.

Chris:

You got to remember when I got out of high school, there’s the Landmark college in Putney, Vermont. Is a college for people with disabilities. There is a vocational three-year program called Threshold in Boston, which is a part of the Wesley college campus. I went there too. For a semester you do childcare. And the second semester you do elder care. And I got a degree in elder care. And then you learn independent living skills and how to budget and how to shop even with coupons. And it’s a three-year program because there aren’t really not that many programs, Lisa. There is a vocational program in Chicago called Keshit. I spoke there at one of their dinners and there’s one in Palm Springs. There’s only a handful of programs that are just specifically designed for people with disabilities. I wouldn’t be where I am without the world of special ed. This is my way of giving back to all of you who made this field what it is the best way to honor that is to get back to that field. And that’s how I had to approach it that way. It’s not like I’m digging into your pockets. I don’t come from that position. My point is to create a scholarship with my dad’s name on it, at Goodman Theater in Chicago or Umbrella or A.B.L.E. In Chicago. So hopefully it’ll still come to fruition after this pandemic ends.

Lisa:

Right.Yeah. That’s fabulous. And I’m going to get all this information from you on the scholarship, the different schools you went to all the different things and we’ll put them all in the show notes. So if people want to follow up, they can get some of that information

Chris:

Please extend to your listeners. If they want to call me up and say, Hey, can you talk to somebody at Landmark? I mean, if I can use my name and call the director of the Landmark College and say, hey, you know, I realize you got your enrollment time is coming up. I’d like to refer you some students.

Lisa:

To make those connections for students…

Chris:

[35:00] Right, and at Threshold. And other programs depending on what city they’re in, if they’re in Chicago, Keshit, which is Yiddish for a rainbow of hope in Chicago, which is a vocational program. They lived there on the premises. So I would say independent living process. When you put in the landmark information on your show notes and other programs say, Hey, Chris welcomes you to call on him. Email me and say, Hey, I’d like to find out more about the Landmark program or Threshold.

Lisa:

Yeah. That’s great. That’s, that’s fabulous. Thank you so much for that generous offer. And I hope someone takes you up on it too.

Chris:

I hope so, too. It’s something that I find interesting. When I went one of the Frostig golf tournaments,, I had parents come up to me and say Frostig suggests that students have a child psychologist after school because the ratio of teachers back then were two teachers to 13 students, you don’t see that anymore. What she inferred was because LD is a very taxing on the emotions of the child is that you can’t have a child acting out so badly that it impedes the ability for the teacher to do his job or her job daily. So there’s an emotional residue of a disability that in the bigger impediment to the educational experience and the LD itself as parents understand the emotional part of it often be the bigger impediment to figuring out early diagnosis. I went to a regular school. My hand/eye coordination, fine/gross motor skills were not comparative to the other children. That’s when my parents knew the jig was up and he needs to go to a special ed school. And thank God we found Frosting, but that’s not the norm. So I think you have to, you know, let’s think about what your child’s strengths and weaknesses are. And that’s why early diagnosis is key.

Chris:

And I’ll tell you something else. I was 22 when I took this test, it was a career evaluation test. In 40 minutes, I went to a psychologist from Pennsylvania where I was living and it might’ve been the smartest test they ever took because it totally out of the equation what was realistic or not realistic career wise. It was a specific career assessment that broke down my emotional maturity and it asked questions that would reflect what kind of field I should be in. And I would tell parents have your kkds take that test.

Lisa:

Do you remember the name of it?

Chris:

I’ll find it. I think I know where it is and I’ll send it to you. [Berke Assessment] The reason why I think it’s important to take, do not wait till the senior year to do it, do it maybe the year before senior so you get all your ducks in a row. That way, when they come out of college, it makes them say, well, vocational college might be an option. Okay. What vocation is realistic for your childhood pursuing? And my assessment in 40 minutes. And it came out and said, I should work with the elderly. Let’s understand there’s a difference between empathy and sympathy, but you can start it by a level of compassion. And the fact that I understand what it is for people to see me not see me as a person, but to see me that I’m working at a pace that no one else is working.

Chris:

I understand how elderly people feel, right. So I could take that time to spend more time with Mrs. Johnson and help her with her wheelchair, because I can understand what it is to be seen as, not as a whole person. There’s somebody who sees her going slower, Come on, Mrs. Johnson, hurry up. I don’t have all day. But you can’t tell that to an elderly person. Right? They need that unconditional care. So that’s what that test told me. I’ll find that test. And I’ll send you the link because I’ve had five or 10 people ask me about that test. It was so specific. I never had a test like this. And I came away feeling like, oh my God, I know what field I want to be in.

Lisa:

Yeah. That sounds like that would be very helpful to any student in high school.

Chris:

It would. And that’s the other thing about the diagnosis of the LD of the child. We talked about it. My mom and my father were all there. The raising me up in the public eye. It could have been so immobilizing that they could have done nothing, or they didn’t do nothing. They did something. They jumped on each disability issue that came in front of them, instead of waiting until the last minute. They jumped on what the problem was at that moment. They addressed it.

Lisa:

Yeah. Well this has been a fabulous conversation. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it, Chris, I appreciate the stories and your thoughts and your great tips and ideas. And I think that our listeners are going to want to follow up on some of the things that you’ve shared with us today. So thank you so much.

Chris:

Well, I thank you. It’s been my pleasure. And again, and I say this for all listeners, you can’t find a better podcast to listen to than Lisa’s. I mean that from the heart. You supply a need that very few people provide and you should be commended for that and itself. And so it’s been my pleasure to do your show.

Lisa:

Thank you so much. So yeah, I think it does fill a need. And I was just looking at my stats and people have listened to my podcast from 55 countries, which I think is just crazy. It’s not anything that I would have expected. And so hopefully special ed parents, special ed teachers all over can get some ideas. Then they can go and do the same type of thing where they’re at because all of us can’t be in Chicago. We can’t all be in a certain city, but certainly we can maybe multiply what’s happening other places.

Lisa:

I think the key thing is you share that information with other people. Here’s the problem. There’s a arrogance about people who network. Everybody hoards information, because they don’t want anyone to step on their territory or take away a resource that they need, or they have found a niche and they don’t want to share that material or resources with other people. So they hoard it. Like I said, the raising a child with a learning disability and managing the theater production is the most inclusive process, but it requires selflessness and no ego. You have to be able to say, Hey Lisa, I had some information, can you share with somebody in New York or Chicago or Indiana? You go, great. What information that I can have that I can part with you? And you can help your listeners in your community. That’s what people in this networking industry should be doing, but they’re so afraid of somebody stepping on their spotlight.

Lisa:

And it’s all about bringing the special ed community together. We’re all on the same team in a sense. And we want to help each other out with different ideas. And so that’s where I come from more.

Chris:

There’s only one stupid question that it was the one that was never asked because people don’t want to look weak. people to think somehow asking them for help is a weakness. No…staying stagnant and not evolving is the weakness. Not evolving because you’re afraid you might look less than because you might ask somebody a question cause you need help. Nobody ever in their lifetime in any way, shape or form in your world. My world ever achieved on their own. I really believe this. We are only as successful. It was as those who believe in us.

Lisa:

That’s great. Have you been encouraged us? You’ve inspired us. And I just thank you so much for being on the show.

[Ending] Now, when I start to get stressed or overwhelmed about school stuff, I find it helps to take a moment to slow down, stop and focus on my breathing. Sometimes I also might say the Serenity Prayer aloud or in my head. Here it is, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I might also add a few of my own words. Here’s a sample for us special educators: Help us to listen and truly understand our students. Please give us words, actions and solutions, which will help in difficult situations. May our classrooms be peaceful places where teachers, staff, and students learn and thrive. And after that, I try to go out and find someone else to help because helping others keeps me from selfishly dwelling on my own problems.

Thank you so much for listening and I hope you heard something helpful during this episode that you can implement in your teaching. Remember, you are amazing what you do makes a difference and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Go find someone else to encourage because they probably need to be reminded that they are amazing, too.

End [44:14]

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  • Tiffany Manha June 17, 2021 at 8:40 AM

    Another fantastic interview by Lisa Goodell!! Thank you for continuing to inspire and support the Special Ed community! Chris Korman thank you so much for sharing your story and your journey. What an inspiration! What great family support you had. I look forward to reading your book.

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