Betty White has been on television — in her words — "forever." Her new memoir, If You Ask Me, focuses on the past 15 years of her life and career.
Far from slowing down, that career has been skyrocketing as a new generation gets to know her style of humor. White tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen that her latest fans are probably a product of just being around for so darn long.
"They kind of think, 'Well, she's always here, so we might as well watch her.' And it's fun. You meet friends of all ages on the street," White says. "By on the street, you understand, I mean walking down the street."
People also get a kick out of a sweet, 89-year-old-lady with a naughty mind, but White doesn't see it that way.
"I don't think of it as naughty," she says. "I don't like dirty humor. I like double entendre, because then the people who get it, enjoy it — and the people who don't get it, don't know about it.
"The people who drive me crazy are the ones who say something with a double meaning, and then they poke you in the ribs with their elbow and say, 'Didja hear what I said, didja get it?'" she adds. "I want to go home at that point."
Her late husband, Allen Ludden, was once asked how close her character Sue Ann Nivens, the home economist/neighborhood nymphomaniac on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, was to the actual Betty White. He responded that they were the same person — except White couldn't cook. The Nivens character did help form the persona many see today, but White says there was other work that defined her, too.
"Long ago, I did a five-and-a-half-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week talk show for four years, early on in Los Angeles," she says. "When you're on that many hours with no script, you know, you get very comfortable — maybe overly comfortable — with that small audience. As I say, you hit and run. If there's a double meaning, you drop it, and then you try to get away as fast as you can."
That careful comedic timing is one of her trademarks. "You can go past that magic moment to comment on something, and the laugh is killed," she says.
"Or, there are a lot of people — actors particularly — who think they can reword a joke and put it in their own language," she adds. "But they put in a couple of extra syllables. Humor's a rhythm, it's like music. You put in a couple of extra syllables, you kill the laugh."
Despite her rejuvenated fame in an age of celebrity madness, success doesn't seem to have gone to her head. "You know how overrated you are, so you can't feel too smart," White says. She credits her mother with advice that keeps her grounded.
"If you lie to anybody on the planet, don't lie to that person reflected in the mirror," she says. "Always be able to meet your own eyes, and know that you're telling the truth."