MINNEAPOLIS — If any state had the right to claim Betty White as its Beloved Elder, it would be Minnesota. She played one of us in her two most iconic roles — happy homemaker Sue Ann Nivens, who scandalized Minneapolis in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and naive Rose Nylund, whose St. Olaf roots informed her every earnest reaction on “The Golden Girls.”
But these days, everyone wants to adopt the comic legend. At age 88, White has reluctantly agreed to host next weekend’s edition of “Saturday Night Live,” a gig sandwiched between her scene-stealing turn in “The Proposal” and the start of her umpteenth sitcom, “Hot in Cleveland,” which debuts in June on TV Land.
Last week she took time to talk about the pressures of live TV, the Facebook groundswell that led to “SNL” and other topics.
Q. What did you think about the Facebook campaign to have you host the show?
A. At first, I thought people were putting me on. I told my agent, “Please say thank you, but no thank you.” I’d rather watch it than do it. But he insisted, and I trust his judgment.
Q. What scares you the most about it?
A. The fact that you work from cue cards. I’ve never been able to do that. I either memorize everything or I ad lib, and I know that won’t be possible with this, because the script changes at the last minute. I just hope the print is big enough so I don’t have to wear my glasses.
Q. Any nightmares from your past experiences doing live TV?
A. When I first started out (in 1949) I did live TV 5 1/2 hours a day, six days a week, for four years. I love it. But there was a dark moment when I was doing a song on Jack Paar’s show. I was singing “When I Fall in Love,” and I lost the lyrics. I just sort of made them up as I went along. That’s the kind of sheer panic I’ll probably feel doing “SNL.”
Q. Do you have any suggestions for skits?
A. I’m told that when I come out onstage, everyone is going to be so excited. I would love it if they introduced me and there was no applause. The audience just stared back at me. I think that could be fun.
Q. Anything off-limits?
A. They promised me I wouldn’t have to do any nudity. And I won’t do any dope jokes. I don’t think dope is a joke. That’s about the only no.
Q. A lot of past female cast members will be on hand for the episode. Is it going to be an all-woman show?
A. I hope not, otherwise I’ll have to hit on the crew.
Q. Who do you think is superhot?
A. My standard answer has always been Robert Redford. I’ve never met the man, but I enjoy fantasizing about him.
Q. The musical guest will be Jay-Z. Are you a fan of his?
A. I’m thrilled I’ll get to meet him and thrilled that he’s going to be on the show. He’s the hottest thing since sliced bread.
Q. It seems that you’ve really struck a chord with young people today. Why is that?
A. That’s an amazing thing. I mean, some kids grew up with me, but their parents also grew up with me and, in many cases, grandparents. I’ve just been around as a fixture. It comes down to good writing. “Mary Tyler Moore” and “The Golden Girls” work for any generation because they’re funny.
Q. If they did a big-screen version of “Golden Girls,” who should play Rose?
A. Isn’t that funny? I don’t know. Mae West is gone.
Q. It seems like young people are surprised that in more recent roles, you’ve showed off your naughty side. Are we finally seeing the real you?
A. I’ve always had a bawdy sense of humor. My father was a traveling salesman and he would bring jokes home. He would say, “Honey, you can take this one to school, but you can’t take that one to school.” Both my parents had a wonderful sense of humor, even through some grim times, and that certainly beats the alternative.
Q. You’ve gotten a lot of attention for your appearances on “The Late, Late Show With Craig Ferguson.”
A. That’s the most fun of anything I’ve done. He’s just incredible. We can’t dare make eye contact, because we’ll both crack up. We just tickle each other.
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