‘The Andy Griffith Show’: Was Barney Fife Actor Don Knotts’ Southern Drawl Real?

by Chris Haney

During a 1999 interview, The Andy Griffith Show star Don Knotts opened up about Barney Fife’s southern accent on the classic show.

As the lovable and goofy Deputy Sheriff of wholesome Mayberry, Fife became one of the most beloved characters in television history. From 1960 to 1968, Knotts starred on The Andy Griffith Show as Sheriff Andy Taylor‘s right-hand man. The pair made quite the duo for five of the eight seasons before Knotts left the sitcom.

The pair policed Mayberry, a small, idyllic American town based off of Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina. While speaking with the Television Academy Foundation in Los Angeles more than two decades ago, Knotts opened up about his character. The interviewer asked Knotts about creating Fife and what influenced the role. Then she specifically asked about Fife’s southern accent and how he developed that for his character. The accent didn’t trouble Knotts since he grew up in West Virginia.

“Of course, I’m from West Virginia so I had a little bit of a hillbilly accent. But we didn’t lean on that,” The Andy Griffith Show star explained in the interview. “Andy, in the beginning, I think, laid on his southern dialect more than he really had. And then he pulled that way back as we went on.”

Many fans might not remember it, but Andy and Barney’s roles on the show were somewhat switched in the very first episode. Andy played the comedic part while Barney played the role more straight and narrow. However, after just one episode, Andy knew that Barney should be the funny one so they changed it up. Part of that was toning down his exaggerated southern accent.

“He pulled the character way down, and just played him as a normal guy,” Knotts shared. “He has a natural southern accent anyways, so he didn’t have to put any more on.”

‘The Andy Griffith Show’ Stars Would Often Improv Additional Scenes on the Fly

The two The Andy Griffith Show stars switched roles early on in the show’s creation like we mentioned. And it turned out to be for the best obviously. Could you imagine a straight-laced Barney Fife or an overly goofy Andy Taylor? Yea, neither can we.

Yet the two actors knew each other’s skillsets so well early on that their chemistry is still evident to this day when watching the classic sitcom. In fact, that same chemistry also helped out the show in more ways than its creators could have imagined. When needed, Griffith and Knotts could create scene ideas out of the blue. While speaking with CNN in 2006, Opie actor and famed director Ron Howard joined Andy Griffith to speak about the show.

During the interview, Howard talked about Knotts and Griffith’s influence on The Andy Griffith Show. When production stalled and needed a little something extra, Knotts and Griffith would take over.

“Every once in a while, [co-creator Aaron Ruben] would come down to the set and say, ‘The show is running a little short,’” Howard said to Griffith. “I have these vivid memories of you and Don and Aaron going off to the side and cooking up some of these really classic two-person bits. I always wondered, did you have those in your hip pocket, or did you just generate them from scratch? It was always amazing to watch these scenes emerge.”

“The three of us would get together. Aaron was a brilliant comedy mind himself. One of us would come up with an idea of what direction to go. Then, the three of us would write it, and then we’d go in and shoot it right fast,” Griffith responded.