The Incredible Smirking Woman: A Q&A With Comedian Lily Tomlin

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted May. 2, 2012

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No, I think just we’re just well-matched and we’re just really truly committed to each other. On March 31, we celebrated 41 years.

PW: How about those perennial “women aren’t funny” articles. Do you even bother reading them?

I’ve heard it for so long, it’s nothing new to my generation. No, people wouldn’t even hire women writers so when I started doing specials, I made a point of hiring women writers, and there were plenty of funny ones. Plenty. I mean I hired men too. It’s more a sensibility of someone who really has more of a feel for humanity [but] … political humor is OK. People who have inordinate control over our lives or the power to make things happen or not happen, politicians as individuals are fair game I think. But regular everyday individuals and groups of people, I’m much more interested in creating a collective experience than a separate one. It’s probably because I grew up in Detroit, in the inner city with these Southern parents, [interacting] with every different kind of person you can imagine and I was exposed to too many people to not see that we’re alike.

PW: I read that the first part you played was a murder victim, and then you used it as a headshot. In my house, when a young unknown actress plays a half-naked murder victim, we go, “I got the part!”

I played Kitty Genovese. It was a documentary about her attack. It was such a big press event back then that that 38 witnesses shut their window or turned around while she got murdered in the streets below. So all I did was get beat up! The kid who was my attacker was not a real actor either and he dragged me up and down the sidewalk and every elbow, my knuckles and knees and my shoulder blades were scraped raw. You throw yourself into it like you’re doing something meaningful. [Laughs] And I’m lying back on the stretcher with my eyes open and her death picture, and I used it as my headshot. [Laughs] It wasn’t even a real photograph--it was a proof!

They never did finish the damn thing …  I thought this would be great. I had just come to New York City. I guess it was 1962. I went back to Detroit for the summer because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to be an actor, as evidenced by [the fact that] I didn’t even have a picture. Then I came back to New York City a couple of years later and then I pretty much stayed but that first time I was totally innocent. I got a part in a  college production by circumstance and I made a big hit in it and I thought, ‘This is so great, I’d so like to make a living at this.’ I put on shows all my life as a kid, but as a blue-collar kid it was, “You don’t do this! You get a real job.” But I had lots of characters and commentary but it was sometimes I did with friends … so I thought I’d just go to NYC.

PW: So you just joined Facebook and launched a new website…

We had a website for years it was a much more funky underground website … I had this fantasy like 20 years ago that with the advent of the computer, I’m never going to have any paper in the office again. Of course it never happened. Anyway, so … me and Jane both wanted to have a site together.

We made this Edith Ann app for Apple. I can barely do the games for 6 to 12.  [laughs] Jane always wanted to adopt a child. In fact, I never even told this to anyone so this is a world premiere. We have this nephew who is the handsome-ist guy you’ve ever seen in your life. He’s married now and they have two children of their own. Back in the day, in the 70s we thought of getting his sperm and I guess I would have had to carry on the baby which I’m not too keen on … [or] we could have used my egg and his sperm, “Wait that wouldn’t work because he’s your nephew!” [Tomlin’s shouting off the phone now, laughing, then comes back]. We didn’t do it, thank god. Now, the kid would be grown up and old, dead or in the slammer or something or part of the drug cartel I guess. I always say thank heavens we didn’t carry that out.

PW: I know. People with young kids always look miserable and then sort of. unconvincingly tell you how great it is. 

All of them! To a person they’ll say you know, “I love my kids, but I wish I could have just skipped the parent part and gone to grandparents.”

PW: I have to ask if you have any Philadelphia anecdotes. No pressure if you don’t.

I’m very close to sister Mary Scullion. In fact, I’m going there tomorrow for her for Project H.O.M.E. and whatever enterprise she’s into now to help the homeless.

PW: Sister Mary Scullion is amazing.

Beyond! I’ve known her since I played Philadelphia …  in the early mid-80s and all the residents at Project H.O.M.E., they acted out the play.

PW: So what can fans expect of your show at the Keswick?

The show I’m doing has a multimedia aspect where I run some clips that make fun of me as a celebrity and I might have a tape that a character interacts with and so it has that whole element. Of course it’s character driven. I’ll probably do 12 characters. … Like Ernestine. I still do old classic characters like that cause people would shoot me if I didn’t. Her most recent job is healthcare insurance. Of course she left Ma Bell right away when the divestiture happened.

Thurs., May 3, 8pm. Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., Glenside. 215.572.7650. keswicktheatre.com

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1. cooke said... on May 3, 2012 at 08:16AM

“Brilliant great questions ! Very entertaining.”

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2. David Gitin said... on May 3, 2012 at 11:11AM

“Looking forward to her performance in Miami on Sunday!”

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3. Mamabear1210 said... on May 4, 2012 at 09:58AM

“Great article. Watched her all the time. Always made you laugh without all the vulgarity that comics think are soooo funny today. Her material had solid content and was tuned to perfection. Wish we had more like her.”

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4. Edith Ann said... on Jun 7, 2012 at 09:15PM

“My dad (long gone) always thought you fashioned Edith Ann after me because I lived in Los Angeles at the time! He should know. Of course, I love Edith Ann!”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jun 7, 2012 at 09:16PM

“My dad (long gone) always thought you fashioned Edith Ann after me because I lived in Los Angeles at the time! He should know. Of course, I love Edith Ann!”

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