Magazine article Variety

Honoree Lily Tomlin Appeals to All Ages

Magazine article Variety

Honoree Lily Tomlin Appeals to All Ages

Article excerpt

Most legendary American comedians can't claim the toddler set among their most strident fans, but back in the late 1960s, when Lily Tomlin was on the road performing stand-up at venues across America, she would make sure to schedule two shows - one at night for the adults, and one in the afternoon for their children.

"If I did a show in a nightclub, they'd open the club in the afternoon and I'd have a show where kids would come with their mothers," says Tomlin, who earned her showbiz sea legs as a cast member, first on ABC's short-lived "Music Scene" and then on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" in which the iconic characters she created - Ernestine was a telephone operator with a signature chortle; Edith Ann was a precocious 5%-half-year-old in an oversized rocking chair who'd make appearances on "Sesame Street"- proved a gigantic hit among audiences of all ages.

"I really had fun with those little kids," says Tomlin, who is receiving the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award on Jan. 29 at the Shrine Auditorium. "I felt so badly that I had a show and kids couldn't really come that easily - so now they had a show to come to. I was playing up in Buffalo one year and when the show was going to finish a young couple came to the show, probably in their 20s, and they had this little girl, a toddler, and she used to watch 'Laugh-In' with her grandmother. And the little girl would go around the house toddling around and going [snorting]. [The parents] thought there was something wrong with the kids. Those characters I did in those days were so visual - they just imprinted on the kids. And I really loved and appreciated that perspective."

Tomlin was in her late 30s when she made her bigscreen debut in Robert Altman's 1975 comedic drama "Nashville," which earned her an Academy Award nomination for supporting actress. She famously attended the Oscars with Altman and agent Sam Cohn dressed up as a 1950s movie star, with a fur stole and twinkling tiara. She's since won six primetime Emmy Awards, and has been nominated 23 times, including two for her role as Frankie, an "offbeat" hippie artist on the Netflix comedy "Grace and Frankie"

And in 1986, Tomlin won the Tony for lead actress in a play for her one-woman show "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe," penned by Jane Wagner, Tomlin's longtime partner and wife.

It's hard to even imagine America's canon of great comic cinema without Tomlin, whether she's fighting for women's rights in the workplace ("9 to 5"), satirizing Hollywood in the "The Player" or playing the cantankerous titular character in Paul Weitz's 2015 comedy "Grandma," for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe, proving once again that Tomlin's quirky brand of comedy knows no expiration date.

"So many kids loved that movie," says Tomlin of "9 to 5" "It has such a broadbased appeal. It just blows my mind that kids go and they so very much enjoy something."

But there was a time when Tomlin, born and raised in "hardcore Detroit," was just a fledgling comic angling to hold onto her gig on "Laugh-In"

"I didn't necessarily think of myself as a comedian - I thought of myself as a performer," says Tomlin of those nascent years in the business.

"When I first started at 'Laugh-In,' that was the middle of the third season and they were already rather big stars - Arte [Johnson], Alan [Sues] - they had a big cachet, being on that show. …

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