Who said, “I personally think we developed language because of our deep need to complain.” If you answered “Lily Tomlin,” you win a trip to Beverly Hills for the Paley Center retrospective “She's Making Media: Lily Tomlin.”
When she first gained fame in the late '60s on Laugh-In (look it up, kids), Tomlin's trademark characters — snarky (before there was such a word) telephone operator Ernestine, precocious 5-year-old Edith Ann; sage bag lady Trudy, among them — were instant icons, hilarious yet with a touch of poignancy. You could write your entire MFA thesis on her career: She was one of the first female comedians to dress in drag, and the first to have a solo show on Broadway.
At the event on Monday, June 4, after film clips, she'll talk about her TV roles and her work for women's issues, and she'll answer audience questions.
Congratulations on your Paley tribute. Are these things fun for you?
I won't answer the “fun” part. However, I would do anything for Pat Mitchell and the Paley Center — even appear in public with words that cannot be retrieved spontaneously leaving my lips.
How do you picture Edith Ann turned out as an adult?
Edith doesn't like those kinds of questions — she thinks she's all she needs to be right now! If I have anything to do with it, she'll never be an adult! However, if she breaks the fourth wall, I hope she grows up to be Rachel Maddow.
You need to host Saturday Night Live again — it's been far too long! Does that appeal to you? What current topics would you like to make fun of?
I guess Kristen Wiig has left the show, but I'd like to see her do Zuckerberg and the Facebook IPO fiasco.
What TV show would you most like to do a guest spot on?
I've done a lot of guest spots recently: Damages, NCIS. I've had a load of fun doing Web Therapy as Lisa Kudrow's mother, Putsy Hodge; Eastbound & Down, which I'm mad for (and Danny McBride, the star). Speaking of mad — love to be on Mad Men, even though I don't smoke or drink much. I'd fit right in. In 1962, I worked as an assistant bookkeeper at an agency in NYC not unlike Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. I paid bills for lunches that went two-three hours with 10 or 12 martinis; hotel bills under two-hour duration, which puzzled me at first, but i caught on fast.
On Mad Men I could play Sterling's bookkeeper, who stuffs the alimony checks into her purse on Friday evening and forgets to mail them until the ex-wives start ringing the phone off the hook on Monday morning — all of which I did back then with regularity. Also, I'm a bit acquainted with Mary Wells — the great innovator and genius of the advertising world — whose fabulous life continues to fascinate me.
I grew up with Edith Ann and Ernestine — might we see those wonderful characters again?
Ernestine and Edith Ann still travel with me when I go on the road. These days, Ernestine works for a big healthcare insurance corp denying healthcare to everyone. “Remember, your health is our business — not our concern.”
Edith Ann is 6 now. She always seems to notice the inequities and contradictions between people in the world or at least in her school and neighborhood. She sees that kids learn how to act in the world by seeing how grown-ups act in the world, and she's decided, “The world will never get better unless this changes.” She's also very tech-savvy and even has a new, educational game for kids in the app store — City Adventures With Edith Ann. Try it out and see if you can move those six cookies.
Paley Center for Media, 465 N. Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills; Mon., June 4, 7 p.m.; $15. (310) 786-1091, paleycenter.org.