BWW Interviews: Lily Tomlin Talks Upcoming Pittsburgh Show and Career

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Lily Tomlin, one of America's foremost comediennes, continues to venture across an ever-widening range of media, starring in television, theater, motion pictures, animation, and video.  Throughout her extraordinary entertainment career, Tomlin has received numerous awards, including:  six Emmys; a Tony for her one woman Broadway show, Appearing Nitely; a second Tony as Best Actress, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics' Circle Award for her one woman performance in Jane Wagner's The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe

Tomlin brings her cast of beloved characters to Pittsburgh later this month, when she appears at the Byham Theater on Wednesday, April 25, 2012, at 7:30 PM.  Tomlin recently took time out from her busy schedule to talk with me about her upcoming Pittsburgh show as well as her incredible career.

Tomlin, best known for her character monologues, says 10 or more of her characters will be a part of the upcoming Pittsburgh show.  Tomlin says that she takes an almost cinematic approach to the structure of the show, using and interacting with film clips to create an experience using her characters that examines our common humanity, and reminds us that "we're all in the same boat together, albeit a leaky one!"  Classic characters like Ernestine, the cheeky telephone operator first made famous by Tomlin on the irreverant 1970s show Laugh In, now tackle current day roles and issues – Ernestine, for example, has moved onto voicing her opinion on issues such as politics and healthcare reform.

Tomlin as Ernestine

The 72 year old comedienne shows no signs of slowing down, and doesn't seem at all hesitant to engage in today's current technology trends.  Tomlin and her long-time partner Jane Wagner have recently launched their first iPhone App, featuring another of her classic characters, Edith AnnCity Adventures with Edith Ann is an educational game for children, and has provided Tomlin the opportunity to begin interacting with her fans and the world via social media.   Tomlin is now officially on Twitter and Facebook, but says she is taking it slowly.  She quips, "I don't know how anyone has time to engage in it 20 times a day.  When does something stop being trendy and qualify as a disorder?!" 

Her time is limited for good reason – she's just started rehearsals for a new ABC sitcom pilot called "Malibu Country", in which she'll play alongside Reba McEntire;  McEntire's character divorces her rock-star husband, and moves her family from Nashville to a little house in Malibu.  Tomlin will play Shirley, McEntire's warm and funny mother who joins the family in their move.

Mother roles seem to be a recurring theme as of late for Tomlin, whose genius ability to create unforgettable characters has had the chance to shift into overdrive in her role as Lisa Kudrow's insanely (no pun intended) self-absorbed, puppet-wielding, narcissistic mother on Showtime's series, Web Therapy.  I could hear the enthusiasm in Lily's voice as she described her involvement in this series, which interestingly, is "about 85% improvised", according to Tomlin. 

As we wrapped up our discussion, I asked Tomlin if she had a "career bucket list" - some role, genre, or opportunity that she hasn't yet accomplished.  She of course said that, "Nothing would please me more than to go back to New York and Broadway", and that "you never know" what her playwright partner Jane Wagner might come up with.  But, Tomlin's true love and comedic brilliance is in the creative process.  She describes performing as a "joyful experience", and went on to say, "I love nothing better than to have a bunch of friends and a good camera.  If I had all the money in the world, I would just spend all the time trying to make up things and shoot them."

Tickets ($35-$55) for the April 25, 2012, performance of Lily Tomlin at the Byham Theater may be purchased at the Box Office at Theater Square (655 Penn Avenue), online at, or by calling (412) 456-6666. To purchase 10 or more tickets at special discounted rates, please call (412) 471-6930.

Ms. Tomlin also usually tries to hold a post-performance question and answer session for anyone who is interested in staying after the show.

Photo credit for Lily in black jacket is Greg Gorman.
Ernestine photo courtesy of Tomlin and Wagner Theatricalz. 

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