Lily Tomlin Triggers Eruption Of Laughter

Lily Tomlin entertains a sold-out crowd at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts on Saturday night. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

Lily Tomlin joked that she had wanted to grow up from her hopeful childhood, make it to comedy stardom and travel the country … just to perform in the city of Jamestown.

That jest was one of many Saturday evening at the Reg Lenna Center for the Arts that sent audience members into fits of laughter during what was known as “An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin” during the tail end of this year’s Lucille Ball Comedy Festival.

After running onstage as if launched from a cannon, Tomlin spent two hours recapping the stories that had inspired her jokes throughout the years and shared numerous beloved characters she has portrayed. From the quirky 5-year-old girl Edith Ann to Lucille the Rubber Freak who’s got an addiction to eating rubber, many recognizable characters hit the stage.

The lights would turn off every time Tomlin switched to a new character or routine. She began by making some pointed observations about society and the government, saying at one point that people used to trust a product if it was government-tested. Not so anymore, said Tomlin, who remembered her mother once telling her that those in politics knew what they were doing.

She then went into an analogy: the black hole in the center of the universe; is it more like Twitter or Facebook?

Tomlin asked the audience if their parents understood them when they were teenagers. She then pointed out it probably would’ve been more awkward if they had.

The 78-year-old comedian lent her political leanings to the crowd, but only slightly by saying she hoped for more protection of women’s rights for an abortion. She said the planet is getting overcrowded, so much so that “loneliness will be a peak experience” one day.

“Never underestimate the power of the mind to forget,” Tomlin said.

That being said, she remembered a lot, including a somewhat manufactured retelling of how she was borderline obsessed with her second-grade teacher. She recalled trying to guess her first name and imagining her getting married to her boyfriend, with 7-year-old Tomlin as a bridesmaid of course.

“I’m worried that if olive oil comes from olives and peanut oil comes from peanuts, where does baby oil come from?” she asked, feigning bewilderment later in the performance.

Her character Mrs. Judith Beasley appeared and offered sage commercial advice for an adult product for women that left little to the imagination. Tomlin’s material strayed from the taboo at times to focus on a more family-friendly character: Edith Ann.

In response to someone asking the character where all the animal crackers had gone, Ann said they had to have eaten each other. Nothing was inside the bag when she opened it after all.

Tomlin later laughed in a question and answer session post-performance that a young girl once pointed out to her that one animal cracker would have been left if they had eaten each other.

Other astute observations flowed forth from Tomlin’s comedic mind too. If you “swiped” something back in the day, that meant you stole it. Nowadays, it means you pay for it.

“How many of you are helping the economy daily?” she later asked, underscoring the growing marijuana market for a joke.

Tomlin mentioned that when she was growing up there were two kind of women and two kinds of magazines for them: good and bad. The good magazines covered words like “meatloaf” and “budget,” she said, while bad magazines included words like “throbbing” and “lurid.” No matter what, she said, all women would eventually end up reading the former.

“Remember an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” Tomlin said. “So does being poor.”

Pretending to be an insurance operator, Tomlin evolved her character Ernestine from The Phone Company by not giving health care instead.

“It’s an elected procedure, as in we elect not to pay for it,” Ernestine said with little sympathy.

Tomlin shed light on some of her current projects during the question and answer session. She said she was more like Frankie, the character she portrays, than Grace, played by Jane Fonda, in her Netflix series “Grace and Frankie,” a show that has become popular with audiences and is currently renewed for a fifth season.

She also mentioned a sequel to “9 to 5” is in the works, featuring Tomlin and her former comedy co-stars as mentors to a new generation of women.

One of Tomlin’s last points was that we likely first laughed when we first made fools of ourselves. In that case, she was happy to play the fool for Jamestown.