Thirty-plus years after 6-year old Edith Ann debuted on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, the eternally young Edith Ann was complaining about her big sister Irene’s iPhone and how she “texthhhsss” too much. “I wish she would run away,” the precocious child said on Saturday night in front of a very large and robust crowd at Strathmore.
Yes, Edith Ann appeared, in physical form resembling Lily Tomlin. Tomlin is known for very broad caricatures of Americana. Edith Ann, just one of those, is timeless and she has aged very well, just like her creator. Tomlin’s solo performance at Strathmore was a wonderful stroll down memory lane through video clips (including a great scene of her alter-ego, lounge singer, Tony Velour) and Tomlin’s magical way of connecting to an audience.
I’m too young to remember Laugh In, but as a testament to Tomlin’s legacy is that every character she embodied on Saturday was familiar, as if these are people we encounter in our real lives. That is Tomlin’s strength, playing the “every woman.” An old video clip of Mrs Judith Beasley doing an infomercial for hairspray as she casually rode through a car wash (without a car) to sell us on how great her hairspray is. “In order to have a reality show, you have to have a sense of reality,” Tomlin tells us. Tomlin has that. Like Mrs. Beasley and Edith Ann, you see people you know, and that is the strength of her characters.
Some of Tomlin’s characters are based on real people from her life, like her elementary school teacher, Ms Sweeney with the monogrammed sweater, or her parents bickering over cake while their angst-filled teenage daughter is listening to music in her bedroom. One of Tomlin’s biggest strengths is her physical and vocal embodiment of her characters. In her three-person scene of mom, dad, and daughter, (and traveling salesman), you never once got lost as to which character was speaking, as she moved in and out of each character flawlessly that really helps to deliver the punch line.
Another aspect of Tomlin’s routine was just how modern her characters have become. Besides Edith Ann’s hatred of the iPhone, one of her most famous characters, Ernestine, the telephone operator, unfortunately had been outsourced to India (where she’s never been). So because Ernestine no longer has a job at the phone company, she know works for a big health insurance company, where she processes claims, or rather gets to deny claims. Tomlin created such topical situations with her famous characters that shows she not only hasn’t gotten stale, but she has been able to find new ways to entertain with them.
Of course Tomlin did an audience Q&A after, sharing stories of getting into trouble in Italy while filming Tea With Mussolini or reminiscing about her days working with Art Carney on The Late Show. Tomlin’s characters aren’t just what make her stand out. It’s her versatility. From voicing Mrs Frizzle on The Magic School Bus to bossing Murphy Brown and President Bartlett around in The West Wing, she has made her mark on some very iconic shows (my personal favorite being her chemistry with the late Kathryn Joosten on Desperate Housewives). Tomlin has had a great career: an Academy Award nomination for her film debut, countless awards including the Emmy and Tony, but her biggest accomplishment to date: marrying her long time partner, Jane Wagner on News Year Eve, 2013.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Lily Tomlin’a website.