Lily Tomlin on being America's craziest mom and never retiring beloved old characters
After nearly five decades in the biz, legendary actress and comedian Lily Tomlin is busier than ever. She plays two TV moms: Reba McEntire's on Malibu Country and Lisa Kudrow's on Web Therapy. She's also cast as a 1960-era radical feminist alongside Tina Fey in the forthcoming film Admission. Just days ago, she made a special appearance on NBC's televised birthday bash for Betty White.
How Tomlin is squeezing in two one-woman performances this weekend in Houston and Dallas is anyone's guess.
"Ever since Laugh-In, I don't think I've ever stopped touring," she says. "People often ask when the tour started, but it's been going on for decades. I play a number of dates every year, depending on what other projects are happening."
"Ernestine hasn't worked for the phone company since the divestiture, but she's had lots of jobs," Tomlin says. "She had a chat show for a while."
Although her current Malibu County gig has cut into the perpetual touring schedule, Tomlin says the experience has been worth reshuffling her live appearances.
"I absolutely love working with everyone on the show. We're truly a TV family," she says. "Sometimes I do feel like Reba's my daughter. Later this season, we're having Blake Shelton guest star as my son, which means I end up having two pretty hot kids."
Along with her recurring role on Web Therapyas Putsy Hodge — Lisa Kudrow's mother,who is undergoing "sock therapy" — Tomlin jokes that she's discovered a whole new side of her career.
"I kind of specialize in TV moms now," she says, laughing. "I can even play your mom, if you like. Seriously, I'm getting very good at it."
Tomlin performs a dozen of her most noted characters this weekend, running through everyone from precocious 6-year-old Edith Ann (yup, on the big chair) to pesky phone operator Ernestine.
"Unless they stop having anything relevant to say, I'll never retire these characters," Tomlin says about subtle social commentary infused in each of her skits.
"Ernestine hasn't worked for the phone company since the divestiture, but she's had lots of jobs. She had a chat show for a while and then served in the second Bush Administration. She even tried to broker peace between W. and Saddam Hussein once — Kim Jong Il too.
"She's just drawn to power, really. These days she works for an insurance corporation, which gives her a chance to reject people's health care. It's safe to say that Ernestine stays busy."
Lily Tomlin takes the stage at Winspear Opera House February 10.