From “Laugh-In” in 1965 to “I Heart Huckabees” in 2004, comedienne and actress Lily Tomlin has been making people laugh. She has been making comedy her personal business for 40 years. Returning to stand-up for a handful of comedy shows on college campuses this fall, Tomlin is playing Eastern Michigan University’s Pease Auditorium on Saturday.
Before leaving school and moving to New York to pursue comedy full-time, Tomlin attended Cass Tech High School and Wayne State University to pursue a medical degree. “I didn’t know that people made a living doing (comedy),” she said. In college, a friend of Tomlin’s jibed at her that there were auditions for a campus production and “they had a lot of small parts left.” Incensed by her so-called friend’s remark, Tomlin tried out just to spite her. “I left my name and I did a walk-on. I was just a big sensation. People thought I was hilarious,” she remembered. After her surprising success on the stage, Tomlin recalled, “I thought to myself (that) this would be so great if I could do this and earn a living doing this, and not have to go to med school.”
The very friend that angered Lily into auditioning for her first real show would later go to school at the Uniersity. Tomlin visited her once and wrote a sonnet in the Nichols Arboretum. Tomlin even offered to send the Daily a facsimile of the sonnet that she wrote, entitled “Today: Shall I Kill Myself or Write a Thesis!”
As a woman in comedy during a time when comedians were thought to be crass and unfeminine, Tomlin said that the stereotype never truly fazed her. “Most women didn’t want to do stand-up. They would say, ‘How can you do stand-up? You’ll lose your femininity.’ “
Tomlin hasn’t forgotten about Detroit and visits her old neighborhood frequently. “I go to Greektown and hang out there at New Hellas, which was my old hangout in high school,” she said. She also frequents the Detroit Institute of Art. Recalling her childhood, she mentioned a particular painting that captivated her when she was young. “Breughel’s ‘Wedding Dance’ was really exciting when you’re like seven or eight years old,” she admitted, “because they’re wearing cod pieces and they look like they have erections.”
Coming off her quirky role in the critically acclaimed “Huckabees,” Tomlin has three films slated for release in 2006. She has just finished shooting “A Prarie Home Companion,” and is also lending her voice to the animated film “Ant Bully.” She enjoys doing voice work as well as straight acting: “I’d rather go ahead and animate my own characters. But I had fun.”
When asked if she felt that film was where she had moved her focus as of late, Tomlin maintained, “I prefer to do a live performance, but I’m grateful that I can do a little of everything.” Her Saturday show will give her audience a taste of the irreverent, honest comedy on which Tomlin has based her career as well as insight into the life of one of Hollywood’s favorite Detroiters.
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars