Lily Tomlin Says It's Possible for Comics to be Funny Without Cursing
Lily Tomlin is a brilliant actress, comedian, writer, producer, activist and recording artist, but above all of that, she has a way with words that makes you just want to listen to her for hours on end. With her one-woman show coming to Segerstrom Center for the Arts, you'll have the chance to do just that on Saturday.
We all remember one of her many characters from one place or another, so getting the chance to talk to Tomlin before her show was quite an eye-opening experience. We picked her brain on topics from being roasted to the media roasting comics for words they say to the words that come out of other people's mouths. As for the words that came out of Tomlin's mouth? Sheer genius.
OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): I'm a huge fan of Eastbound and Down and you were incredibly funny as Kenny's mom. You probably gained a bunch of new dirty bird fans from it.
Lily Tomlin: I hope I gained some new fans! I think the show is really hip and that's why I love it. I'm crazy about Danny McBride as Kenny Powers! [Laughs.]
You've always played edgier roles to perfection, even back in the day. Do you like the freedom that cable TV allows or think it's a bit overdone with trying to push the envelope?
Well I do think they overdo it. It's just gotten to be almost as important as a really good, witty, and intelligible line. I think a lot of times it's just way overdone with people cursing. Like in Deadwood you couldn't even count the times that they said "cocksucker." It just goes on and on because the threshold gets moved so people get inured to it. I mean, I'm a pretty good curser myself but I don't really esteem myself for it. I'm always a little sorry that I've done it when I've shown out. These kids are growing up with it and it's becoming secondhand.
Very true. Kids spout off all sorts of stuff these days.
Oh yeah! We could add a little pretention to civility and using language well rather than just resorting to some convenient curse word. [Laughs.] Above all else, the "F-word" is like the most useful word. All you need to do now is just hit it with a good expletive! You can get a laugh just out of the rhythm but that's part of what we live in. Some characters do use a lot of language but, it becomes the expectation for everybody to curse and I can tell you that my mother didn't curse. Well, she may have cursed at night to herself quietly. [Laughs.] I think it's good so that words don't have too much charge but, it's sort of a lack of command of language and it usually shows a lot of anger. I can't imagine what kids think because they don't have any real expectations of anything really positive. I can't discourse of it really in a scholarly way though because I'm certainly not innocent.
Nor am I. Believe me! What about the media exercising their "outrage" when it comes to what comics say?
With something racist or homophobic or whatever?
I think it goes a lot further than that.
Where do they go? Educate me.
Well I believe Bill Burr put it best for me personally when he said something like, "It's a joke and everyone is laughing until it's about you. Then it becomes a statement."
Oh I can even take you back to an even older school version of that! Don Rickles, who I have great affection for, can batter you like a bat after a while. He came on Laugh-In one year as a guest and for the first day, it seemed kind of like an equal opportunity skewer and we were doing OK. But by the end of the week, he had to keep upping the ante and there were things said that were a little too close to the bone. I'm sure there were many people in their dressing room crying. He gets pretty stringent about people's careers and who is headed for something and who isn't. It's just not necessary because it doesn't really mean anything. I don't see the currency in it because we have a brutal society anyway. I don't want it any more brutal.
So would you ever let Comedy Central roast you?
Nooooo! Absolutely not! Not because of the material but because there is just too much cheap stuff. They've asked me to be on it because I am good friends with Joanie Rivers and I think Rosanne asked me, but it just doesn't sit on me well. It's just too much for me because it makes you feel less than human. It doesn't validate our humanity. The comedy can always be sharp, but not because it's stringent or sharp against an individual. Unless it's a politician who has the wherewithal to affect our lives with their hypocrisy and greed. It's all a matter of taste.
I'm looking forward to your show at Segerstrom Center and to the Q&A after your performance. Do you ever have set answers for occasions like that?
Occasionally. A lot of times sense memories come up and you remember a great story that you hadn't even thought about in ages and something someone says just kicks it off. There are people that ask me very similar things but I mostly just come from the heart and the gut.
Lily Tomlin performs at Segerstrom Center for the Arts on June 22nd, 600 Town Center Drive Costa Mesa, CA 92626., (714) 556-2787. For tickets go to www.scfta.org. For more info, visit www.LilyTomlin.com and follow her on Twitter: @LilyTomlin.
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