Lily Tomlin Still Shines Despite Forgetting Some of Her Act

Saturday night, Jones Hall was lit up with excitement for the special appearance of the one and only Lily Tomlin. Tomlin made a stop over in Houston despite her very busy schedule (she appears on ABC's Malibu County and HBO's Web Therapy) and was then off to Dallas, among other cities. The performance promised an evening of Tomlin reenacting some of her most beloved characters as well as new material.

Tomlin took the stage to a thunderous applause. Jones Hall had a good crowd, although I don't think it was sold out. Tomlin was spry and active as she ran on the stage and jumped around with ease, impressive for a woman who is 73 years old. The show began with a video montage of some of Tomlin's best characters to remind you exactly why it was that you were there.

Tomlin opened with some nice stabs at Texas and Houston that warmed the crowd up and got some good laughs. From there Tomlin went into a monologue about all of the things that were currently worrying her, politics, drinking, getting old, the Internet, teenagers and life in general. Throughout this monologue Tomlin seamlessly weaved in her famous characters, which is what the crowd was looking for.

The first character Tomlin morphed into was her homeless baglady Trudy. Trudy showed up a few times throughout the evening with her entertaining and thoughtful observations on life. However now, Trudy's commentary focused on current day issues, which was nice. Despite reviving these old characters, Tomlin realized that she would have to bring them into the modern age.

Another one of Tomlin's personalities to make an appearance in the modern world was six-year old Edith Ann. As to be expected, Edith Ann got heaps of laughs especially when she ended each joke with her legendary lip-smacking raspberry noise.

Tomlin interspersed these characters with stories about her own childhood and with stories about her parents and their insufferable old school ways. Her parent "cake" sketch, as much of the evening's performances, was taken from some of her more popular albums.

While Tomlin looked fantastic and jumped and ran around the stage like someone 20 years her junior, she got lost a few times throughout the evening. Some of her flubs were covered up well enough, although they were noticeable, while other bungles were more evident. Specifically, Tomlin found herself completely lost before moving into her closing monologue. At first, it was charming. She is Lily Tomlin; if she wants to forget a line or two she can damn well do that. But her predicament required that she call for a line from a low microphoned producer somewhere in the front of the stage. He gave her the line once, twice, multiple times and Tomlin was still unable to find her place in the performance. After an awkwardly long five minutes, she figured out where she was going with all of it.

I personally felt bad for her; forgetting your lines in front of a packed room of fans is probably the worst thing that can happen to a performer. But the after the show buzz was less forgiving. As I exited the hall I heard several negative responses to the gaffe.
Tomlin closed the show with a nice Q&A with questions written by audience members. Her Q&A was a great way to end the show and this was after an hour and 45 minute performance.

I will disclaimer my reaction to the overall show with the fact that I am not Tomlin's demographic. I am well aware of some of her more popular characters; Ernestine the sassy phone operator is classic of course. But overall her comedy didn't hold up for me. Tomlin introduced her old characters to some new hot topics but even so, vibrator jokes aren't that funny anymore; Sex and the City ruined dildo jokes for all time. All of this being said, the majority of the audience, who were obvious Tomlin fans and closer in age, ate it up. They were loving it.

Whether I was floored by Tomlin or disappointed that she seemed to forget quite a bit of her own performance, there is no doubt that she has paved the way for female comedians. The Tina Feys, Amy Poehlers, Sarah Silvermans, Mindy Kalings and all of the women comediennes of my generation owe her a huge debt of gratitude.

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Perhaps if the writer were more familiar with the phenomenal artist she is writing about, she would understand that it is far easier to play a scripted line than to do a jazz improvisation.  One time Ella Fitzgerald played a 15-minute piece on an afternoon talk show; when she finished this brilliant piece, the host said, "That certainly isn't how you rehearsed this afternoon!"  She laughed and said, "Well, the truth is, I got into the piece and forgot what we were playing, so I had to keep going until I recognized the tune."  That performance was one of the great moments in jazz.  Ms. Tomlin has the courage and good grace to hold a stage and do comedic improv, just as Ella Fitzgerald wrote the book on scat singing.

As to the remark about "not being part of her demographic," that is just happy horsecrap, because Lily Tomlin is a universal artist, and speaks to people of all groups, so claiming not to be a part of that "demographic" is essentially saying you just don't get it.

Tomlin is a legend for a reason.  If you haven't seen Search for Intelligent Life, you should.  If you haven't seen The Late Show or All of Me, you should.  She's performed for Queen Elizabeth of England and with Beverly Sills.  There is a reason.  If you don't get it, try harder.

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