Famed comedian and actor Lily Tomlin heads to Charlotte on Oct. 24, performing at Blumenthal’s Belk Theater. She was kind enough to give qnotes a few minutes of her time. We got some of her thoughts on her upcoming show, Hollywood and entertainment culture and reality TV, along with her thoughts on the recent reports of gay teen suicides across the nation.
Have you ever been to Charlotte before?
Oh, god yes. I have friends who live in Rock Hill and friends in Greensboro, so I pass through there a lot. I played Charlotte fairly recently — in the past five years at least.
Tell us a bit about your show on Oct. 24. What can folks expect?
My show is a lot of fooling around, talking to the audience, trying to talk about Charlotte and the world a little bit and to do that in both my voice and the voices of some characters. I sometimes show clips but they are all integrated into the show.
So, it is a multimedia show?
Yes. I’ve never thought to say that. That would sound good. I should say that more often: Multimedia elements.
What kind of elements might show up?
Miss Beasley might make an appearance and might show or talk about something she’s done in the past that might illustrate her responsibility to the culture (laughs). These characters are so real to me, it’s funny to think their egos allow them to take a position when it is all really self-imposed. Of course, I also want to take one left turn after another so you don’t really know where I’m going.
That keeps the audience on their feet and laughing, right?
Well, I hope so (laughs). It’ll certainly keep them entertained.
Other than your show, you’ve had a lot of other great things going on. Are you still planning on a spinoff to “Desperate Housewives”?
Kathy [Joosten (who plays Karen McCluskey)] and I are still working on that. We would play sisters as we did on “Desperate Housewives” and it would take a detective-like plot — “detective” simply because we stick our noses in everything.
I’ve been a personal fan of yours forever and I’ve always been astonished at all you’ve been able to do and the variety of characters you’ve been able to play in different situations and genres. You can do “Desperate Housewives” just as well as “The West Wing.”
I also did a season of “Damages” recently and got nominated for an Emmy for best dramatic performance.
How is that you are able to play so wide an array of characters? Tell us a bit about that process of making the character?
It’s really just another tangent of acting and a degree of more comedic or less comedic and what the vehicle and the style calls for. Marty Short was also on “Damages” last season. I played a Ruth Madoff kind of character, Meredith Tobin, and Marty played our family lawyer. It was a very serious part. People ask people like Marty and me questions like this commonly and a lot of other comedy actors say the same thing. Really, though, acting is all the same and it is just what is called for at the time.
Special meet-and-greet with Lily Tomlin benefits Time Out Youth
Lily Tomlin will hold a special meet-and-greet to benefit Time Out Youth after her show at Belk Theater on Oct. 24. A special $100 ticket ($54.55 for the show, $45.45 for Time Out Youth), available through Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, will include an orchestra-level seat and a tax-deductible donation to Time Out Youth. Those with the special ticket can attend the post-show meet-and-greet to chat with Tomlin, have their picture taken and meet Time Out Youth staff and volunteers. The special post-show event is expected to last 20-30 minutes and will be held at the performing arts center. Ticket price includes wine and desserts.
Purchase your ticket online or call 704-379-1380.
You’ve been involved in the entertainment business for a long time now. You’ve got a long career behind you and certainly a long one still before you. In your years of involvement, what have you seen change?
There have been a lot of barriers broken and knocked down, specifically the language barrier. Oh, and the reality television. Reality TV has been fairly profound in terms of displacing certain scripted shows and that kind of entertainment creation. But, just as in the entire culture, certain barriers have been eliminated, at least for the time being. I don’t know if the country will take a swing in another direction and become much more censored or limiting but one never knows.
Do you think reality television, that whole phenomenon, has been good for the entertainment world and entertainment culture in America or do you think maybe it has caused some damage to our collective creative forces?
(laughs) It certainly has created fewer jobs for actors and certain kinds of writers — not that reality television isn’t something that’s not written, generally speaking. You get these real people and encourage as much outrageous behavior in them as you can, I suppose, like “Jerry Springer.” It’s all unfortunate. In so many ways you can bring out the most disgusting, most base part of humanity. But, it is there. So, I guess we have to deal with that.
Would you ever star in a reality TV series?
I think it would depend on the intention. Certainly, if it is satirical. I created a series for myself about 10 years ago which was kind of a hybrid, not entirely reality. I was going to have a set built like my house and everyone in the show, except me, would wear spy cams including the dogs and cats and everyone (laughs). Then you could theoretically cut in footage from real life into stuff that was scripted or staged because it’d be shot in a similar environment. But, it was all more satirical than reality — making fun of celebrity and of the idea that anything we do in our lives is really all that interesting.
Do you dance?
Yeah. Well enough.
Oh, you could do “Dancing With The Stars”!
Oh, yeah. Sure (laughs). I think I might have been asked to do that actually. Or, maybe I just dreamed that (laughs).
As a comedian and actor you’ve never been afraid to be outspoken. You’ve been involved certainly on gay rights issues. As someone involved in the media world, what are your thoughts on the recent string of gay teen suicides and Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” YouTube campaign?
Well, nothing is worse than high school — although Tyler, the Rutgers student, was in college. But, in terms of peer pressure and ostracizing and the ridiculing and making you feel completely unworthy — all this mean-spirited philosophy of them against us is so repulsive. It’s repulsive that people would lack so much empathy for another person. I think “It Gets Better” is a perfect title for this grassroots series Dan is doing. I think it is wonderful and I even hope I can tape something for him because it does get better. People’s lives change after high school. You go off and make your own life. I live in a big city now and grew up in one, but my family was from Kentucky so I know what kids have gone through over the past 30 to 50 years. That these young kids saw suicide as their only way out — it is so heartbreaking. If only I could have gotten a hold of them.
Do you think Hollywood and entertainment, other than serving its basic entertainment purposes, sometimes acts as a lifeline, too?
Sure. There’s a lot of stuff that’s been expanded upon and accepted. Although there are still pockets where there is so much prejudice and hate. I saw my kid brother, who is gay, go through some terrible situations when we were growing up. But, we’re both grown now. I know it is much better but it certainly is not perfect. : :