Fairbanks Concert Association closed its 2011-2012 season with the reigning queen of comedy, the incomparable Lily Tomlin. Mind you, this is a woman that WC watched in his long past youth on Laugh-In, shortly after the end of the last Ice Age. And yet she is as vital, masterful and wonderful all these decades later.
What WC hadn’t appreciated from the movies and television was the amazing physicality of this woman. Not just the famous facial contortions; it’s the ability to instantly transform herself to a character. One moment she is Lily Tomlin; the next she is “Edith Ann,” the precocious and obnoxious six year old. Voice, posture and, of course, mannerisms. It’s brilliant.
Tomlin’s gift has always been the characters she has created. Trudy the Bag Lady (“Reality is nothing more than a collective hunch.”), who is working as a creative consultant to a group of aliens; Edith Ann; Judith Beasley, the icy Southern belle of infomercials who loves to remind you that she’s “not an actress, I’m a real person like yourself.”
And the much-loved Ernestine, the obnoxious, arrogant and oblivious telephone operator (“Have I reached the person to whom I am speaking?”) There was a video of the mock advertisement for The Phone Company (“We’re The Phone Company. We don’t have to care.”), which bridged to Ernestine’s new career as a claims representative for a health insurance company. Ernestine hasn’t lost a step. And she has found her new niche.
In addition to many of her much-loved characters, Tomlin mixed in stories from her youth, an impeccably performed skit on the melodrama of adolescence, and WC’s favorite bit, a nostalgia-laced reminiscence about a crush on Miss Sweeney, her second grade teacher, and how it all went wrong.
She’d probably dislike being called the doyenne of comedy, and in some ways the word implies an elderly character. She is anything but. She’s astonishingly vital. But she’s a brilliantly successful survivor in a career that has killed most of her peers.
WC had a chance to meet and speak with her after the show. She is charming, gracious and seems to really enjoy interacting with fans. And she is remarkably unpretentious.
She said of her teacher in the Miss Sweeney skit, “I could always make her laugh when I wanted to. And I almost always wanted to.” It’s true today for all of her audiences. She enjoys making us laugh, and she is very, very good at it. A wonderful show, and a wonderful end to an excellent season.
Serious props to FCA for a remarkable season, sandwiched between two extraordinarily talented women, k.d. lang and Lily Tomlin. WC is grateful for the hard work by FCA that brings these remarkably talented artists to Fairbanks. If you are in Interior Alaska, and aren’t attending these performances, you’re doing yourself a disservice.