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Talking With Tomlin

Lily Tomlin talks Austin's counterculture, favorite funny women and old lady hecklers

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Lily Tomlin
Lily Tomlin hits the Paramount Stage. Photo by Jenny Risher

Since 1965, comedienne Lily Tomlin has been making audiences laugh with her unique blend of character-driven and improvisational comedy. And when she takes the stage at the Paramount Theater this Friday, fans should expect nothing less.

Back by popular demand, Tomlin returns to a city that she almost called home, thanks to a few famous friends. “I love Austin. I used to own some lots on the Pedernales River. Ann [Richards] and Ruth [Denny] used to show me around. We spent time on the lake, ate barbecue at Rudy’s, and more. It’s a city with a great counterculture and I love it,” Tomlin tells CultureMap.

 "Women used to have to be flat chested to be funny. And these two are really making strides."  - Tomlin on Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham 

As a performer with over 40 years under her belt, who makes the now 74-year-old Tomlin laugh? She cites a handful of funny ladies in the comedy world as some of her current favorites. “I love Amy Schumer. Her show is so great. And [Saturday Night Live cast member] Kate McKinnon is hugely talented, as is Kristen Wiig. Anyone with that character-driven brand of humor really gets me.”

But, as Tomlin shares, women in comedy is something society has struggled to embrace. More female comedians are breaking out, she says, because of the struggles of the women that came before them. “In the '60s, I was in a revue, and the ingénue was insanely boring onstage. But in the dressing room, she had me in stitches. And when I told her that she needed to bring that on stage, she shuddered. She was afraid to betray her femininity and do anything too intellectual.”

That’s not to say that today’s prominent women in media haven’t done their legwork. In fact, Tomlin credits young women like Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling for making such strides for women. “They’re immensely self-starting. Women used to have to be flat chested to be funny. And these two are really making strides,” she says.

So what should fans expect when Tomlin takes the stage in Austin this week? A tribute to her long-standing career and the material that got her there. “I horse around with video,” she says. “We’re having a lot of fun with that. And of course I elaborate on my characters.” If she gets any hecklers (as Austin has been known to provide), worry not — Tomlin’s ready. “I once had an 80-year-old woman in the front row who just would not shut up. One of those good natured drunks, but I can handle it.”

And if all else fails? “I’ll just get loaded beforehand. I’ll show them!”

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Lily Tomlin performs at the Paramount Theater February 28 at 8 pm. Tickets can be purchased here

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