Host, Dave Schwensen, and his friends Kelly, Tom, and Logan have chosen some of their favorite comedians from the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. They take a look at how these comedians got started, their most successful comedy albums, and their lasting influence today!
In this episode of What’s So Funny! we meet Lily Tomlin’s famous character Ernestine the Telephone Operator in her 1971 album "This Is A Recording." Throughout this album Ernestine shows us what a day in the life of the telephone company is like. She persuades Gore Vidal to pay his bill, introduces us to the hunky Vito the Repairman, and we get to hear about the upcoming telephone company pageant. Lily Tomlin has done it all from being the first woman to have a solo show on Broadway to starring in numerous films and television shows, listen in to find out more about Lily Tomlin!
The album we are listening to is This is a Recording, written and performed by Lily Tomlin, Polydor, 1971
Narration: Welcome to What's So Funny, a comedy podcast where we talk about some of the most influential and controversial comedy albums from the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Sit back, relax and get ready to laugh. Here's your host Dave Schwensen!
Dave Schwensen: Alright. Hello everybody. This is your host, Dave Schwensen. And I'm joined today by my good friend Tom Megalis. We've already been laughing before we started doing this.
Tom Megalis: All the time. All the time we laugh. Like little baby chimpanzees.
Dave Schwensen: Oh my gosh. I'll tell you what. I'll get you to stop. Just tell us what, what's new with you? Tell me what's happening?
Tom Megalis: Well Dave, you follow me on the Facebook, right?
Dave Schwensen: I got no other friends.
Tom Megalis: Well and I follow you and so, but you see what's going on and I paint a really vivid, beautiful color picture of my life. I was just out in Palm Springs hanging out.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah, I saw that.
Tom Megalis: Talking about some art because I do art and stuff like that.
Dave Schwensen: I'm a big fan of your artwork by the way.
Tom Megalis: Thanks Dave.
Dave Schwensen: I do. I look at all the things you post on there. It's just like amazing the stuff you have going on.
Tom Megalis: I appreciate it. So doing some of that. Yeah, I met with some people out there and hung out. And what about you Dave? What do you, what's been new in your life? The Dave life?
Dave Schwensen: You know, I just had a great time last week. I was in Chicago. I do my comedy workshops, different places, and we did a showcase in Chicago and it was a lot of fun. I had about 10 comedians, some people, never done it before, some people who worked with me before, but we just had a great show. I told him, it was one funny set after another. So I'm riding on that high.
Tom Megalis: Good, good. Yeah, well, you know, it's a craft. You got to learn it right? And you help people to sort of get on stage and hone the craft.
Dave Schwensen: I'm the one that kicks them in the butt to get them on stage to do this.
Tom Megalis: So Dave, we're not here just to talk about us even though it's fascinating. Right?
Dave Schwensen: We have to stop.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, but what are we doing? Who are we talking about today?
Dave Schwensen: You know? Today we're going to talk about Lily Tomlin.
Tom Megalis: I love her.
Dave Schwensen: And her first recording, which just happens to be called, This Is A Recording, that came out in 1971 and it won her a Grammy award for best comedy recording. She came out of Detroit. She grew up in Detroit and I don't think a lot of people know this, but she was going to study at Wayne State University to be a doctor.
Tom Megalis: That's crazy.
Dave Schwensen: She was majoring in biology-
Tom Megalis: But she's smart man.
Dave Schwensen: But she wound up taking some theater classes. I think she got cast in a show and it really changed her plans.
Tom Megalis: then she moved on to New York, right?
Dave Schwensen: She went to New York City to try to make it in acting and as a comedian, but it didn't really happen for her. She moved back to Detroit.
Tom Megalis: Went back home.
Dave Schwensen: She was working in the clubs, coffee houses, things around Detroit. And then a friend of her called, had her set up to perform some place in New York City. I want to say it was the club Downstairs at the Upstairs. I know she was performing at the Improv, the original comedy club in New York, but you know, she got cast then on a show, the Gary Moore Show. A lot of people probably don't remember Gary Moore. He was pretty well known as a television personality in the 50s and the 1960s-
Tom Megalis: That was like a variety show, was it?
Dave Schwensen: Yeah. And I think she went on and she did some of her characters. Now Lily Tomlin's known for her characters. You and I talked about this earlier, that is she really a standup comedian?
Tom Megalis: Yeah, man. It's kind of like you think of her as a comedic actress in a way.
Dave Schwensen: Yes.
Tom Megalis: Playing a scene like a little beginning, middle and end scene. It always feels that way.
Dave Schwensen: And her characters, they're strong.
Tom Megalis: They're very strong.
Dave Schwensen: One of her strongest characters, probably the best known, is Ernestine, the telephone operator. You know what? We better start off with that. I think we're going to start ... because Ernestine is going to be a real focus of this album.
Tom Megalis: That's the entire album, isn't it?
Dave Schwensen: Yes.
Tom Megalis: And you know, I think she originally started that character as being a real attack on the phone company. Right? But it kind of then just became really funny and silly, but it's a -
Dave Schwensen: Some things never change do they? I'm looking at my phone here, I'm like, I'm going to throw this out the window.
Tom Megalis: Exactly.
Dave Schwensen: Ah, okay. Well we're going to listen to the first track of this, which is called Alexander Graham Bell and it pretty much sets up for what is going to follow on this album. She sets it up. Well, I'll stop and I'll let her do it. Here's Lily Tomlin from, This is a Recording doing Alexander Graham Bell.
Recording: (Comedy Clip) The Icehouse takes great pleasure in presenting Miss Lily Tomlin.
Lily Tomlin: (Comedy Clip) Thank you all a lot. How are you? Hello. Thank you all a lot for coming this evening. Ladies and gentlemen. This album is dedicated to the man who made it all possible. Alexander Graham Bell. Alex was born in 1847, following in his father's footsteps, a renowned therapist for the deaf, Alex created lots of new techniques for treatment. For instance, every morning he would line up his patients and he would yell and scream at them. "What's the matter you stupid idiots. Why don't you say something?" until he turned purple. Then early one evening, he was flying his kite and he discovered electricity.
Lily Tomlin: (Comedy Clip) Well, this just opened whole new vistas to him and leaving behind his practice and several very bewildered deaf people who never did know who that man was who was always yelling and screaming at them. He worked feverishly day and night until he'd found a way to harness electricity to a distillery for schnapps and immediately he became locally prominent.
Lily Tomlin: (Comedy Clip) Then heady with success. He went to work inventing the telephone and aided only by his faithful assistant, Mr. Watson, the magic day did arrive. With Mr. Watson in the other room, his head bent auspiciously over the sender, Alex muttered, those famous words. "Mr. Watson come here. I want you," and Mr. Watson, tears in his eyes, came rushing from the other room. His arms outstretched. Well, God only knows what happened after that.
Lily Tomlin: (Comedy Clip) Alexander Graham Bell did kick over in 1922. I don't know if it was Mr. Watson, the schnapps or just what, but he left behind him a monop ... a company that has changed the history of mankind forever.
Tom Megalis: You know, that's a funny setup even in its self. I mean, when you listen to her kind of set that up. We talked about her being an actress, but her cadence and kind of her approach is, she's still very funny. Just in a monologue or just the discussion.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah, and I think at the time she recorded this, again, it was in 1971 so this Ernestine character was huge. I mean so popular at that time from her television appearances on Laugh In.
Tom Megalis: Oh, that's right. That was a huge base.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah. That's what really broke her. You know, when she was in New York after she was on the Gary Moore Show, I think she did the Merv Griffin Show. Those were big shows in the 1960s and the producers, at Laugh In saw her and they cast her on the show. The show had been on the air for a couple of years already. It was already the number one show. I mean all these people were, Goldie Hawn and all these people were becoming stars and she was worried about joining the cast coming in in the middle after it's been on for a couple of years. So she went on another TV show instead called Music Scene. She thought that would break her.
Tom Megalis: Wow. I never heard of that one.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah, it's because it got canceled.
Tom Megalis: Yeah. Laugh In was a better choice.
Dave Schwensen: Her fallback plan was Laugh In.
Tom Megalis: Yeah.
Dave Schwensen: And it worked out real well for her.
Tom Megalis: And that obviously proceeds Saturday Night Live and these other shows where you could do characters. What other shows could you do that except talk shows or just-
Dave Schwensen: Well, Laugh In was groundbreaking. It really was at the time. I mean you had the variety shows on TV. I think all the big like Dean Martin and who else? Glen Campbell and the Smothers Brothers and Sonny and Cher. They all had variety shows at that time. And they did comedy skits. But Laugh In was the real game changer.
Tom Megalis: Yeah. Because it was irreverent.
Dave Schwensen: Yes. They got to be silly, do things that were just crazed. Lily Tomlin came on there doing these characters. She had Edith Ann, a little five year old girl-
Tom Megalis: In the big chair.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah. The big chair.
Tom Megalis: That was awesome.
Dave Schwensen: But this Ernestine, who was the telephone operator who used to call people and give them a little piece of her mind on what was going on.
Tom Megalis: Again, these are written, man. For a lot of people that think there's some improv, there's some spontaneous, I mean that's part of her genius is taking this written piece and doing it and making it feel very spontaneous and in the moment. Just really a deep character. She's deep in there. It's wonderful to watch that, and it's funny.
Dave Schwensen: Well, we're going to go into another clip right now where she talks to someone who was very well known at that time. Maybe our listeners don't know that much about Gore Vidal, but he was a very famous writer, political commentator at the time, history, fiction. He wrote books on Aaron Burr and Abraham Lincoln and made them stories and very well known, very opinionated. Well, Ernestine gave him a call because he owed on his telephone bill that she wasn't about to let him get away with it.
Tom Megalis: No man, she knows everything.
Dave Schwensen: It's called Mr. Vidal.
Lily Tomlin: (Comedy Clip) One ringy dingy. Two ringy dingies. Gracious. Good afternoon. This is Miss Tomlin at the telephone company. Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking? Mr. Vidal? Mr. Vidal, you owe us a balance of $23.64. When may we expect payment? Pardon? What? When what freezes over? No, no. Mr. Vidal, Mr. Vidal, you are not dealing with just anyone's fool. I am a high school graduate.
Lily Tomlin: (Comedy Clip) Now then, when may we expect payment? Oh, Mr. Vidal, I don't see why you're kicking up such a ruckus when according to our files, your present bank balance plus stock, securities and other holdings amount to exactly ... pardon? Privileged information? Mr. Vidal, oh, that's so cute. No, no, no. You're dealing with the telephone company. For instance, as I look through your income tax return for 19 ... Oh, Mr. Vidal, Mr. Vidal you don't understand. We are not subject to city, state, or federal regulations. We are omnipotent. Omnipotent. That's potent with an Omni in front of it. Now then, when may we expect payment? No, dear me, Mr. Vidal. I'm afraid we're going to have to discontinue your outgoing service and if we do not receive payment within 10 days, we will send a large burly servicemen to your home to rip it out of the wall. I'd advise you to lock up the liquor, he's a mean drunk. Now then, wouldn't you rather pay Mr. Vidal, than lose your service and possibly the use of one eye?
Lily Tomlin: (Comedy Clip) Oh dear me, you know Mr. Vidal, I think we can persuade you to pay after all. I want you to listen to a little recorded conversation. Can you hear that all right? That's right. It is you. Do you recognize that other voice? That's right. And do you remember the basic content of that conversation? Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I want to hear this part again. Mr. Vidal, now Mr. Vidal, if you're interested, we have 96 hours more. Oh, I think blackmail is such an ugly word. Let's just call it a vicious threat. Well how very nice. It's been a pleasure talking with you. We will await your check. Mr. Vidal, Mr. Vidal, there's no reason on earth for you to feel personally persecuted. We may be the only phone company in town, but we screw everybody.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, that hasn't changed.
Dave Schwensen: No, it's so much ... with the times then it was so important and Mr. Vidal of course is Gore Vidal , who was a political commentator and wrote historical novels. But it's touches on the fact that the phone company is like-
Tom Megalis: They're watching you.
Dave Schwensen: They're watching you. And it goes back to the era where Nixon was the president of the United States at that time. We all remember the Nixon tapes that were recording everything and there was no privacy and Lily Tomlin's Ernestine is playing off that angle and it really has it changed much since?
Tom Megalis: No man it's the same.
Dave Schwensen: Big Brother?
Tom Megalis: It's pretty good. And it's crisp writing. So here Lily's doing a really nice job with these sort of endings and beginnings and working on this piece.
Dave Schwensen: I think this was her nightclub act, again, that's how she started out in New York in the 60s, then onto Laugh In, this is the 70s and it's taped at the Ice House in Pasadena, which is a very well known comedy club.
Dave Schwensen: But yeah, her characters were fully developed. She always inhabited, that's why I think of her more as an actress because she becomes these characters. I can picture her as Ernestine. She scrunches up her face and she's working the telephone thing. The thing about her characters too, they always, I don't want to say they always came out on top, but they were not victims of anything. They thought they were winning, they thought they were doing the right thing. All of them. Even the little five year old girl she played.
Tom Megalis: And the bag lady. She played the bag lady and some other characters. So it's really cool to listen to this and also think, Dave, you teach a lot of comedy, a lot of stand up and help coach and the pacing of this, right? These are long bits.
Dave Schwensen: Oh yeah.
Tom Megalis: You wouldn't necessarily, you couldn't get away maybe with that, unless you've got a real fan base that's going to hang with this.
Dave Schwensen: You have to keep the audience interested all the time. I always call it adding colors. I mean, anyone can tell a story. You know, we could talk about what did I do today before I got here? Here's the story. But to make it interesting, you've got to make it funny. You've got to keep adding things. And again, colors, descriptions, funny lines, you've got to take your audience-
Tom Megalis: Character.
Dave Schwensen: A character. You have to take your audience on a journey. And that's what she does. I mean basically we're listening to this, we're not seeing this live, but the audience sitting there is watching her on stage being Ernestine and she's working this phone thing and she's calling up Gore Vidal and telling him that he owes like $23 in phone bill and either pay it or we're going to rip your phone out of the wall.
Tom Megalis: Really paints it and they have to go on this little journey. But yeah, it does border sort of theater, does it not? And maybe her work always did that. Now does that make her transition to acting easier than say a standup who's just been talking up on a stage by himself?
Dave Schwensen: I'm going to say yes. I'm going to give you a definite yes on that. Yeah.
Tom Megalis: Because she went on to do movies and do all kinds of things.
Dave Schwensen: She was nominated for Academy awards for acting and has done a lot of things. But yes, because of her characterizations, that's talent. That takes talent and training. And you know, I've worked with standup comedians who have to take acting classes just to come close to doing something like this.
Tom Megalis: Because it's a different ballgame.
Dave Schwensen: It really is.
Tom Megalis: Interesting. It's pretty cool though. And she obviously was strong right off the bat, with her nightclub and Jane Wagner, her writing partner, director and life partner. It just added another, took her to another level maybe.
Commercial : We interrupt.
Dave Schwensen: Hey, what's going on here?
Narration: Interrupt this program.
Dave Schwensen: We're trying to do a podcast here.
Tom Megalis: Do you know this guy?
Narration: Like I was saying. We interrupt this podcast to bring you the news, Retro Tone News, a podcast brought to you by our sister channel Evergreen Podcast, where I'm your host Rog Bixby. Give you a snappy summary of the latest events and happenings at home and abroad.
Tom Megalis: Are you done?
Narration: Almost. Visit Evergreenpodcasts.com to listen to Retro Tone News and more. Now, back to your regularly scheduled podcast.
Dave Schwensen: Oh boy.
Tom Megalis: What I've kind of read and gathered from Lily that she didn't want to be known as just a comedian, a standup, but sort of a performer and I don't know if it's a larger entity-
Dave Schwensen: She didn't like labels.
Tom Megalis: No labels.
Dave Schwensen: The label on her. She was Lily Tomlin and it could mean anything. Again, actress, comedian, writer.
Tom Megalis: I'm surprised she didn't drop her last name. Do like a Madonna, Lily. Just Lily!
Dave Schwensen: She probably could, but you know in that last clip she talked about tearing Gore Vidal's telephone right out of the wall, sending over a big burly repair man to do that. Well, that just happens to be the next clip we're going to talk about or play for you. It's called The Repair Man. Ernestine, the telephone operator, is a calling and I think this might be her boyfriend. It might be Ernestine's boyfriend. His name is Vito. Well, let's go ahead and listen to it, it's called The Repair Man, it's from Lily Tomlin's album, This is a Recording.
Lily Tomlin: Gracious, good afternoon, this is Miss Tomlin, your repairs operators, Vito, hi. They've got you working today too so early? It's only noon. Why did those people have to have their phones fixed in such a rush? Why can't they just go to the corner and use our semi convenient pay phone? That's broken too. Well just what do they claim is wrong with their instrument and/or service? Oh, other voices on the line. Isn't that picky? $12.50 a month doesn't buy perfection. Oh listen, Vito. Vito, what's the house like? Where are you? In the living room? All maple and chintz? I love it, bet it's got one of those cute little telephone tables with the special place for the directory? I knew it!
Lily Tomlin: Vito, what about the rest of the house? Well do the Mr and Mrs sleep together? Well pretend you have to check a wire. Go take a look. Vito, I'm here yes. So what about the bedroom? No kidding. No wonder she's so crabby. Is she giving you anything to eat yet? Not even a can of beer? Put her on, let me talk to her. Listen you, this is Miss Tomlin with a word for you about common manners. You just listen to me and don't interrupt. Your repairman as a human being too. And the sooner you people realize it, the quicker you're going to get your phones fixed. Now just a second, I'm just going to say this once very clearly. You want service on your line? You want to be able to report a fire, call a loved one far away? You get your little fanny out to that early American kitchen and get Vito something to eat and drink. You've got one minute, now move. Vito, is she doing it? Running to the kitchen! If we play our cards right, you can have lunch there every day this week. Fix the phones, I don't know, about cocktail time on Friday? Oh listen, my board's lighting up. But if she doesn't come up with something better than a, "you need a biscuit and a cup of soup" you call me back. Vito, before you leave today, why don't you short sheet their bunk beds?
Dave Schwensen: Lily Tomlin is Ernestine the telephone operator. Always in charge.
Tom Megalis: He's a criminal. Vito is a criminal is what you're going to say.
Dave Schwensen: She has them sneaking around the house. She wants to know what everyone's private life is like and she's in control. It's very funny.
Tom Megalis: It's got this sort of you can hear and feel the beginning, middle and end. It's got like this little arc that happens in the story.
Dave Schwensen: Well, I think that she's reading into people's minds. Don't you always think like, well if the TV repairman's come into my house when I'm not there, what are they looking at really.
Tom Megalis: Exactly. Yeah.
Dave Schwensen: She's got the telephone repairman looking around the house and telling her everything that's going on.
Tom Megalis: They still come to your house. So if you hear this, I'm going to think anytime someone's coming to my house now-
Dave Schwensen: I hope someone's listening to this right now and they got a telephone guy coming in to check their.
Tom Megalis: Yeah. Well Dave, do you follow the guy around? That's one thing I'm thinking, as I'm listening to it, I'm like I sometimes I'll go in the basement when the furnace guys there, I'm like, Hey, so what's going on? I ask him questions because I don't want to leave him alone because he can look in my stuff. He's going to look in my tool box or something.
Dave Schwensen: Well that's what Ernestine has Vito doing.
Tom Megalis: exactly.
Dave Schwensen: Scoping it out. Lily Tomlin, we don't talk about the backstory of Ernestine because again, these are characters that are very thought out. It's not like she's just improvising on the spot. I mean, she worked on these, she knows their whole backstory. I mean really, like with Ernestine, she would know the parents' names and any siblings and anywhere she went to school and how far she went. I mean, she would have all that together.
Tom Megalis: So you can call upon it, right? So it's always there when you're improvising or when you're doing this script. And it's interesting though, when you listen to that, she's a telephone operator with a snort and kind of like a lisp of whatever she has. So it's interesting that that's her line of work.
Dave Schwensen: And the thing is her characters were all so different because again, another character she did was Edith Ann, five and a half years old is what she's supposed to be. So on TV, on Laugh In, they had her in a giant rocking chair with a big stuffed animal and she would talk about what life was like from a five-year-old's point of view.
Tom Megalis: Hugely popular.
Dave Schwensen: Give you a life lesson at the same time. And then she also had Trudy the bag lady.
Tom Megalis: Oh, right. Yeah. One of her main characters.
Dave Schwensen: Yes. The story is that it was an actual bag lady who was in the elevator with her. I don't know if you heard the story.
Tom Megalis: Who came to see her show.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah.
Tom Megalis: Oh wow. Yeah, yeah. That's what I heard. Yeah.
Dave Schwensen: Lily went on to develop this character based on the woman, the bag lady who was in the elevator with her after her show.
Tom Megalis: And said she really liked her show. That's interesting that she watched the show and now she's impressed with this woman so much that she's inspired to do this character.
Dave Schwensen: Let's move on. Let's go into another character she's going to do. A matter of fact, this clip is called Ernestine.
Lily Tomlin: I've had a lot of inquiries as to Ernestine Tomlin's history. Surprisingly enough, she hadn't always to be a telephone operator. Earlier, she'd had her heart set on being a great ballerina. Unfortunately, her dance career was cut short. One morning, she and her mother were having a little breakfast and her mother dropped a six pack on her instep. Shortly after that, Ernestine packed her bags and went to the city and got a job as an operator at the phone company and immediately established herself as a comer by saying to customers, such things as "Go and look it up yourself I've got better things to do." And at other times she would say, "The number for the Bijoux Theater? You don't want to see that film. It's filthy."
Lily Tomlin: Well, she was immediately promoted to district representative but the odds are she's headed straight for the top.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, very sarcastic.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah.
Tom Megalis: It's interesting that you were talking about these sort of backstories and pulling characters out of your life and some of these were based on her family, people she knew, right?
Dave Schwensen: Yeah. I think like growing up in Detroit, so the people in the neighborhood-
Tom Megalis: Colorful characters.
Dave Schwensen: Colorful characters, there you go.
Tom Megalis: Yeah, well Detroit would have it, right?
Dave Schwensen: [crosstalk 00:25:21].
Tom Megalis: Now it does and back then it did. It was a good sort of palette to pull from and create these character for somebody that wanted to act and do that and be a performer.
Dave Schwensen: But she was observant. You know, she was an observer of life, which I feel a lot of great comedians are, great writers are, and she could inhabit these characters and their personalities and the things they talked about. But again, I talk about sarcasm because even we go back to the clip where she's talking about the Gore Vidal that it's like Big Brother's watching over you. Or like some people are too nosy.
Tom Megalis: It's got a bite.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah, it's got a bite. Some people are too nosy, she wants Vito to walk around the house and look at that and report what's going on in a house. Do they sleep in the same bed? What's the kitchen like? And all this.
Tom Megalis: It's a little naughty and deviant, but I mean it has to have that little bit of edge to it in order for the comedy to happen. It just can't be this sort of sweetness. So you imagine Lily is probably got that biting sort of edge to her, that Detroit.
Dave Schwensen: Yes. And I'm kind of glad you brought that up because I do listen to Lily Tomlin's work and I follow her in the movies and everything and she does have an edge. I think of her as very tough. She does have that hard edge. And I think that comes from the fact that when she started developing as a comedian in the 1960s, it depends who you talk to, but some say stand up comedy, especially back in that era was a man's world.
Tom Megalis: It seems like it.
Dave Schwensen: A lot of men, very few women compared to the men. To go to New York and to appear in these clubs and to hold your own because some of these old time comics, I mean, I'm going to go back to like Lenny Bruce and Mort Saul, Henny Youngman, it was a man's world. Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, these guys-
Tom Megalis: You're in a bar, man.
Dave Schwensen: Jackie Gleason. They're in a bar, they're hanging out. Imagine Frank Sinatra calling to the boys because he doesn't like somebody joke, they're going to take care of them.
Tom Megalis: "Take care of those guys!"
Dave Schwensen: Yeah. Then you had like Lily Tomlin and Phyllis Diller and some of them doing ... Joan Rivers even, when she was starting out. I think it was tough for them. They really had to have an edge.
Tom Megalis: And I think that's what keeps her going at nearly 80, she's almost 80 right now.
Dave Schwensen: Really?
Tom Megalis: Yeah. I think in order to be relevant and to continue through a sort of this comedic journey into an older age, I think of George Carlin who had a bite and an edge and he was just P.O'd half the time. And always, "This is what irks me!" If you don't have that, if you get soft and kind of like sweet, I don't think it works. But she still has it. You're right.
Dave Schwensen: She's still out doing shows. She's still touring.
Tom Megalis: 80 and pushing and still, I think, I don't know if they're-
Dave Schwensen: Then she did go on to become a famous actress and she was nominated I think for an Academy award for a film she did called Nashville.
Tom Megalis: Oh yeah.
Dave Schwensen: Back in the 70s.
Tom Megalis: That was Altman. Robert Altman.
Dave Schwensen: She's done quite a few films after and Broadway shows. The ones she wrote with her partner, Jane-
Tom Megalis: Wagner.
Dave Schwensen: Oh, Jane Wagner. Okay. The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. They had on Broadway in 1985 and I'm pretty sure it did a national tour also after that.
Dave Schwensen: Well I want to continue because I want to play a clip here that I think is very funny. It's called The Pageant.
Tom Megalis: You've been in pageants, Dave, haven't you? I've seen you being in pageants.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah, that's how I won the award to do this with you. Nobody else showed up.
Tom Megalis: Yeah. Well, you know, I'm Greek, sorry.
Dave Schwensen: It's called The Pageant and it's a pageant that Ernestine, again, her character, the telephone operator, is writing and putting it together, featuring her boyfriend Vito, who may not really be her boyfriend, but she wants to prove to the other telephone operators to maybe keep their hands off. This is from Lily Tomlin's album, This is a Recording and it's called The Pageant.
Lily Tomlin: Girls? Alright now girls, settle down. We've only got a few minutes because we don't want to leave our switchboards unattended for too long. We're all here because we want to present the inspiring drama of telephone company life to people all over America. We've got a really glorious script with song, dance, comedy, and even some living pictures of the biggies in our history. Yes. What is it, Phoenicia? Very quickly. We've only got a few minutes. Yes, I did write it myself, but there are plenty of good parts for everybody, Phoenicia. Well, for instance, you play Mrs. Alexander Graham Bell and you know, Vito, that handsome repairman? He plays Alexander. I thought you'd like that. Me? Oh yes, I do have a part. I play the sexy dance hall girl who is Alexander's mistress and electricity teacher. She inspires him to invent the telephone. Now Phoenicia I'm not going to argue with you. We don't have the time. There was such a person in real life and that's all there is to it.
Lily Tomlin: Now listen girls, the play opens with Alexander. That's Vito, with his shirt off. He's arguing with his wife. That's you Phoenicia. She wants him to give up inventing things and open a paper bag store. Well, he tells her to take a flying leap at the moon and he rushes to the arms of his lover, that's me, where they have a brief scene in bed and then they sing the love duet. Shut up Phoenicia. Alexander's just about to put his shirt back on when his mistress notices a rip in the sleeve. As she stitches it up by hand in candlelight, he invents the sewing machine and the electric light for her. Phoenicia, I'm not going to tell you again.
Lily Tomlin: Now, the next scene is in the cafe where I tap dance, the big radio number while Vito invents the wheel. Then a messenger arrives with a note saying that Alexander's wife has just died, that's you Phoenicia, leaving us free to marry. Well then Alexander, that's Vito and me, we sing and dance the big finale during which I inspire him to invent the cotton gin, dry ice, airplanes, and finally the telephone. Alright now girls, back to your switchboards. First rehearsal is tomorrow night after work. Oh, and Phoenicia? Phoenicia? Make her turn around. I want her to hear this. There are no small parts, only small actors.
Tom Megalis: Vito is a genius.
Dave Schwensen: Yeah, but you know Lily Tomlin, I mean I can just picture this in my head. That's what's so great about this album. She's explaining this pageant she wrote and really, I mean, I can picture, of course, I know what she looks like, but everyone else is just, I have it in my head and that's great storytelling. That's great storytelling.
Tom Megalis: She's painting it, man. She's great.
Dave Schwensen: And she just really brought that full circle. You know, she started out like writing. Okay, we're going to do this, do this, and it turns out she was the winner in the end. She knew all along. She was manipulating everybody.
Tom Megalis: Absolutely.
Dave Schwensen: All along, including her want to be boyfriend Vito.
Tom Megalis: Vito. I wonder who he's based off of.
Dave Schwensen: I don't know. I don't know. But you know, she does such great characterizations and her writing and everything that it went on to such a great career as an actor.
Tom Megalis: Yeah. Continuing today.
Dave Schwensen: Yes.
Tom Megalis: She's just almost 80 years old, still pumping them out.
Dave Schwensen: Still has a show, was it Netflix? Called Grace and Frankie.
Tom Megalis: With Jane Fonda.
Dave Schwensen: Her best friend, Jane Fonda.
Tom Megalis: Another almost 80 year old. And they look fantastic.
Dave Schwensen: What's wrong with us?
Tom Megalis: Yeah, I'm falling apart. They're looking great.
Dave Schwensen: But yeah, Lily went on to just a great career and I know she's still tours, she still does some shows.
Tom Megalis: But no more standup, that's over.
Dave Schwensen: Well, you know, did she ever really do stand up?
Tom Megalis: Ah, good question Dave.
Dave Schwensen: That's how we started. We brought our own show full circle. she's a comedic actress. Yes. I want to say she did stand up, we heard it with our first clip today that she filmed at the Ice House in Pasadena, California. But it pretty much set up for what her character was going to do afterwards.
Tom Megalis: And I do think she's influenced modern day one man shows, people that we've done some of that have continued to-
Dave Schwensen: I like to go back to some of these comedians and their work, their albums, how many years before they did this before say like Saturday Night Live. I mentioned this earlier, someone like Gilda Radner, Lorraine Newman, I think they were influenced by what Lily Tomlin was doing. And that's a great thing about comedy because Lily, when she grew up in Detroit, she was listening to the radio, she had television in the 50s and she was watching and imitating her favorite comedians, whether they were men or women, it didn't matter. And that's how she got started.
Tom Megalis: Funny is funny.
Dave Schwensen: Funny is funny.
Tom Megalis: You know, right before when I was listening to her, and I'm thinking of like characters and characters right before SNL was National Lampoon radio and some of those characters with Chris Guest and some of these other people that were doing character. And you could see sort of the line of comedy, of character comedy. I think it's continuing today. I'm sure that she's influenced and inspired me.
Dave Schwensen: You can't deny the importance of Lily Tomlin. Okay. You just can't.
Tom Megalis: She's in history, baby.
Dave Schwensen: She's a legend just like we are.
Tom Megalis: Exactly, in our own minds. You and I, Dave.
Dave Schwensen: And as long as we say that we better end this before they throw us out of here for feeling this way.
Tom Megalis: The doors are locked. I'm going out the window.
Dave Schwensen: Alright, Tom Megalis, you were my cohost today. I had a blast as always.
Tom Megalis: Oh my gosh. Can I get some coffee, Dave?
Dave Schwensen: I don't think you need anymore.
Tom Megalis: Alright. Sorry. I always try to get a free coffee.
Dave Schwensen: Alright. Say goodbye.
Tom Megalis: Bye bye.
Dave Schwensen: I'm Dave Schwensen. You've been listening to What's So Funny? And we'll catch you next time. Until then, keep laughing.
Narration: You been listening to What's So Funny? Catch us next week with Kelly Thewlis where we'll be listening to the comedy duo Nichols and May. Special thanks to executive producers, Joan Andrews and Michael DiAloia], producer Sarah Willgrube and audio engineer, Eric Koltnow.