“When I was growing up, I always wanted to be somebody. As time went by, I realized I should have been more specific.”
That line, delivered midway through Lily Tomlin’s rollicking one-woman show on May 9 at the Valley Performing Arts Center, was met with boisterous laughter from the sold-out crowd and said so much about the evening’s featured guest.
The iconic Tomlin has built a successful career on-screen and on-stage displaying great comedic timing, spot-on one-liners and seamlessly stepping into characters she created throughout nearly 50 years entertaining audiences across the United States and beyond. Those Tomlin creations like Ernestine Tomlin, Edith Ann and Mrs. Judy Beasley all received comic turns throughout the nearly two-hour performance. Telephone operator Ernestine, in particular, has a new career as a claims administrator for a health insurer, and her spitfire delivery made it clear where Tomlin stood on the state of health care today.
A video screen also displayed an even wider array of clips showcasing Tomlin’s other characters, all receiving enthusiastic reactions from the audience. It was Tomlin’s greatest hits from a career that has seen her win several Emmy and Tony awards, and the crowd responded as if hearing a series of favorite songs from a beloved singer.
Tomlin repeatedly recounted stories from her childhood in Detroit, and it was in these moments that the show became most heartfelt and revealing. She said that she received her comic timing from her father, who had a penchant for making funny appearances during his wife’s women-only Tupperware parties. And she gave a peek into her formative years when the comedienne played every part in a conversation between her parents that was interrupted intermittently by teenage Lily opening her door screaming and blasting music every time she heard the word “cake.”
The evening concluded with a Q&A session where Tomlin received questions submitted by audience members before the performance. They ranged from whether she remembered a certain friend from childhood (who was the parent of the questioner), to the origin of the Edith Ann character, to her breaking out in laughter after she was queried as to whether she was going to buy the Los Angeles Clippers.
Throughout the performance, Tomlin displayed the self-assuredness that comes with being successful and sustaining it for such an extended period while still appreciating the immediate reaction of laughter from a live audience. It’s quite evident that Tomlin very much enjoys performing in front of crowds like the enthusiastic one at the VPAC. And whichever character she’s transforming herself into, including herself, it’s very clear that the evening’s star has become “somebody” of significance in the pantheon of comedic performers.