Lily Tomlin, one of the great pioneering figures in American comedy, will be appearing for two nights at the Lobero Theatre this weekend. The shows make up for an engagement that was scheduled for last spring but was cancelled due to the Jesusita Fire. I first spoke with Tomlin in early May, when we had a great talk about her childhood in Detroit and the influence of her family life on her work. Since then, a lot has been happening for the actress, and in a follow-up conversation last week, we discussed some of the many roles she has played on scripted television. Here’s what Tomlin told me this time around.
What’s happening with your character on Desperate Housewives, Roberta McCluskey? Oh, so you know about that? We’re working on a spin-off series from Desperate Housewives that would star myself and Kathryn Joosten. We’ve had a really good response to the McCluskey sister characters, and Marc Cherry [the writer and producer of Desperate Housewives] has given us his blessing, so we are moving ahead with it. Roberta McCluskey is a lot of fun to play. She is a shady person who would do just about anything, and I love that.
You are a popular guest star on network television. Have you got any other slots lined up that we should know about? Yes, I am just back from shooting six episodes of Damages in New York. This has to be one of my favorite assignments ever. The group they have assembled around Glenn [Close, who stars in the show, which is a legal thriller on the FX Network] for this season is incredible. The other new regulars for this season besides me are Martin Short, Campbell Scott, and Keith Carradine. It’s going to be great.
That’s exciting. How do you still have time to tour with the live show? I don’t tour! That’s how I have time. I have always limited my live appearances to 40 or 50 a year, at most, and I only play in places that I really like-like Santa Barbara. But this year I am finally going to break one of my longstanding vows. I used to say that I would never play Las Vegas, but the MGM Grand, well-they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Please tell me about that. It’s funny because back in the 1980s I did a television special that was actually a takeoff on the big Vegas spectaculars of that era. It was called “Lily Sold Out,” and it had all the glitz and ridiculousness of an Ann-Margret or a Raquel Welch Vegas act. You can imagine how those sequined outfits worked on me. Those were the days when all the stars went to Vegas to make a lot of money. Honestly, I might have gone back then, but nobody asked. [Laughs.] Now, when the people from MGM Grand came with their offer, I was like, “Oh no, I couldn’t possibly : uh, how much? Okay!” And so I’ve built this whole Vegas act, but it still incorporates my characters and the material I do that people are familiar with. I open there on November 10 in the Hollywood Room.
What can we expect at the Lobero? Have you developed any new characters? I love playing this size room because I can really make things intimate and interact with the audience. I won’t necessarily have any new characters, but I always put new things in the mouths of the old ones, so the show stays topical. I have some knowledge of Santa Barbara, and I think I know what’s funny there, so look out for some things that relate to the city.
An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin will take place at the Lobero Theatre on Friday, October 16, and Saturday, October 17, at 8 p.m. For tickets and information, call 963-0761 or visit lobero.com.