Interview with Lily Tomlin

When Lily Tomlin calls, your mind says, “One ringy-dingy.” You can’t help it. And part of you really, really wants Ernestine to be on the other end of the line.

Fortunately, better judgment kicks in before you make the clichéd joke, even as you marvel at the fact that Tomlin’s characters are so ingrained in pop culture that the ringing of a phone brings to mind a whole slate of inspired comedy. The woman is, quite simply, an icon.

She also actively supports causes she believes in. On April 17, Tomlin and comedian Kate Clinton will perform “Back 2 Back” at the historic St. George Theater on Staten Island to benefit the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation for breast cancer and Community Health Action of Staten Island.

Tomlin talked to about the event and caught us up on some of her other projects. She also shared her thoughts on how things have changed for the LGBT community during her 40 years in public life. How did the idea come up for you and Kate to do this benefit?
Lily Tomlin:
Kate and I have been friends for a long time; she’s adorable. We have a lot of mutual friends and always see each other in Provincetown. About a year ago, we did a gala for Fenway Health in Boston — I was getting the Susan Love award and Kate was emceeing — and we started improvising and had a lot of fun. When our friend Santa Fareri wanted to do something on Staten Island for Susan Love and Community Health Action, she suggested that Kate and I do a show together.

AE: So you two haven’t really worked together very often?
Just two or three times. But over the years, I’ve gone to her shows and she’s come to mine. Sometimes while she was on stage, I would jump up from the audience and tell her that she was losing the crowd and obviously needed my help. [Laughs] I’d step up to save the day. I love Kate — she’s adaptable and smart — and she makes me look good.