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Lily Tomlin on Feminism, Humor and Girls

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by Melissa Silverstein and Kerensa Cadenas
March 28, 2013 12:30 PM
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With the release of Admission, the awesome Lily Tomlin has been popping up in the media.  Seeing Tomlin reminds us of what a pioneer she has been in Hollywood ranging from her career as a comedic actress, to being an outspoken feminist, to the casual acknowledgement of her sexuality and long term relationship with Jane Wagner.  Interesting tidbit.  She was offered the cover of Time in 1975 if she would come out.  She said no, and still got it for her work.

Tomlin spoke about her career, feminism and Girls to Salon and Vanity Fair.

On being playing a feminist in Admission:

I was interested in having been a feminist in that era, I still consider myself a feminist, knowing what it is to be a person who's lived a long time, with core beliefs, a philosophy -- clinging to it, trying to be absolutely true and not betray it when there are a lot of things going on around you.

On the changing nature of humor:

I find what I think is acceptable [is changing]. Women used to never use [profane] language onstage, or if they did, they were Vegas comics maybe. But even Joanie, Joan Rivers, who's a good friend of mine--she's always been hilarious and very outspoken. But in the last 10 years, she's gotten raunchier and raunchier. She's been using more language, talking about things more bluntly, and stuff like that. And that's O.K.--she's a grown woman. And if it's hilarious, it's hilarious, within a certain confine of sensibility. After a while... hold on, what can I say that is a truth about my feelings on this?

I used to do a 50s teenager. And I had been a 50s teenager. One of my earliest monologues was a girl at a dance, and her boyfriend comes in and asks another girl to dance. And she rejects him. It's a whole little drama with her sidekick Margot. So Toni's talking to Margot about her boyfriend, and she says, "We were slow-dancing and Frankie sprang a boner." See, this was back in '70 or '71. Well, the guy who was running the [Pasadena comedy club] Ice House, he went crazy! Now, I'm not saying every club would have done that. But they didn't expect females to say things like "boner"--even though "boner" is kind of tender. Toni's just talking. He said, "Don't ever say anything like that onstage again."

You can get a laugh off of saying any four-letter word. People are still sensitized enough where they are shocked and excited by it.

On Girls and Lena Dunham:

You know, I don't have a profound judgment on it. I think it's too sexually focused. I think it should have a little more range. But the sexuality is what is going to bring the big audience, and a lot of young girls, I suppose, puzzling over what to do and what not to do or how to do it. Life is very different from the time when I was 20...

One of the fallouts of feminism is that girls became more accessible. Maybe not wisely accessible. A lot of young girls--they're expected to give blow jobs now. Young, young girls, as far as I can perceive. Maybe 12 or 13 years old. I mean, that's a rite of passage, I suppose. As a feminist, I don't want those girls to be used. Maybe they love giving blow jobs, I don't know. Maybe they do? But I don't think you really love giving boys in general blow jobs without any feeling to someone you're not close to. I don't try to speak for people that young. I'm not that young anymore. But my own sense of self--I wouldn't give myself away that easily.

That's part of the culture, and I don't like that it's put on teenyboppers and young girls. They should be developing themselves in a different way than just being sexually accessible. Or looking good. I don't like it being brought back to the time where girls were competitive and disliked each other, this whole concept of cat fights and girls being jealous of one another. You still see cartoons on Saturday morning where there is the nice girl and the mean girl, and they're competitive for the boy who is kind of goofy and ignorant... it's like an old stereotype. But I don't think you can beat too much humanity out of too many humans too quickly.

Lily Tomlin: "Young people don’t even know who Bella Abzug was" (Salon)

Lily Tomlin on Why Girls Is Too Sexual, Zinging Johnny Carson, and Playing Tina Fey's Mom in Admission (Vanity Fair)

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More: Lily Tomlin, Comedy, Feminism, Girls, Admission

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1 Comment

  • maureen | March 30, 2013 3:28 PMReply

    We love you Lily~

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