Lily Tomlin Elliot Norton - Essay

Elliot Norton

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Miss Tomlin is a SATIRIST, and a genius. She mocks her own generation in somewhat the same way that Jules Feiffer does. She puts them on the stage, and "puts them on," and so skillful is she, so brilliant, so witty, she makes them laugh at their own comic images….

"PERFORM" is one word for what she does; she surely is a performer. But she is also a creator, and that's rare and wonderful. She creates, or recreates, a gallery of people, children and adults, some of whom are reflections of herself and, at the same time, universal. Summoning them up from memory or imagination, she makes them vivid, human, funny and sometimes sad. There is no suggestion of mawkishness in "Lily Tomlin on the Way to Broadway," but there is a strong strain of sentiment.

Although she concentrates on teen-agers, and post-teens, she is perhaps most remarkable as a portrayer of children, especially one seven-year-old whom she candidly calls "Lily Tomlin."…

Longer and maybe a touch too long, is another Tomlin piece in which she is now a high-schooler, full of all the wisdom of the teen-age, which is invincible. Her heroine now is indignantly superior to her parents, wise and richly platitudinous in her continuing phone conversation with her friend Jane, an authority on all topics and a rebel for all causes.

She carries this particular girl into pot smoking, into the Vietnam protests of the Sixties and, with wonderful irony, leaves her as a matron who has her own maid and, having explored all the causes, is now into shopping at Lord and Taylor's.

THERE IS NO rancor or bitterness in her but she makes her points sharply.

She gets her people into Singles bars, of course. That probably has to be taken for granted. In their dim hangouts, they are no different from earlier generations of romantically frustrated young people, including those of their seniors who frequented the speakeasies. That's part of her art: in presenting the youth of her time, she has caught the human strains that link them with all generations.

Elliot Norton, "Lily Tomlin's Great on Stage at Wilbur," in Boston Herald American, March 18, 1977.