Lily Tomlin Richard L. Coe - Essay

Richard L. Coe

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Lily Tomlin is more than a comedienne. Whereas Alice went "Through the Looking Glass" to find a topsy-turvy but delightful world, Lily breaks through the Tube to find there was nothing there but broken promises, shattered illusions and hollow dreams. (p. B1)

To a degree, Tomlin's comedy, so enlarged and enriched from that switchboard turn which put her on the American map, is the most intelligent humor to come from the Tube. Her characters are observed from almost a sociologist's or an analyst's chair. It is "Look Back in Disgust" time for the late '50s, the chaotic '60s, the puzzled '70s.

Her characters have learned about life at the Tube. That, as that awful phrase puts it, is where they were at. And remain. And it is from having gaped at the same Tube that Tomlin's richly appreciative audiences achieve their empathy. (pp. B1-B2)

From the supermarket to the singles bars, Tomlin explores a world which has been created from the Tube: "If it weren't for commercials, people would just wander around stores."…

Because reality exposes the petty falsities of the Tube, this is, then, a world closely, narrowly observed. It is neither a hopeful nor cheerful world Tomlin sees, and accurate as her reflections are, she finds it tightly Saran-wrapped, glistening and glittery but airless and heartless, too.

But, if heartless, she is not fearful. Tomlin's world is looked at, faced, considered, despised. But the saving tone is fearlessness. (p. B2)

Richard L. Coe, "Tomlin 'Appearing Nitely' Exploring a World Created by the Tube," in The Washington Post (© 1977, Washington Post Co.), July 27, 1977, pp. B1-B2.