BY Neal Broverman
April 05 2010 2:55 PM ET
“Gay people don’t have an excuse to be square,” Lily Tomlin told Coco
Peru on Saturday night at “Conversations With Coco,” a fund-raiser for
the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. At the event, fittingly held at the Lily Tomlin/Jane
Wagner Cultural Arts Center in Hollywood (named for the star and her
partner), Clinton Leupp’s alter ego talked Tomlin through her 45-year
career in film, on television, and on Broadway ... and Tomlin proved that discussing your Emmys and Tonys with a famous drag queen is about as far from square as it gets.
Entering the simple stage set — two chairs, a table,
and some flowers — Tomlin looked chic and youthful, her jet-black hair
matching her leather jacket, slim pants, and high-heeled boots. Exposing
a bit of vanity, she complained lightheartedly about her “sidelight”
and fussed with her pants all night to make sure they weren’t riding up.
Her first job on camera actually involved a play on her
beauty — on a short-lived revival of TheGarry Moore Show in 1966, Tomlin is
seen in front of a mirror as a stagehand informs her she has two
minutes before showtime. She brushes her hair, applies mascara, and
announces she’s now groomed and gorgeous enough for the cameras. Then
she pulls a gorilla mask over her head. Even though the skit was cut,
Tomlin’s delivery of her aborted debut didn’t miss a beat.
Quick to laugh and full of stories, Tomlin talked up her Detroit childhood,
which included several sojourns to visit relatives in Kentucky. Her
brother fancied himself a playboy, drinking water out of martini
glasses, while she and her cousins would eat cobs of corn thrown on the
floor by her mother (Tomlin’s next project should be a Running With
Scissors/Me Talk Pretty One Day anthology).
Clips of Tomlin’s characters on Laugh-In, which she joined in its
third season in late ’69, were projected on a giant screen, including
Suzy Sorority and, of course, impish Edith Ann and the snorting phone
operator Ernestine. She described Ernestine’s power trips and facial
tics as signs of a repressed sexual beast within. Tomlin spoke of the
most memorable characters she created for Laugh-In and her
television specials — including the male lounge singer Tommy Velour and
the R&B crooner Pervis Hawkins — like friends she hadn’t seen in
a while, describing them as you would a high school boyfriend or
college professor (Hawkins was a “cool cat” and Ernestine “really loved
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