Lily Tomlin Says It's Possible for Comics to be Funny Without Cursing

Artist Management

Lily Tomlin is a brilliant actress, comedian, writer, producer, activist and recording artist, but above all of that, she has a way with words that makes you just want to listen to her for hours on end. With her one-woman show coming to Segerstrom Center for the Arts, you'll have the chance to do just that on Saturday.

We all remember one of her many characters from one place or another, so getting the chance to talk to Tomlin before her show was quite an eye-opening experience. We picked her brain on topics from being roasted to the media roasting comics for words they say to the words that come out of other people's mouths. As for the words that came out of Tomlin's mouth? Sheer genius.

OC Weekly (Ali Lerman): I'm a huge fan of Eastbound and Down and you were incredibly funny as Kenny's mom. You probably gained a bunch of new dirty bird fans from it.

Lily Tomlin: I hope I gained some new fans! I think the show is really hip and that's why I love it. I'm crazy about Danny McBride as Kenny Powers! [Laughs.]

You've always played edgier roles to perfection, even back in the day. Do you like the freedom that cable TV allows or think it's a bit overdone with trying to push the envelope?

Well I do think they overdo it. It's just gotten to be almost as important as a really good, witty, and intelligible line. I think a lot of times it's just way overdone with people cursing. Like in Deadwood you couldn't even count the times that they said "cocksucker." It just goes on and on because the threshold gets moved so people get inured to it. I mean, I'm a pretty good curser myself but I don't really esteem myself for it. I'm always a little sorry that I've done it when I've shown out. These kids are growing up with it and it's becoming secondhand.

Very true. Kids spout off all sorts of stuff these days.

Oh yeah! We could add a little pretention to civility and using language well rather than just resorting to some convenient curse word. [Laughs.] Above all else, the "F-word" is like the most useful word. All you need to do now is just hit it with a good expletive! You can get a laugh just out of the rhythm but that's part of what we live in. Some characters do use a lot of language but, it becomes the expectation for everybody to curse and I can tell you that my mother didn't curse. Well, she may have cursed at night to herself quietly. [Laughs.] I think it's good so that words don't have too much charge but, it's sort of a lack of command of language and it usually shows a lot of anger. I can't imagine what kids think because they don't have any real expectations of anything really positive. I can't discourse of it really in a scholarly way though because I'm certainly not innocent.

Nor am I. Believe me! What about the media exercising their "outrage" when it comes to what comics say?

With something racist or homophobic or whatever?

I think it goes a lot further than that.

Where do they go? Educate me.

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