Georgia Tech's Ferst Center for the Arts (disclosure: an Edelman client) was the funniest place in Atlanta last night, with Mark Twain Prize (and Emmy, and Tony, and GRAMMY) winning comedienne Lily Tomlin playing to a standing room audience.
As a special treat (though not surprising), local star resident Jane Fonda -- Tomlin's co-star from one of the first Beta-tape home video cassettes I ever viewed: Nine To Five -- was in the audience. Jane was seated on the center aisle, on about row 15. My seat was on the front row (purchased online at 12:01 a.m. ET/12:01 p.m. Beijing time, as I was working in China during the on-sale moment, determined to have an excellent seat, and it was, as we could practically see Tomlin's nose hairs whenever she strolled stage left!).
During her 90 minutes of monologue, in-character sketches and even some pantomime and dancing, Tomlin delivered and outstanding array of laughs. Given this week's election news, perhaps Tomlin's best pseudo-impromptu line was her lamentations on how she is "now deeply worried about the future of comedy" in a post-W. presidency. She also described how graffiti in her hometown of Detroit sold thousands of cars:
"Teenagers used to spray paint that four-letter word that started with 'F' on bridges, and overnight the adults would repaint it to read 'BUICK'!"
Tomlin also touched on Hollywood, family and sexuality several times, noting that in her youth, family and society, "no one was gay -- they were only shy."
Following a sustained standing ovation, a couple hundred "VIP" ticket holders joined Tomlin and Fonda on stage for a delightfully informal meet-and-greet session. Everyone got as much time as they wanted to snap photos, ask questions or seek autographs from both stars.
For the sake of this blog, when it was my turn to chat with Tomlin, I decided to reprise my "reporter" role in an Olympic version of "The Chris Farley Show" and ask whether Lily had a favorite Olympic moment, athlete or experience (Tomlin is now the fifth celebrity to indulge my Olympic curiosity after Ennio Morricone, Kelly Clarkson, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and most recently Garrison Keillor).
Tomlin took a minute to think about it, and eventually replied (see the video) that she was amazed by the opening ceremonies in Athens and Beijing, in particular the giant LED "scroll" in the Bird's Nest. A bit later, off camera, Tomlin introduced the topic to her stage manager while we were exchanged e-mail information (Tomlin missed Fonda's departure from the event, and I offered Fonda's G-CAPP manager's e-mail to Tomlin & Co. -- thanks, Ms. Tomlin, for answering my questions and for signing my ticket).
Before she left the venue, I also asked Fonda whether she had ever seen Tomlin perform live on stage. The answer was, "No. No, not ever in Atlanta. And this venue [The Ferst Center and Atlanta] was a great place for this."
On the advice of Fonda's team from G-CAPP, I did not go down the Olympic path of questions, which I now regret. One of Fonda's G-CAPP colleagues said that she did not believe Jane had attended an Olympics, and unsure about the Goodwill Games with Fonda's then-husband Ted Turner.
Today, the morning after, the Web yielded that Fonda DID have at least one five-ringed connection as host of some sort of 1984 televised "Olympic Gala" (with Neil Diamond, The Beach Boys, James Stewart, Paul Hogan, Olivia Newton-John, Christoper Reeve, Dizzy Gillespie, Brooke Shields, Bruce Jenner, Peggy Flemming, John Houseman, Robert Wagner, Placido Domingo, Johnny Mathis, Henry Mancini, Barbara Walters, Andy Williams, Gregory Peck, Gene Kelly, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jack Lemmon, Burt Lancaster and even Prince Charles and Princess Diana -- man, I need to find a tape of this) which presumably took place in Los Angeles before or during the Games of the XXIIIrd Olympiad.
Oh, well -- guess I'll have to ask Jane the next time we cross paths at the Midtown Whole Foods Market.
But back to Tomlin. Of several dozen celebrity introductions over the years, Tomlin was one of the most gracious, friendly and genuine. I appreciated her time to talk with so many people and her thoughtful answer to my questions -- some of the best 1x1 celebrity time since working with Benazir Bhutto's media tour at CNN. To paraphrase the interviewer Chris Farley, "That was AWESOME!"
And that's the truth.
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