EMMYS 2017: How Grace and Frankie’s Lily Tomlin Changed the Face of Comedy on Broadway

Special Features   EMMYS 2017: How Grace and Frankie’s Lily Tomlin Changed the Face of Comedy on Broadway
 
Having earned her 18th Emmy nomination, Playbill looks back on how Tomlin changed comedy on the stage.
Lily Tomlin in<i> Grace and Frankie</i>
Lily Tomlin in Grace and Frankie Netflix

With her third consecutive nomination as Frankie Bergstein on Grace and Frankie, Lily Tomlin proves that her humor is like a good scotch—it only gets better with age.

When Tomlin started out doing stand-up around New York City, no one knew she would go on to be an 18-time Emmy-nominated comedic force and a Kennedy Center Honoree. Having attended Wayne State University, Tomlin auditioned for a play and eventually changed her major from biology to theatre.

In 1966, Tomlin made her scripted stage debut in the Off Off-Broadway comedy Below the Belt. Her comedy earned her a spot as a regular performer on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In beginning in 1969. Time spent developing characters and writing for the television comedy world led Tomlin to write and star in her own show: Appearing Nitely. The evening of character comedy marked her Broadway debut in 1977 and she received a Special Tony Award that year. Tomlin wound up touring nationally with her solo show and translated it into an album called On Stage.

The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe Playbill - Black & White, Nov 2000
The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe Playbill - Black & White, Nov 2000

Tomlin first worked alongside her Grace and Frankie co-star, Jane Fonda, in the 1980 feature film 9 to 5 (which was later made into a Broadway musical).

In 1985, Tomlin returned to Broadway with the solo show The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, written by her partner, Jane Wagner. Playing to critical acclaim, Tomlin won two Drama Desk Awards (Outstanding Actress in a Play and Unique Theatrical Experience) and a Tony Award (Best Actress in a Play) for her pioneering performance in the comic critique of modern American society.

The show was turned into a 1991 movie of the same name and was nominated for two Primetime Emmys: Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special and Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program. She was nominated for Best Female Lead by the Independent Spirit Awards and won an American Comedy Award for the Funniest Actress in a Motion Picture.

Having migrated back to the screen, Tomlin continued to be a force in the television writer’s room, but she was also a part of the casts of such groundbreaking shows as Murphy Brown, The West Wing, and Damages, as well as the children’s television circuit via appearances as a regular on Sesame Street and voicing the character of zany science teacher Ms. Frizzle for The Magic School Bus.

Still, Tomlin’s comedy roots called, and she revived Signs for Intelligent Life on Broadway in 2000. The show was nominated for Drama Desk and Tony Awards for Revival of a Play, and went on to tour the country for two years.

Tomlin earned the top honor for artists in 2014, when she was bestowed with a Kennedy Center Honor for her total achievements. She debuted in the Netflix series alongside Fonda in 2015. With Season 3, we’ll see if the third time is the charm for an Emmy win.

Tune in to the 69th Annual Emmy Awards September 17 on CBS.

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