This Is a Recording

Lily Tomlin

1971/2002: Polydor/ 24-4055/LGH1114

  1. Alexander Graham Bell
  2. Mr Veedle
  3. The Marriage Counselor
  4. Joan Crawford
  5. Obscene Phone Call
  6. The Repairman
  7. The Bordello
  8. Strike
  9. Peeved
  10. Ernestine
  11. The Pageant
  12. The F.B.I.
  13. The Mafia and the Pope
  14. Mrs Mitchell
  15. Awards Dinner
  16. Boswick
  17. I.B.M.

I’ve clung tenaciously to my vinyl copy of this record for most of my adult life because nothing seemed to be happening to bring Tomlin’s comedy records to any more modern format, and this one’s a must-have in my opinion. Sure, it’s funnier if you know something about the era in which it was recorded—for instance that “Mr Veedle” is Gore Vidal, whom Tomlin’s “Ernestine” (the character delivering most of the material on this album) had referred to in other skits of the day (as “Mister Gory Veedle,” Ernestine not having any idea who he was or how to pronounce his name, nor caring—after all, “We don’t care—we don’t have to: we’re the Phone Company,” as she says…except, ironically, not on this album). Or who Martha Mitchell was and why Ernestine’s verbal meltdown in trying to keep up with Mitchell happens, let alone why it’s so funny (“no, I said ‘semantics,’ not ‘semitics,’ Mrs Mitchell—”). Or what an I.B.M. card was, or the name Mary Proctor, or…. Which is all the more reason for her Modern Scream album to be put out on CD now, with its stand-up-routine line “It’s funny to think that bean-bag chairs will one day be antiques.” (A few great selections from Modern Scream can be found on The Best of Lily Tomlin (The Millennium Collection).)

I do love this album and for years have been able to quote whole sections of it without blinking (except to do Ernestine’s trademark snort). It’s hard to say which is funnier, though—the way she telescopes the progression of events in “The Marriage Counselor” or the kind of brilliant humor she derives wickedly (yet not obscenely!) from us hearing only one side of her conversations, such as in “The Obscene Phone Call:” “…Wait a minute—he said he was going to what to you? …Wait, wait—is that ‘F’ as in ‘Frank’?” And I’ll always have a spot in my heart for her line in the introduction “Alexander Graham Bell did kick over in 1922, I…I don’t know if it was Mr Watson, the schnapps, or just what…but he left behind him a monopol‘um, a company….”