She has given us such characters as mouthy 6-year-old Edith Ann, cranky phone operator Ernestine and philosophizing bag lady Trudy. This week, Lily Tomlin is being recognized for her quirky comedy as the recipient of the prestigious Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (On Stage at the Kennedy Center: The Mark Twain Prize airs Nov. 26 on PBS; check TV Guide listings.) Friends like Robin Williams and Everybody Loves Raymond's Doris Roberts salute her in the Kennedy Center tribute. Now that's something to stick your tongue out about.
TV Guide Online: So what do you and Mark Twain have in common?
Tomlin: Maybe our perceptions about the human condition. A kind of satiric view of what's going on, while [believing] we're all part of the same species.
TVGO: Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton pay their tributes on the show. What's the funniest thing that ever happened on the set of 9 to 5?
Tomlin: Dolly's bust was so big that we would bump into her. It's out of the normal range! Somehow we got over it.
TVGO: You recently revived Ernestine for an ad campaign. Is she thrilled with her new role?
Tomlin: She's happy she gets to push CEOs around. Tell them how stupid they are.
TVGO: Will Edith Ann come back to life as well?
Tomlin: I'm going to figure out how to get her a show. I'd combine animation, live-action and puppetry. I even had a life-size puppet made. She has radio-operated eyes and a tongue!
TVGO: Did you know that people pay to get photographed in Edith Ann-type chairs at state fairs?
Tomlin: Gee, I wish they'd told me. I have Edith Ann's rocker and a huge chair from The Incredible Shrinking Woman in my house, and people love to sit in them.
TVGO: You share your house with [writing partner] Jane Wagner. When you came out, the announcement barely caused a ripple.
Tomlin: I never wanted to be an object for the press. Or the movement. Everybody knew Jane and I lived together for 30 years. But people chose not to write about it.
TVGO: Any interest in doing a series?
Tomlin: I'd like to do a show called Tomlintown where everybody is off-center. I wanted [drag performer] Lypsinka to run the local beauty salon and charm school. The diner is run by conjoined twins. One takes orders, the other cooks. I pitched this to [CBS chairman] Les Moonves once. He turned around to other people and said, "She's kidding, right?"
TVGO: Sounds like a hard sell.
Tomlin: But I can guarantee that it would be pretty funny.
TVGO: Do you ever wish that your West Wing character, Debby, could do more than show guests into the Oval Office?
Tomlin: Well, yeah. I'd like to be powerful, instead of having to say, "The president has a dog." Listen, I'm not going to look a gift show in the mouth. I lobbied to get this part. When I first saw West Wing, I said, "God, why didn't I get on this show?" and I sent out word. That worked for me a couple of times before, on Homicide and X-Files. Then, God love her, Mrs. Landingham died. I suggested that, if and when they hired another assistant, I could be the assistant. And a year later, I was!