The 72-year-old comedienne performed Saturday, April 16 at Kingsbury Hall to a packed house. Most of the people in the audience were middle-aged lesbians or white-haired couples, with a smattering of younger couples and college students who probably have never seen Tomlin’s act before. Tomlin started her show with a video montage of some of her most famous characters: Edith Ann, Ernestine, Tommy Velour, etc., and bits of her older live performances and sketches. Patrons cheered as they remembered the various bits.
Then, the most energetic septuagenarian who has ever walked the earth bounded on stage, greeted by long and hearty applause from the audience. She jumped right in to her act, taking a few light-hearted jabs at Salt Lake City and thanking the audience for skipping the knitting retreat at Gardner Village to be there, at which point the woman in front of me laughed so hard she almost spit out her dentures. Tomlin spent the next two hours switching from stand-up to video clips to character routines, pausing only to take swift chugs of water and occasionally rest briefly on a chair, with no intermission. Her voice was a bit hoarse, and she did have to break character once to get rid of a cough, but given the fact that in a few of her bits she was screaming at the top of her lungs (“PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT CAAAAAAKE!!!!”), she was holding up remarkably well.
Tomlin’s use of video in her current performance is new. She used it to remind the audience of some of her most famous Laugh-In sketches, before taking that same character and doing a bit in a present-day scenario. One of her funniest moments came when she showed an old video of one of her Laugh-In character Mrs. Beasley doing an ad for hairspray, then continued that character for the audience, switching the product to vibrators. Despite the advanced age of the crowd, the routine still got huge laughs.
Several of her bits were reenactments of previous performances. She did three separate segments as Trudy, the crazy homeless woman from her acclaimed show, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. Her “angry teenager” character, with extremely clever sound and lighting effects, was an audience favorite. Several times she specifically mentioned that she was doing an old bit, and afterward told a little side story about where it came from or a certain time when she performed it and got a unique reaction. Those moments where she would stop and share these memories were some of the greatest parts of her performance—that, and the times where she would start laughing at herself mid-joke, which was undeniably adorable. By the end of the show, you felt like you had known her your whole life. And the truth is, you probably have, but you just didn’t realize it.
After she ended her performance, Tomlin left to a standing ovation, then quickly came back to answer questions that had been written by audience members before the show. When she ended the second time, she again received a standing ovation. As people filed out, one comment by an older woman near me seemed to sum up the feeling of the audience: “It felt so good to laugh like that again.” I imagine a majority of the crowd spent the evening in a state of reminiscence, seeing Tomlin like they’d been seeing her all those years ago when they would gather with their families and watch Laugh-In together. For a couple of hours tonight, they felt as young as Tomlin herself still seems to feel.