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Arts & Entertainment

Review: Tomlin's Ernestine updated

| Monday, Feb. 9, 2009

It's a testament to Lily Tomlin that characters such as Ernestine and 5-year-old Edith Ann remain fresh and funny as they were 40 years ago on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In."

Some updating helps. In her one-woman show at the Benedum on Saturday, Tomlin's Ernestine had been laid off from the telephone company and now works for an HMO. Cheerful and ruthless as ever, she cheerfully rejected claims from callers, explaining to one that "blindness is a pre-existing condition" and "you should have read the fine print." She punctuated the zingers with that trademark chuckle and snort.

The stand-up portion of the show included a bit of good-natured civic pandering to Pittsburgh and the Steelers. (She said she was proud of her "kid brother, Mike"). Apart from a few tiresome swipes at big targets (Bush, Cheney, Republicans), Tomlin's childlike charisma, tinged with an endearing neurosis, helped put the jokes across. She may be at her best as a storyteller, as she demonstrated with some anecdotes from her Detroit childhood, particularly with a piece about her schoolgirl crush on her second-grade teacher.

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