Comedian/actress Lily Tomlin, whose portrayals of characters such as Ernestine the switchboard operator and 5-year-old Edith Ann on the television classic “Laugh-In” made her a comedic star, has some inspiring advice for hopeful stars.

“Don’t leave the house when you’re drunk.”

Tomlin was both humble and humourous as she was presented with the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award Sunday night.

Tomlin, 77, was supposed to receive the honor from Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton — her co-stars in the classic workplace comedy “9 to 5” — but only Parton showed up, explaining that Fonda had fallen suddenly ill.

“She must be really sick because we’ve been talking to each other for weeks” about the presentation, Parton said.

Tomlin quipped that the world’s “Doomsday clock” was recently moved up to 2 1/2 minutes before midnight.

“This award, it came just in the nick of time,” she said.

Tomlin talked about her trouble-making childhood, noting that in high school, they almost withheld her diploma.

“Turns out I’d been a student four years, but I had been absent one — cumulatively I had been absent one year,” she joked. “I would literally stay out 12, 13 days in a row if my hair didn’t turn out right.”

She offered advice for aspiring actors, such as “don’t leave the house when you’re drunk.”

“And don’t be anxious about missing an opportunity,” she joked. “Behind every failure is an opportunity someone wishes they had missed.”

“Live your life so that when you are being honored for your achievements, the people called upon to make laudatory remarks can feel reasonably honest about their comments,” she said. “Otherwise, in these times, all their words … might be perceived as alternative facts or worse yet, fake news.”

She concluded, “You know, we could all go out and really change things, and in fact, as long as I don’t have to audition, I just may be back.”

During a career that has spanned six decades, Tomlin has collected a roomful of honors for her work on stage and screen, including a half-dozen Emmys, a pair of Peabody Awards, a Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, two Tony Awards and a Grammy Award in 1972 for best comedy album.

Her array of awards is one short of a coveted “EGOT,” missing only an Oscar. She was nominated for a supporting-actress Oscar in 1976 for “Nashville.”

“Lily Tomlin is an extraordinary actress, as equally adept at narrative drama as in comedy roles,” SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said. “But it is through her many original characters that Lily’s creative genius fully shines. She has an ability to create diverse and distinct characters that are at once familiar, eccentric and oh-so-honest — in a way that illuminates life’s hidden corners.”

Her work on “Laugh-In” made Tomlin a household name, leading to a series of her own comedy specials, along with animated specials based on her character Edith Ann, the nasal-voiced, philosophical 5-year-old girl. She also appeared on television series including “Murphy Brown,” “The West Wing” and “Damages.” She currently stars alongside Jane Fonda in “Grace and Frankie.”

Asked backstage at the SAG Awards ceremony about the political focus of the evening, Tomlin told reporters she thought “stars that people really have affection for and care for to some degree” can deliver a message that “lands home.”

However, “If you can’t be a little entertaining at the same time,” those words may ” fall on deaf ears.”

More important than speeches, Tomlin said, is backing legislation.

“You’ve got to change the laws … (President Donald) Trump is changing the laws now,” the actress said.

“I don’t want to make this comparison, but I’m making it anyway … the Nazis changed the laws … we need to be vigilant.”

Although she earned her Oscar nomination for “Nashville,” Tomlin is best remembered on the big screen for her work with Fonda and Parton in “9 to 5.” She also appeared in films including “The Incredible Shrinking Woman,” “Big Business,” “All of Me,” “I Heart Huckabees” and “A Prairie Home Companion.”

Tomlin said the one lesson she wished she had learned earlier was “just to be more myself … rather than stretch my face, my voice, my everything else into a character.”

SAG-AFTRA officials also hailed Tomlin for her philanthropic work, including her support for the LGBT community — punctuated by her co-founding of the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center and the Goosebump Garden at the LGBT Fenway Health Center in Boston. She is also a noted animal-welfare and anti-homelessness activist.

–City News Service

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