Just because Lily Tomlin is incredibly busy with new projects — she’s had guest roles on three TV shows in the past several months — doesn’t mean she’s given up on what made her famous.

So if you venture to her live show at Portland’s State Theatre on Tuesday, you’ll likely see Ernestine the phone operator, Edith Ann the perpetual child and some other characters Tomlin made famous on TV’s “Laugh-In” more than 40 years ago.

“Oh, I still do them. If I didn’t do Ernestine, they wouldn’t let me out of the auditorium,” says Tomlin, 72, from her home in Los Angeles. “Ernestine is in health care now. During the Bush administration, she had a Web chat show.”

Tomlin’s characters all change with the times — like Tomlin herself. Although known as a comedian, lately she’s acted in everything from traditional TV dramas such as “NCIS” on CBS and “The West Wing” on NBC to edgier pay-cable shows including “Web Therapy” on Showtime and “Eastbound & Down” on HBO.

Tomlin basically considers everything that’s offered to her — and she has a lot offered to her. She had never even heard of “Eastbound & Down” before she was offered a part in it. But she soon found that the show, about a former pro baseball player forced to teach at his old middle school, was something she enjoyed.

Tomlin enjoys both the straighter roles of shows like “NCIS,” where there are strict parameters for her character, as well as a more free-form show like “Web Therapy.” In that Showtime comedy, she plays star Lisa Kudrow’s mother, and the two of them basically improvise all their lines.

“My character is quite outrageous, and I basically come in with stuff and try to spring it on Lisa,” says Tomlin. “But she’s unflappable; you can’t get her out of character.”

When she’s not acting or performing live, Tomlin watches a lot of political coverage on TV. She’s long been an active supporter of women’s and family shelters and of gay rights. She recently did a fundraising event for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

When asked what she does with her free time, Tomlin laughs.

“I don’t want to do anything, really,” she says. “I’ve been doing this for 40 years or more, but I have this fantasy of someday having a hammock tied up by a creek.”

But inevitably, Tomlin’s phone would ring with more job offers: “One ringy dingy, two ringy dingy.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]







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