Lily Tomlin broke through as a comedic force on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In in the early 1970s, and has remained a vibrant presence in television—not to mention film and theater as well—up until this very moment. Along the way, she has been a groundbreaking force for women in comedy, as well as LGBTQ+ representation and even older women on television, all while being just plain smart and funny.
Born in 1939 in Detroit, Tomlin made the stand-up comedy rounds in New York City in the 1960s before landing on Laugh-In as a regular in 1970. She created several popular characters on the sketch show, including Ernestine, an annoying old-timey telephone operator, and Edith Ann, a wise-beyond-her-years five-year-old. That success led her to a string of successful comedy records, Broadway appearances, and movie roles, as well as two collaborators who would become lifelong partners in different ways: writer Jane Wagner, who co-wrote and directed Tomlin’s solo Broadway show, Appearing Nitely, eventually becoming Tomlin’s producing partner and wife; and actress Jane Fonda, Tomlin’s 9 to 5 costar with whom she’d form a wildly successful late-in-life comedy duo.
She is currently as popular as she’s ever been, thanks especially to her re-teaming with Fonda on the Netflix sensation Grace and Frankie, a sitcom about two women in their 70s whose lives are rocked by the revelation that their respective husbands are in love with each other and leaving them to be together. Running from 2015 to 2022, it hit a number of nerves, none more notably than the simple recognition that women like Grace and Frankie were rarely, if ever, allowed to be so sexual, flawed, sad, funny, and alive—while also being in their 70s—in major media. As a result, Tomlin has teamed with Fonda on a string of films since, including Moving On and 80 for Brady.
With a career spanning over five decades from countless roles in film (Nashville, All of Me, Short Cuts, The Incredible Shrinking Woman); on Broadway (The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe); in television (The Magic School Bus, The West Wing, Murphy Brown); and comedy albums (This is a Recording), Tomlin has made an indelible mark on American media and culture with her unique blend of humor and vulnerability.
But perhaps Tomlin’s greatest contribution to the entertainment industry has been her commitment to using her platform to raise awareness of important social and political issues. An activist in the feminist and LGBTQ movements as well as for environmental causes, Tomlin has been a tireless advocate for social justice and human rights, using her wit and charisma to engage and educate audiences.
Throughout her career, Tomlin has embodied the very best of what the entertainment industry has to offer, using her talent to inspire and entertain millions of people around the world while remaining true to her own ideals. Her legacy is a testament to the power of art, and comedy in particular, to make a difference in the world. For that, the Board of Jurors is proud to honor Lily Tomlin with this year’s Peabody Career Achievement Award.