Lily Tomlin fully intends to get arrested with Jane Fonda

Lily Tomlin
Screen icon Lily Tomlin was one of Thursday’s Paley honorees, along with Bob Newhart, Carl Reiner, Norman Lear and Carol Burnett.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP)

Jane Fonda’s series of climate change protest arrests have featured a revolving door of guest stars — including Ted Danson, Catherine Keener, Sam Waterston and Rosanna Arquette — taken away in cuffs each Friday. But one key player from Fonda’s inner circle has been noticeably absent in Washington, D.C.: Lily Tomlin.

Tomlin, 80, insists her absence from her “Grace and Frankie” costar’s Fire Drill Fridays crusade isn’t for lack of trying. In fact, she fully intends to join her on- and off-screen partner in crime as soon as she can.

“She’s a trouper,” Tomlin told The Times at Thursday’s Paley Honors in Beverly Hills. “She wrote me today, just telling me, listing all the people that have been there. I was supposed to go very early with her, but my partner, Jane [Wagner], was having some some problems, and I couldn’t go.”

The Paley Center for Media celebrated Tomlin, Bob Newhart, Carl Reiner, Carol Burnett and Norman Lear at “The Paley Honors: A Special Tribute to Television’s Comedy Legends.” Before receiving her award, Tomlin discussed her and Fonda’s activism, as well as the imminent end of their Netflix comedy and a potential new beginning for their big-screen classic, “9 to 5.”

“I would expect to misbehave enough so that I get arrested,” she said of her protesting plans. “It’s with the very best intentions, and she’s gotten a lot of terrific people to join her. Our whole writers room went last week. ... Our heart is really in it. We just want everybody else’s heart to get in it.”

Climate change demonstration or not, Tomlin and Fonda, 81, will soon reunite for the final two seasons of “Grace and Frankie,” set to conclude in 2021.

“Jane and I don’t necessarily want to end the series,” the actress said. “We made a deal a couple of years ago with the network to go seven seasons, but now that it’s here, we’re a little bit sad, [and] a little bit relieved that, well, we’ll be done. We can go and do something else. But we really love being together and doing those characters and doing the show, and we adore [showrunner] Marta [Kauffman], and our whole crew is fantastic. ... It’s been a lucky run. It’s really fun. We didn’t expect it, and it’s just great.”


Before the penultimate season debuts next year, Tomlin revealed she’s already begun to collect souvenirs from the set, including many of Frankie’s best art pieces, from her illustrated lesson in self-defense for the elderly to the famous circumcision of Hitler.

Though she doesn’t know much yet about how the series will end, she hopes that — in keeping with their activism in real life — Grace and Frankie will leave a positive impact on the world before they go.

“I’d like to see us come to some really profound realization, not unlike what Jane has done, going to D.C.,” Tomlin said. “We probably would not suffer the results of any kind of great climate crisis because we’re getting old now, but we’d like to ... make some kind of really great difference that was also jubilant and funny and moving, in some way, to the audience. I would like to sign it off that way.”

Their Netflix sitcom may be coming to a close, but if Tomlin has her way, she and Fonda will be working together again soon — perhaps for a revival of their groundbreaking 1980 comedy, “9 to 5.” While her other costar Dolly Parton recently told The Times that plans for a sequel to the workplace satire had been scrapped, Tomlin is still holding out hope that the women can work something out.

Lisa Kudrow, Lily Tomlin
Honoree Lily Tomlin, right, celebrates receiving her award as presenter Lisa Kudrow looks on at “The Paley Honors: A Special Tribute to Television’s Comedy Legends.”
(Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP)

“I haven’t given up on it entirely,” she said. “I think that’s one thing that we need to do before we depart this planet — the three of us ... It would be a nice way to round it out if we could come up with a really great idea. And we had, the first script was written, and it just missed a little. It wasn’t right, and it borrowed too much from ... the original.”

Another greatest hit of Tomlin’s that she’d like to resurrect? Fan-favorite 5-year-old Edith Ann from her breakout early days on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”

“I’d like to get Edith Ann an animated series,” she said. “I made six specials. I never got a series, and Edith Ann never got a series. Or maybe I’ll do a kids show. I’d love to do a kids show with an Edith puppet.”

While accepting her award, Tomlin channeled Edith, performing a crowd-pleasing medley of character impressions, including “That’s the truth,” Ernestine the operator’s “one ringy dingy” and “Susie Sorority from the silent majority.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing here,” she joked when she finished. “Although I’m happy that I was invited. It’s the first time I’ve actually been invited to a top-tier industry gathering, and I’m really, really grateful. People on the red carpet, they acted like I really belonged here, and I don’t feel like I do. ... So thank you.”

Presenters included Allison Janney, Anthony Anderson, Conan O’Brien, Jason Alexander, Jimmy Kimmel, Kristin Chenoweth, Lisa Kudrow, Rob Reiner and Sean Hayes. Also among the night’s attendees were Bob Mackie, Brenda Song, Cedric Yarbrough, Jane Seymour, Jimmie Walker, Juan Pablo Espinosa, Kat Dennings and Mitzi Gaynor.

Funds raised during the event will help create the Paley Center’s Comedy Collection, a collection of programs and groundbreaking comedic moments spanning 80 years of TV, which will be preserved as part of the Paley Archive.