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One of the best things about this gig I’ve had for close to 18 years at JPR and serving as Mistress of Ceremonies at the Cascade Theatre has been the opportunity to go behind the curtain and connect – albeit briefly – with some of the stars before they grace the stage with their performances. You’ve heard a few of my brag stories over the years; some of my favorite (and a few not-so-favorite) moments. There was that time Dana Carvey told me that my last name was his meditation mantra, and then there were the times I got to hang out with Chris Isaak not just once but twice. But I’ve still got a story or two up my sleeve that I think you haven’t heard, so today my tale is about the time Lily Tomlin totally freaked me out, knocking me for a loop.
Perhaps you were there, back in March of 2012, when Lily Tomlin brought her one-woman show to the Cascade. If you were there, it would be hard to forget her hilarious musings on Botox, about which she said, “It’s like wearing your labia majora on your face. Which is, of course, where most men would like it to be.”
I had company in town for the show. My mom and dad both came down from Oregon to join me in the audience. On the way to the theatre my mom reminded me that when I was a young girl, Lily Tomlin had come to Maryville, Missouri. That small town was our home for a couple of years while Dad was a professor at Northwest Missouri State University. During that time mom got her college degree there, which started her public radio career. I am my mother’s daughter in so many, many ways. Stay tuned for more on that in a moment. But just like me, mom started out in news at the college radio station. In fact, she interviewed Lily Tomlin for the station on that day back in 1976, which I found out only as we were driving to the theatre that evening. Lily was delightful, my mom said. And super funny. That brief connection was one of the prime reasons my parents wanted to make the drive to attend the performance.
A few days before the show, my brother-in-law Loren emailed me from Seattle to tell me that he had also met Lily Tomlin – twice. He said not only was Lily a real peach, but he had been mightily impressed by the fact that when they met the second time, she remembered him. I was impressed as well when he told me that, because I’ve introduced Pink Martini perhaps 5 times over the years, but it was only last year – when I literally bumped into bandleader Thomas Lauderdale in the lobby of the Eugene Hilton that he stood back, took me in, and said, “I know you!”
The night of the show, I made sure my parents were seated, then made my way behind the curtain. I stood quietly out of the way, waiting for my moment to go out and introduce Lily. Then up the stairs, navigating the dim conditions backstage, came Ms. Tomlin. She walked right up to me, and greeted me, which caught me completely off guard. That doesn’t always happen. And when it does, sometimes I get a little bit flummoxed.
So the first thing that comes out of my mouth is, “I hear you’ve got a great memory!” And then I related to her what my brother-in-law had told me about how she had remembered him the second time they’d met. We talked for a moment about how people in our line of business meet so many people that it can be hard to keep their names straight. And then the next thing I knew, she was showing me one of her techniques to remember people.
She grabbed my hand, shaking it, and saying my name over and over again, using it about six different ways in sentences. She said, “Hello, Valerie. Nice to meet you, Valerie. So wonderful to see you, Valerie.”
Then Lily stopped talking.
And just stared at me. For a really long time.
She still had ahold of my hand. With both of her hands.
I’m not gonna lie, it was kind of awkward and unnerving. But also cool. But the longer she held my hand, the more weirded out I became. Like something really strange was going on.
And then, after what felt like two minutes, but was probably more like ten seconds, Lily Tomlin spoke again, and really freaked me out. “Have you interviewed me before?”
Of course I told her that she and I had never met previously, but that my mother, who looks and sounds a lot like me, had interviewed her 35 years earlier. And that, in turn, freaked out Lily Tomlin. It was a real Twilight Zone moment for the two of us. She said that while she was holding my hand and looking at me, that there was something so familiar that it ignited a spark of memory in her. Or maybe she’s just got ESP. I sort of believe in that stuff. Whatever it is, it made for one of the most incredible backstage moments of my life. Maybe hers too.
People tell my daughter all the time that she’s the spitting image of me, but I am even more the spitting image of my mother. Not just her facial features, but her voice as well. When people comment on my ‘radio voice’ I tell them it’s actually my mom’s ‘phone voice’ that I began imitating as a kid, trying to fool people into thinking I was my mom when I answered the house phone. Back when people still had land lines.
Speaking of telephones, let’s get back to Lily Tomlin, who’s comedy bits revolving around the telephone pretty much can’t be beat. There’s a few of her routines embedded in Lily, the streaming playlist below that contains songs (and humor), handpicked just for you, to go along with my semi-freaky moment backstage with Lily Tomlin. Wouldn’t it be wild if she came back to the Cascade…. and remembered me again?