All month long, we’ll be posting about programs that feature guests from the LGBTQ community.  This week, we’re featuring a 1988 interview with Lily Tomlin.

 

It’s really just our common humanity that means anything.

~Lily Tomlin

Studs didn’t choose his guests based on gender identification or sexual orientation, just as he didn’t choose them based on race, religion, profession, or any other form of identity.  He was interested in all of those things, but he saw them as connections and potential bridges between people, not as walls to erect out of fear and hate.

That being said, the LGBTQ experience is rarely spoken of directly in the archive.  (Although you’ll be hearing this month from one of the exceptions, Quentin Crisp, who speaks very candidly about his experience as a gay man.)  During the 80’s, Studs did speak to a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter, and in the 80’s and 90’s, he did five programs on HIV/AIDS.  But out of 9000 hours of audio, this isn’t much.

This small number isn’t surprising, considering the years in which he was broadcasting.  Homosexuality was a topic that was rarely discussed, let alone broadcast on the radio.  Even if he couldn’t ask directly about the LGBTQ experience, the way he could ask women about disparity in the workplace, or African Americans about civil rights protests, this didn’t stop him from bringing talented and interesting members of the LGBTQ community into his studio on a regular basis.  And if you listen between the lines, it’s quite clear that he is offering his guests an opportunity to speak indirectly about their experiences, such as in his conversation with James Baldwin about Another Country.  

And sometimes, he and his guest simply talk about his/her latest project – like this week’s interview with Lily Tomlin.  She was in Chicago performing The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe at the Shubert Theatre (now the PrivateBank Theatre).  This one woman show, in which all the characters are played by Tomlin, centers on Trudy, a bag lady and “tour guide” for the “space chums” searching for intelligent life.  Other characters include upper class woman Kate, prostitutes Brandy and Tina, and frustrated teenager Agnus Angst.

Lily Tomlin (2009?)

Lily Tomlin (2009?)

Many listeners will already know that the play’s author, Jane Wagner, was also Tomlin’s partner (now wife); but Studs doesn’t bring it up and neither does Tomlin.  As I was listening, I certainly wondered how their relationship affected the creation and development of the play.  Studs may have wondered too, but he doesn’t ask.  Maybe that’s because he’s so interested in the connections going on – between the different characters, between the cast and the audience, and perhaps between the audience and the space chums.  Tomlin describes the sources for her performance as “just your whole absorption of what goes on, and loving all these different types and everything, seeing them up against each other.”  No wonder Studs is so enthusiastic about the play – that sounds just like the philosophy for his radio broadcasts.

You can see Lily Tomlin and Jane Wagner’s page about The Search here, and see a scene from the film adaptation here.

Photo credit: By Greg in Hollywood (Greg Hernandez) (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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