After leaving the cast of NBC's Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1969-1970), Lily Tomlin began developing many of the characters she first unleashed on the groundbreaking weekly prime-time comedy series. Her debut LP, This Is a Recording, was originally issued in 1971 and contains observations by Tomlin both in and out of her beloved Ernestine -- the telephone operator from hell -- character. Her one-woman show was captured in front of an audience in the intimate confines of the Ice House in Pasadena, CA. Although a majority of the album is performed in character, Tomlin occasionally steps out as a narrative voice giving hilarious biographical info about Ernestine. She commences the proceedings with a brief monologue regarding factors and persons (read: "Alexander Graham Bell") motivating Ernestine to begin embarking upon her career as a public servant in the telephonic arts. Tomlin again steps from behind her switchboard for the last band on each side of the original LP. Those tracks -- "Peeved" and "I.B.M." -- contain brief observations on dealing with Ma Bell from a consumer's perspective. The multiple dimensions that Tomlin brings to Ernestine are displayed within her interactions with the general public on "Mr. Veedle," "Obscene Phone Call," "Strike," "Boswick," and "The Bordello." Ernestine's occasional brush with well-known customers is documented on tracks such as "The Mafia and the Pope" and notably "Joan Crawford." In the latter scene, Ernestine demands the actress -- who was concurrently a CEO at the Pepsi Cola Company -- refund her dime, which was lost in a cola machine. Even more uproarious is "The F.B.I.," which pits J. Edgar Hoover against Ernestine, who associates the name with the vacuum cleaner dynasty, claiming that "everybody knows there is nothing like a Hoover when you're dealing with dirt."
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer