After first being cast on the short-lived Music Scene television program, Lily Tomlin's most recognized exposure came from participation on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1969-1970). Here, Tomlin began to develop many of the characters she would most closely become associated with. On this, her self-titled debut, she portrays one of her most beloved, Ernestine -- the telephone operator from hell. This album captures what must have been one of her earliest one-woman shows in front of an audience in the intimate confines of the Ice House in Pasadena, CA. While most of the material is performed in character, Tomlin's narrative voice yields some hilarious exposition and biographical information about Ernestine. She also commences the proceedings with a brief monologue regarding what factors and persons (read: "Alexander Graham Bell") motivated "Ernestine" to embark upon her career as a public servant in the telephonic arts. The remainder of the album features Ernestine dealing with a variety of situations. Most pointedly, the inconsistencies, ironies, and generally intrusive power and authority that the phone company had -- in the early '70s at least -- over the lives of its consumers. Tracks such as "Mr. Veedle," "The Bordello," "Mrs. Mitchell," and "Boswick 9" are particularly revealing. Ernestine's occasional brush with well-known customers is documented on "The Mafia and the Pope" and "Joan Crawford." The latter features Ernestine demanding that the actress -- who was concurrently a CEO at Pepsi -- refund her dime, which was lost in a cola machine. Even more uproarious is "The F.B.I." in which J. Edgar Hoover squares off against Ernestine. The operator mistakes the last name as being associated with the vacuum cleaner dynasty, claiming that "everybody knows there is nothing like a Hoover when you're dealing with dirt." This is an absolute classic. In 2002 it was reissued as This Is a Recording (1971) by www.laugh.com.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer