Lily Tomlin Recalls Encountering Blatant Sexism During Her Early Career

"I said, 'I’ll do another show, but I don’t want a partner.' They said, 'Well, you’ve got to have somebody that we can talk to.' This is how bad it was."

"I don’t think people were ready [for a show like Grace and Frankie] until the demographic got itself into place," Lily Tomlin told The Hollywood Reporter during the Comedy Actress Roundtable. Tomlin co-stars in the Netflix comedy alongside Jane Fonda, playing 70-year-old women whose husbands fall in love. "There’s a lot of older people, but the show has a huge young audience. The older people were suddenly there, and they were a market to be delivered to, and Jane Fonda and I were just like two likely to do that."

Tomlin, known for her comedic character work, told the Roundtable that in her early career, she "tried to create a world by creating those characters. I thought, 'Well my world is better than the other world.' People would tell me what I could be and I couldn’t be and I’d say, 'Who asked you?' I didn’t want to hear anything because I was afraid it would derail me."

When the conversation turned to sexism within Hollywood, Tomlin stated bluntly, "Back in the earlier days there were very few women who would have the balls that you girls do," addressing her younger Roundtable counterparts such as Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rachel Bloom and Broad City's Ilana Glazer. "You’re out of sight, really."

Tomlin recounted stories of sexism earlier on in her career, saying, "I did my first special and I got a huge rating. Just huge. And so I said, 'I’ll do another show, but I don’t want a partner.' They said, 'Well, you’ve got to have somebody that we can talk to.' This is how bad it was."

She continued, "I went and I talked to every top producer in the variety business, from Norman Lear to Grant Tinker. So I finally decided Grant Tinker would be the most open. And I was going along, doing the show and preparing sketches and stuff, and then I watched something that I wasn’t in, and I was going to sit there and watch it and comment on it, and Grant said to me, 'You go on home. We’ll take care of things,'" while patting her on the hand.

More roundtables featuring comedy and drama actors, drama actresses, comedy and drama showrunners, and reality hosts and producers will roll out throughout June in print and online. Tune in to new episodes of Close Up With The Hollywood Reporter starting June 26 on SundanceTV, with the premiere of the Comedy Actress Roundtable on Sunday, July 10. And look for clips at THR.com/roundtables with full episodes on THR.com after broadcast.

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