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Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Jane Fonda & Lily Tomlin: Ladies Night Live’ On Netflix, Celebrating Funny Women


Just a few days after the finale of Grace and Frankie aired on Netflix, stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin presided over a stand-up showcase at the inaugural Netflix Is A Joke: The Festival in Los Angeles to celebrate the generations of funny women who have followed them. 

The Gist: Lily Tomlin is a beloved comedy icon. Jane Fonda is a global icon.

They’ve worked together to make us laugh for more than 40 years, from 1980s 9 to 5, then again with Grace and Frankie, and this year co-star again for the upcoming movie, 80 To Brady. For the Netflix comedy festival, though, these funny ladies seemed more than happy to share the stage with several other funny ladies. Among the stand-ups performing, in order: Heather McMahan, Michelle Buteau, Cristela Alonzo, Iliza Shlesinger, Tracey Ashley and Margaret Cho. Plus a duet from Rachel Bloom and Eliot Glazer, and multiple segments of banter staged as Jane & Lily answering questions from the audience.

What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: We’ve already reached the point where these Netflix showcases from the festival are beginning to blend into one another.

JANE FONDA LILY TOMLIN LADIES NIGHT LIVE NETFLIX SPECIAL
Photo: Netflix

Memorable Jokes: The special opens with a montage of the comedians getting ready for the event, as we hear Dolly Parton singing the theme to 9 to 5.

The theme may have been funny ladies (most of whom have a connection to Netflix), but strikingly, all of the comedians mostly just wanted to joke about the pandemic. McMahan, popular on Instagram and seen in Love Hard, noted how women handle panic better than men. Buteau, who hosts The Circle, reminded us how much had changed since “the last time I did stand-up on Netflix,” and offered up a sequel to a bit she did then about body parts we don’t want to see, as well as a raunchy revelation thanks to her own use of face masks. Alonzo, who releases her second Netflix special at the end of this month, mocked anti-maskers and her neighbors who bought up impractical items at the supermarket. Shlesinger, with multiple Netflix specials under her belt, made light of the outdoor dining situations in L.A. and challenged the audience with bits exploring whether Americans are engaged in a “woke-off” contest, and her “defense of the Karen.” Ashley, introduced as hot off of her success on Tiffany Haddish Presents They Ready, wondered about the plight of women who gained a lot of weight while working from home during the pandemic.

Johnson-Reyes, with a previous Netflix special of her own, focused instead on getting older, and how to understand her responses to your texts. Cho, also seen on the Netflix festival showcase, Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration, delivered a more sober reflection about how the pandemic has provoked more violence toward Asian women, and expressed her support for sex workers, revealing that if she had “a dollar for every time I relented, I would be so rich, I’d be Elon F–k.”

But the biggest ovation from the audience came about halfway through the showcase when the stand-up portion got interrupted by June Diane Raphael and Brooklyn Decker, still pretending to be in character from Grace and Frankie, toasting Tomlin and Fonda with an actual margarita toast, complete with cocktails handed out to some of the audience members.

Our Take: The closing number found Glazer and Bloom singing a medley of old songs that are in the public domain, joking about the songs they wished they could’ve sung instead if only they’d gotten the musical clearance rights.

That’s kinda how I felt about the whole affair. It could’ve been much more, but that would’ve required a bit more effort?

It could’ve been a true tribute to Tomlin and Fonda, a celebration of their decades of collaborations and activism and comedy. Alonzo’s opening remarks offered a start, where she told the duo how as a child, she’d watch 9 to 5 with her Mexican, Spanish-speaking mother “all the time, and we loved it, because it was so great to see a movie where women could be funny and smart, so thank you so much.”

What if, instead of delivering sets of solid if not always spectacularly unique observations about the pandemic, each of the stand-ups told stories and jokes about Fonda, Tomlin and their impact on comedy and society and women? That coulda woulda shoulda been special.

As these Netflix Is A Joke: The Festival specials continue rolling out, though, they don’t seem all that different from the LOL Comedy Festival specials filmed and sold to Showtime a decade ago. And that’s neither a compliment nor high praise. Sure, these showcases might include some big names or comedians who will become big-time, but the specials themselves become forgettable and interchangeable.

Kind of like the opening banter from Tomlin and Fonda, which is scripted so much like they’re presenters at an award show that they had to point out explicitly that it’s not. Fonda: “We don’t need to give out awards tonight, because everybody’s a winner.”

Our Call: STREAM IT. Come for the stand-up comedy, stick around despite the fact that the packaging of the special leaves much to be desired.

Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.





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