We’re the Phone Company

I recently discovered that Netflix offers instant streaming of one of my favorite childhood movies: The Incredible Shrinking Woman. So of course I had to watch it with my kids. The boy was deeply skeptical; he had recently watched Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and complained that he was tired of movies where people shrink. I explained to him that this “new” movie was an entirely different animal.

It does not suck.

If you’re not familiar with The Incredible Shrinking Woman, it is a 1981 comedy starring Lily Tomlin, a suburban housewife whose exposure to the unfortunately-named Sexpot perfume causes her to shrink slowly until the point of disappearance. Charles Grodin plays straight-man as her advertiser husband. (I mean straight-man in the classic comedy sense — the setup for the comic in a duo, like Martin was to Lewis.) Ned Beatty also stars, providing comic relief that is far more reined-in than his hilarious role as Otis in Superman three years earlier. And it needed to be subtle because Lily Tomlin rules this movie, playing not only the shrinking woman but her nosy neighbor, and, in a tiny cameo, reprises her role as Ernestine the telephone operator.

This cameo provoked great curiosity from my children. “What is she doing?” they asked, as Ernestine sat in front of a telephone switchboard and unplugged a line. “Why is that funny?”

We waited until the end of the movie to talk with them about the ancient history that had a) telephone switchboards, b) telephones with cords and dials on them, c) something called “long distance”, and d) a telephone monopoly that resulted in high expense, a low-quality product, and poor customer service.

After the history lesson we proceeded to YouTube (something they’ll no doubt have to explain to their own children as ancient history) and found some old Laugh In sketches of Ernestine. We loved this one:

But Tomlin delivered the coup de grâce to The Telephone Company with her hysterically funny ad on Saturday Night Live. “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re The Phone Company.” You can catch it on Hulu at:

The technology has changed, but the humor still translates. My kids and I laughed until our sides hurt. I’m glad to have the internet because I never could have shown them the movie or the sketches without it.

And the best part is: now they sing the lyrics to “Galaxy Glue” with me! Life would go to pieces without Galaxy Glue.

Categories: History, The Kids

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2 replies

  1. sweet! i can’t wait to share that. i love lily tomlin.

  2. It has occurred to me that a lot of stuff we don’t think of as being all that old is going to be insufferably ancient to Matthew. For example, he’ll probably think of tube color TVs in the same way that we viewed black & white televisions, or he’ll see movies like “Inception” in the same way that we view movies like “The French Connection” or other good movies from the late ’60s/early ’70s- good, but kind of old and dated.

    Makes me feel old…

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