Tracey Ullman

Performer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In her three-hour-and-fifteen-minute interview Tracey Ullman talks about growing up in England and how she started doing impersonations as a kid. She discusses attending a performing arts school starting at the age of 12, leaving school at 16 to be a dancer in Berlin, and how she made the transition into acting. She details how she came to be cast in the improvised play “Four in a Million” and how that led to her being cast on a BBC sketch comedy show. She talks about her years as a pop star and meeting her husband, the late producer Allan McKeown, and moving to America. Ullman goes into detail on the creation of The Tracey Ullman Show, including how it began with meeting James L. Brooks, her concept for the show, and the casting process. She then shares stories from the run of The Tracey Ullman Show, with a discussion of a typical workweek, specific characters she created for the series, including “Kay Clark” and “Ginny Tilman”, winning Emmy Awards for the series, and its eventual end and legacy. Ullman then moves on to her special Tracey Ullman: A Class Act and how that led to her HBO show Tracey Takes On… For Tracey Takes On… she talks about specific characters, directing episodes of the series, and the show’s writing team. She then talks about her next series, Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union, including why she decided to feature more impressions of celebrities and public figures and on getting more political in her work. Ullman discusses her then-most recent series Tracey Ullman’s Show, talking about sketches that went viral and the characters she’s carried throughout her series. She concludes by sharing how she gets into character, her writing process and how she collaborates with other writers, how the industry has changed since she started out, advice to aspiring performers, her proudest career achievement, and how she would like to be remembered. Jenni Matz conducted the interview in partnership with the American Comedy Archives at Emerson College on January 30, 2020 in North Hollywood, CA.

"Don't let people dictate to you what’s funny or what’s possible. It's about being brave and having confidence and being in an environment where you’re allowed to do that."

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Tracey Ullman on her character "Kay Clark" on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on the character's real-life inspiration
Tracey Ullman on her concept for The Tracey Ullman Show before it began, and on casting the show
Tracey Ullman on her portrayal of Angela Merkel on Tracey Ullman's Show
Tracey Ullman on the legacy of The Tracey Ullman Show
Tracey Ullman on how she finds her way to portraying celebrities and public figures - the hook that will make them recognizable
Tracey Ullman on her pop music career in the 1980s, and on the music video for the song "They Don't Know About Us"
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On her childhood and early influences, including how she started doing impersonations; on her career aspirations when she was growing up, and on attending a performing arts school starting at age 12, and the role that class played in acting opportunities in England at the time
On leaving school at 16 and moving to Berlin as a dancer; on how she transitioned into acting, and on being cast in the improvised play "Four in a Million", which led to her being cast on a sketch show on the BBC; on how she began recording pop music, and on making music videos and touring; on appearing in the dramatic film "Plenty"
On what her family thought of her early success; on meeting her husband, Allan McKeown, and on moving to the United States; on being cast in a pilot , which she ended up being very disappointed in; on meeting James L. Brooks, and on his idea that she should have a sketch show on Fox, and on doing research into American comedy before starting her show
On her concept for The Tracey Ullman Show before it began; on casting Julie Kavner and Dan Castellaneta on the show; on the challenges and experimentation of The Tracey Ullman Show; on the preparation and pace of the show; on the show being filmed in front of a live audience
On her character "Kay Clark" on The Tracey Ullman Show; on the character "Francesca" on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on "Ginny Tilman"; on performing different accents, particularly on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on how she transforms into characters; on playing "Carol", a Black woman, on the show, and on playing characters of different ethnicities; on her favorite sketches on the show, and on The Simpsons getting it start as interstitials on The Tracey Ullman Show

Chapter 2

On The Tracey Ullman Show winning Emmy Awards, and on the end of the show; on the legacy of The Tracey Ullman Show, and on what she did in the years following the end of her show; on her special Tracey Ullman: A Class Act, and on how that show led to her HBO special Tracey Takes on New York and Tracey Takes On...
On directing episodes of Tracey Takes On..., and on her and her husband's ownership of the show; on the character "Chic" on Tracey Takes On...; on going out into the real world in character; on playing "Mrs. Noh Nan Nang" on Tracey Takes On...; on the writing team on Tracey Takes On...
On specific episodes of Tracey Takes On..., and on portraying the royal family; on the end of Tracey Takes On..., and on how Tracey Ullman's State of the Union came about; on playing celebrities and public figures on State of the Union, and on how she decided which people and characters to portray, and on how she gets into character for impersonations
On her production schedule on Tracey Ullman's State of the Union since she portrayed most of the characters on the show; on the end of Tracey Ullman's State of the Union; on the death of her husband, Allan McKeown; on how Tracey Ullman's Show came about, and on her impressions of Angela Merkel and Judi Dench; on the impact of Brexit on the show, and on getting political in her work
On why "Kay Clark" has appeared in all of her series; on playing Betty Friedan in Mrs. America, and on the Tracey Ullman's Show sketch "What Were You Wearing?"; on the role of comedy in the then-current political climate, and on Mel Brooks appearing in a sketch on The Tracey Ullman Show; on the power of comedy

Chapter 3

On how she prepares herself to get into character, and on how to be a good leader on set; on her writing process, and on collaborating with other writers; on why she loves working in television; on maintaining confidence in her work, and on enjoying her anonymity, and on her level of fame
On how television has changed since she started in the business, and on how the industry can or should change in light of the #MeToo and Times Up movements; on the then-current comedians and television shows she enjoys; on meeting some of her comedic heroes over the years, and on meeting Muhammad Ali when she was in character; on the advice and opportunities she's received in her career
On the advice she'd give to someone starting out in the television industry, and on the balance between being a performer and a well-rounded person; on the dangers of fame; on why she resists the term "comedienne"; on the value of oral histories; on her proudest career achievement; on her then-future plans and people she'd like to portray; on how she would like to be remembered
Shows

Mrs. America

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Tracey Ullman on playing Betty Friedan in the series Mrs. America, and on how she prepared for the part

Simpsons, The

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Tracey Ullman on The Simpsons starting out as interstitials on The Tracey Ullman Show

Tracey Takes On ...

View Show Page
Tracey Ullman on how Tracey Ullman: A Class Act led to HBO wanting her to do an American version of the special, which became Tracey Takes on New York, and later Tracey Takes On..., and on the character "Ruby"
Tracey Ullman on directing episodes of Tracey Takes On..., and on she and her husband owning the show
Tracey Ullman on her ownership of some of her characters, including "Kay Clark", and reworking some characters for Tracey Takes On...
Tracey Ullman on the character "Chic" on Tracey Takes On...., and on the experience of playing a man
Tracey Ullman on going out into the real world as "Kay Clark" and "Judi Dench"
Tracey Ullman on playing "Mrs. Noh Nan Ning" on Tracey Takes On..., and on whether she worried about offending people with her potrayals of characters of different races and ethnicities
Tracey Ullman on the writing team on Tracey Takes On..., including Jerry Belson, Gail Parent, George McGrath, Jenji Kohan, Ian La Frenais, and Dick Clement, and on her role in the writing team
Tracey Ullman on specific episodes of Tracey Takes On..., and on playing the royal family and the response to her doing so
Tracey Ullman on the end of Tracey Takes On...

Tracey Ullman Show, The

View Show Page
Tracey Ullman on being introduced to James L. Brooks, and on him encouraging her to create a comedy show for the then-new network Fox
Tracey Ullman on her concept for The Tracey Ullman Show before it began, and on casting the show
Tracey Ullman on the challengs of creating The Tracey Ullman Show, and on the experimentation of the show
Tracey Ullman on being able to avoid network notes on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on how she prepared and paced herself while working on the show
Tracey Ullman on James L. Brooks's work on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on how hard they all worked on the show
Tracey Ullman on the workweek on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on the show being filmed in front of a live audience
Tracey Ullman on her involvement in the writing process on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on her goals for the show - telling stories, rather than satire
Tracey Ullman on her character "Kay Clark" on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on the character's real-life inspiration
Tracey Ullman on the character "Francesca" on The Tracey Ullman Show
Tracey Ullman on the character "Ginny Tilman" on The Tracey Ullman Show
Tracey Ullman on the many accents she did on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on how she transforms into characters
Tracey Ullman on playing "Carol", a Black woman, on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on having played people of different ethnicities on her shows
Tracey Ullman on the sketches she remembers as being the most succesful on The Tracey Ullman Show
Tracey Ullman on The Simpsons starting out as interstitials on The Tracey Ullman Show
Tracey Ullman on The Tracey Ullman Show winning Emmy Awards, and on attending the Emmy Awards ceremony
Tracey Ullman on the end of The Tracey Ullman Show
Tracey Ullman on the legacy of The Tracey Ullman Show
Tracey Ullman on Mel Brooks appearning in a sketch on The Tracey Ullman Show

Tracey Ullman's Show

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Tracey Ullman on how Tracey Ullman's Show came about, starting as Tracey Breaks the News on the BBC
Tracey Ullman on Tracey Ullman's Show being more topical than her previous shows, and on her impression of Angela Merkel and Judi Dench
Tracey Ullman on the 2016 Brexit vote happening during the production of Tracey Ullman's Show (being shot as Tracey Breaks the News in England), and on her thoughts on Brexit
Tracey Ullman on being political in her comedy, and on portraying Teresa May on Tracey Ullman's Show
Tracey Ullman on including the character "Kay Clark" in each of her shows over the years, including Tracey Ullman's Show
Tracey Ullman on the sketch "What Were You Wearing?" on Tracey Ullman's Show

Tracey Ullman's State of the Union

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Tracey Ullman on how Tracey Ullman's State of the Union came about, and on becoming an American citizen and that series being more political (including playing Laura Bush on the show)
Tracey Ullman on playing celebrities and public figures on Tracey Ullman's State of the Union, which she hadn't really done before, including Laurie David, Arianna Huffington, and Andy Rooney
Tracey Ullman on how she decided which celebrities, public figures, and characters to portray on Tracey Ullman's State of the Union
Tracey Ullman on how she finds her way to portraying celebrities and public figures - the hook that will make them recognizable
Tracey Ullman on her schedule on Tracey Ullman's State of the Union, since she portrayed most of the characters on the show
Tracey Ullman on the end of Tracey Ullman's State of the Union, and the death of her husband, Allan McKeown

Tracey Ullman: A Class Act

View Show Page
Tracey Ullman on her special Tracey Ullman: A Class Act
Tracey Ullman on her character "Trevor" on Tracey Ullman: A Class Act, a gay flight attendant, and the real-life inspiration for the character
Topics

Advice

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on advice she would give someone starting out in the television industry

Characters & Catchphrases

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on her character "Kay Clark" on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on the character's real-life inspiration

Creative Influences and Inspiration

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on how she started doing impersonations of people when she was a kid, both of people she knew and women on television
Tracey Ullman on attending a performing arts school starting at age 12
Tracey Ullman on being introduced to James L. Brooks and on his idea for her to "do a Peter Sellers thing" on the then-new network Fox, and on the research she did into American comedy (and particularly female comedians) prior to starting the show
Tracey Ullman on how she maintains her confidence in her work, and on the champions she's had over the years
Tracey Ullman on the opportunities and advice mentors have given her throughout her career
Tracey Ullman on getting to meet and work with some of her comedic heroes over the years, including Carol Burnett, Gilda Radner, and Lily Tomlin

Criticism of TV

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on whether she worried about offending people through her portrayals of characters of different races and ethnicities

Diversity in Television

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on the character "Francesca" on The Tracey Ullman Show, whose father was gay, and on receiving a GLAAD award for the character
Tracey Ullman on the sketch "What Were You Wearing?" on Tracey Ullman's Show, and on the sketch going viral
Tracey Ullman on how changes can be made in the television industry, in light of the #MeToo and Times Up movements, and on her thoughts on the movements

Emmy Awards

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Tracey Ullman on The Tracey Ullman Show winning Emmy Awards, and on attending the Emmy Awards ceremony
Tracey Ullman on her proudest career achievement

Fame and Celebrity

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Tracey Ullman on being recognized (or not) on the street, and on the characters that fans come up to her to talk to her about
Tracey Ullman on the dangers of fame

First Big Break

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on she transitioned from dance into acting early in her career, and on being cast in the play "Four in a Million" by Les Blair, which was improvised and how that led to her being cast on a sketch show on the BBC
Tracey Ullman on the first sketch show she was on, Three of a Kind

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on the character "Francesca" on The Tracey Ullman Show, whose father was gay, and on receiving a GLAAD award for the character
Tracey Ullman on the sketch "What Were You Wearing?" on Tracey Ullman's Show, and on the sketch going viral
Tracey Ullman on how changes can be made in the television industry, in light of the #MeToo and Times Up movements, and on her thoughts on the movements

LGBTQ

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on the character "Francesca" on The Tracey Ullman Show, whose fathers were gay, and on receiving a GLAAD award for the character

MeToo Movement

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on how changes can be made in the television industry, in light of the #MeToo and Times Up movements, and on her thoughts on the movements

New Media

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on the sketch "What Were You Wearing?" on Tracey Ullman's Show, and on the sketch going viral

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on how she started doing impersonations of people when she was a kid, both of people she knew and women on television
Tracey Ullman on attending a performing arts school starting at age 12
Tracey Ullman on she transitioned from dance into acting early in her career, and on being cast in the play "Four in a Million" by Les Blair, which was improvised and how that led to her being cast on a sketch show on the BBC
Tracey Ullman on meeting her husband, Allan McKeown, and on moving to the United States
Tracey Ullman on being introduced to James L. Brooks and on his idea for her to "do a Peter Sellers thing" on the then-new network Fox, and on the research she did into American comedy (and particularly female comedians) prior to starting the show
Tracey Ullman on how she maintains her confidence in her work, and on the champions she's had over the years
Tracey Ullman on the opportunities and advice mentors have given her throughout her career
Tracey Ullman on getting to meet and work with some of her comedic heroes over the years, including Carol Burnett, Gilda Radner, and Lily Tomlin

Pop Culture

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on her pop music career in the 1980s, and on the music video for the song "They Don't Know About Us"
Tracey Ullman on her character "Kay Clark" on The Tracey Ullman Show, and on the character's real-life inspiration
Tracey Ullman on being recognized (or not) on the street, and on the characters that fans come up to her to talk to her about
Tracey Ullman on the dangers of fame

Television Industry

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on whether she worried about offending people through her portrayals of characters of different races and ethnicities
Tracey Ullman on the sketch "What Were You Wearing?" on Tracey Ullman's Show, and on the sketch going viral
Tracey Ullman on why she prefers working in television over film or theater
Tracey Ullman on how televison has changed since she started in the business
Tracey Ullman on advice she would give someone starting out in the television industry

Women

View Topic
Tracey Ullman on the sketch "What Were You Wearing?" on Tracey Ullman's Show, and on the sketch going viral
Tracey Ullman on how changes can be made in the television industry, in light of the #MeToo and Times Up movements, and on her thoughts on the movements
Professions

Actress

View Profession
Tracey Ullman on how she transforms into characters

Comedian

View Profession
Tracey Ullman on the role of comedy in the then-current political climate
Tracey Ullman on the power of comedy

Performers

View Profession
Tracey Ullman on how she transforms into characters
Tracey Ullman on the role of comedy in the then-current political climate
Tracey Ullman on the power of comedy
Tracey Ullman on how she prepares to get into character, and on being respectful and professional to the crew on a set
Tracey Ullman on advice to aspiring performers
Tracey Ullman on the balance between being a performer and being a well-rounded person
Tracey Ullman on why she has resisted the term "comedienne"

Producers

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Tracey Ullman on how to be an effective leader on set, as executive producer or in other roles

Writers

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Tracey Ullman on her writing process
Tracey Ullman on how she collaborates with other writers, and on how she deals with writer's block
Genres

Comedy Series

View Genre
Tracey Ullman on doing research into American comedy, and particularly female comedians, (as encouraged by James L. Brooks) prior to starting The Tracey Ullman Show on Fox
Tracey Ullman on the Tracey Ullman Show
Tracey Ullman on the end of The Tracey Ullman Show and its legacy
Tracey Ullman on her special Tracey Ullman: A Class Act
Tracey Ullman on Tracey Takes On...
Tracey Ullman on Tracey Ullman's State of the Union
Tracey Ullman on Tracey Ullman's Show
People

Muhammad Ali

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Tracey Ullman on meeting Muhammad Ali when she was dressed as her character "Trevor"

Anne Beatts

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Tracey Ullman on being cast in a pilot written by Anne Beatts, I Love New York, in the 1980s

Jerry Belson

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Tracey Ullman on her admiration for Jerry Belson, who wrote on The Tracey Ullman Show and Tracey Takes On...

James L. Brooks

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Tracey Ullman on meeting James L. Brooks, and on Brooks's work with women in his career
Tracey Ullman on James L. Brooks's work on The Tracey Ullman Show
Tracey Ullman on advice she got from James L. Brooks on The Tracey Ullman Show

Mel Brooks

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Tracey Ullman on Mel Brooks appearing in a sketch on The Tracey Ullman Show

Dan Castellaneta

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Tracey Ullman on casting Julie Kavner and Dan Castellanetta on The Tracey Ullman Show

Dick Clement

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Tracey Ullman on working with Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement on Tracey Takes On...

Larry David

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Tracey Ullman on portraying Laurie David on Tracey Ullman's State of the Union and Larry David and other celebrities confronting her about it

Judi Dench

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Tracey Ullman on her portrayal of Judi Dench on Tracey Ullman's Show

Ian La Frenais

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Tracey Ullman on working with Ian La Frenais and Dick Clement on Tracey Takes On...

Betty Friedan

View Person Page
Tracey Ullman on playing Betty Friedan in Mrs. America, and how she prepared to play the role

Julie Kavner

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Tracey Ullman on casting Julie Kavner and Dan Castellaneta on The Tracey Ullman Show

Jenji Kohan

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Tracey Ullman on working with Jenji Kohan, who was a writer on Tracey Takes On...

Paul McCartney

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Tracey Ullman on Paul McCartney appearning in the music video for her song "They Don't Know About Us"

George McGrath

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Tracey Ullman on working with George McGrath, who was a writer on Tracey Takes On...

Allan McKeown

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Tracey Ullman on meeting her husband, producer Allan McKeown, and moving to the United States
Tracey Ullman on the death of her husband, Allan McKeown

Angela Merkel

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Tracey Ullman on her portrayal of Angela Merkel on Tracey Ullman's Show

Michael Palin

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Tracey Ullman on her special Tracey Ullman: A Class Act, which she created and starred in with Michael Palin

Gail Parent

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Tracey Ullman on working with Gail Parent, who was a writer on Tracey Takes On...

Robin Williams

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Tracey Ullman on meeting Robin Williams when they were both guests on The Tonight Show

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