BFFs Meryl Streep and Tracey Ullman Talk Life, Loss and Showbiz at the Tribeca TV Festival

BFFs Meryl Streep and Tracey Ullman Talk Life, Loss and Showbiz at the Tribeca TV Festival

Real-life besties Meryl Streep and Tracey Ullman took the stage on Friday at Tribeca’s Spring Studio — following the crowd-pleasing season three premiere of HBO’s “Tracey Ullman’s Show” — for what might go down in history as the industry’s most endearing Q&A session. The discussion, presented as part of the Tribeca TV Festival, was full of Ullman’s signature impersonations and ranged from playful teasing to heartfelt topics such as the struggle of moving forward from loss.

Here are some of our favorite takeaways.

Ullman’s goal isn’t to eviscerate the people she impersonates.
The British comedian drew a distinction between the work she does on her show and the comedy preferred by late-night talk show hosts. Her goal, she said, isn’t necessarily to roast political figures. “I always look for the empathy and the humanity and the sadness within people,” she said. “I never come at it like, ‘I want to have a go at you, I’m so angry at you because you’re not my politics!’”

Earlier, Streep remarked that Ullman’s sympathy for others is what makes her comedy so refreshing. “You’re interested in many, many, many different kinds of people,” Streep said. “You have an interest and a curiosity and a deep, deep empathy for people that are not like you.”

And in case you’re wondering: Ullman’s impersonation of Streep? Spot on, though Ullman claims to not use it. “But I could,” she said with a wink.

Ullman moved to the United States to pursue comedy because the industry stateside was more accepting of female comics.
When Ullman first moved to the U.S. in the 1980s, there was a dearth of opportunities for would-be female comics and media executives in the U.K.  “When I was a kid, there were lovely character actresses in England that I liked that were funny — Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, all those wonderful women I put in the show now — but there was no British comedy with women. Here, you had Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner, these amazing women. [Meanwhile] in England, I’m watching ‘Benny Hill’ with girls in bikinis running around getting their bums pinched.”

It was shortly after this move that Ullman became friends with Streep.

Her decision to return to British television was triggered by both industry change and personal tragedy.
Ullman’s husband and producing partner, Allen McKeown, died in 2013 after a battle with prostate cancer, and the show — which premiered on the BBC in 2016 — marks the comedian’s first major project without him by her side. Streep expressed admiration at her friend’s determination to return to familiar ground yet create something new on her own. Ullman said the decision was made easy by changes that had already happened at the BBC, particularly the elevation of women within the broadcasting company’s higher ranks. “I thought, ‘This is different,’” Ullman said. “England now, back here, it’s this global hub. It’s humming, it’s buzzing, it’s a melting pot! And then, BREXIT!” she deadpanned. “Oh, I thought we changed.”