"We just had Benny Hill girls," says the comedy veteran who is returning to British TV for the first time in 30 years. "You had to run around in a bikini basically."
Tracey Ullman is back. And this time she's British.
The 55-year-old comedian, winner of 7 Emmys and 1 Golden Globe for such U.S. shows as Fox'sThe Tracey Ullman Show (1987-1990), HBO's Tracey Takes On (1996-1999) and Showtime's State of the Union (2008-2010), has returned to her native England for her latest project, a sketch comedy show for the BBC. It marks the first time in 30 years that Ullman will be on British TV.
According to Ullman, it all started, with new, female bosses at the U.K. public broadcaster, namely BBC One controller Charlotte Moore and comedy chief Myfanwy Moore.
“I don't know why they thought of me, what made them remember, but we sat down and just hit it off,” Ullman says. “Just to be in a room with two woman at the BBC talking comedy. When I started at the BBC, it was five men in bow ties talking about the war. It was so male dominated then."
“American [comedy] was always stronger because you had Lucille Ball, you had Carol Burnett, you had Lily Tomlin, Gilda Radner. I came from a country where we just had Benny Hill girls," she says. “You had to run around in a bikini basically in the 80s in Britain. Then I did a sketch show and Pamela Stevenson and then (Dawn) French and (Jennifer) Saunders just shook it all up. But I grew up thinking I could be a character actress. I didn't think I could go into comedy.”
Now, Ullman notes, femme funny is in. She cites Tina Fey and Amy Poehler ("they've made a huge difference"), Melissa McCarthy ("she shows women can open movies") and Amy Schumer("I love her. Love her. She's like that bad girl at school you so wanted to be friends with.")
"It is fabulous to be able to do more British characters again," she says. "I've done the national treasures: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Camilla Parker Bowles." But her favorite impersonation, Ullman says, was German chancellor Angela Merkel.
"She was so much fun to do! I imagine what she's like when she's not in a room full of boys – when she's with her best friend and they talk about shopping and she does her hair," says Ullman. "It's the lighter side of Angela Merkel. She sings quite a bit, too."
Ullman says she actually has a great deal of admiration for the German leader. "I hope she sees this show. I'd really like to meet her through this,: she says.
The first six-episode season of The Tracey Ullman Show will go out on BBC One next year. HBO has picked up the U.S. rights, and DRG is handling worldwide sales.