Article: US citizenship liberated Brit comic Tracey Ullman

US citizenship liberated Brit comic Tracey Ullman

Reuters North American News Service

May 05, 2009 17:02 EST

*British actress Tracey Ullman to get lifetime award

*Ullman one of Britian's biggest successes in Hollywood

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Maybe only an outsider could mimic former first lady Laura Bush, Renee Zellweger and polygamous wives on American television and get away with it.

But British comedy transplant Tracey Ullman says it's been only since she became a U.S. citizen in 2006 that she has really felt free to lampoon American culture.

"It freed me psychologically," Ullman told Reuters. "I committed to living here and I got to understand the politics and the culture. You can't comment on a society unless you've lived it."

Some 20 years and seven Emmys after moving to Hollywood, Ullman is getting a lifetime achievement award Friday that reflects the American-English hybrid she says she has become.

The Los Angeles branch of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA/LA) is bestowing its first Charlie Chaplin award for comedy on the TV sketch creator of "Tracey Takes On..." and "Tracey Ullman's State of the Union."

BAFTA/LA credits Ullman, 49, with being a trailblazer for British personalities like "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell and Mark Burnett, creator of TV shows "The Apprentice" and "Survivor", forces to be reckoned with in Hollywood.

But British comedians -- especially women -- have had a harder time establishing themselves. Ullman, who also retains British citizenship, thinks that's less about the differences in British and U.S. humor (small) and more about the attitude of British newcomers.

"You can't just come over and think you can get up and say stuff and it will go down well. Sometimes people make mistakes by being too quick to make fun of the obvious things in America.

"Once you become part of the culture, it's more subtle. It wasn't like I was coming here to make fun of America -- I really like the place. But I have a European sensibility and an American sensibility," she said.

Satire -- a tradition in British humor along with celebrating the pompous loser -- has come a long way in the United States in recent years, Ullman said.

"I think it was a more optimistic, naive nation when I first came here. There was not a lot of political satire. You would never have seen something like 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart' or 'The Colbert Report'," she said.

"When I first got here it all seemed a bit kind."

Ullman's dead-on impressions have run the gamut from English soccer star David Beckham to "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling and Laura Bush -- back in Crawford, Texas and planning the "No President Left Behind Foundation."

So is anyone taboo? The Obamas? "No. Not really," said Ullman. She said that meeting Barack Obama was instrumental in her decision to become a U.S. citizen and get the right to vote -- for him.

However "If I thought it was apt, or I could do it well, yes I would," she said. (Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Cynthia Osterman)