June Diane Raphael might be killing it right now, co-hosting the popular podcast How Did This Get Made? and with major roles in Netflix’s Grace and Frankie and Lady Dynamite, but she was once another actress struggling to work and live in New York. Her friend Melissa Rauch (Big Bang Theory) similarly had a terrible time in the city that never sleeps. So, when Vulture asked Rauch to interview Raphael, they found themselves talking not about their great projects but about the hard times — the butt-cheek-poked-with-a-fork times.
I’m so excited for Grace and Frankie season two, I can’t even tell you. I watched the whole entire first season in a 24-hour period.
I know you did, my friend, which is very kind of you. I swear Netflix does have something figured out with the next episode starting before you can even blink. It’s like, “Well, I’m sitting here. I’ve got my snacks. An object at rest does tend to stay at rest. I guess I’ll just stay.”
That’s exactly what happens to me. I really deliberate a lot when I’m making any other decisions in my life, but with your shows, there’s no deliberation period whatsoever.
It’s also really smart to start that next one. Back in the day, I’d find myself in a Law & Order wormhole that I could not get out of. I spent Christmas in 2008 watching Law & Order for four days straight.
The great thing about that show is that it’s all those New York theater actors popping up as guest stars on those shows. The same character actor will be a judge in one episode and then you’ll be like, “Wait, that homeless person was a judge five episodes ago.”
When you were living in New York, did you audition for Law & Order?
Yes. A number of times. Was I ever cast? No.
Same for me. I went in for so many victims on that show. Every sort of victim. And they wanted none of me. I could not get victimized on that show to save my life.
Me neither. I don’t know if you remember, but the casting office was by the pier. There’s no subway that goes directly there. So, you get off on the East Side and you have to trek your way over a major highway to get there.
In your audition shoes, if you weren’t smart enough to bring a walking pair.
And I never was.
Never. I was like, “You know what, these are pretty comfortable. I think I can walk in heels over.”
“Let me spend a little more time in character. Let me really do the walk for a little bit longer.” I did get called in for a producer session on one.
I know, it’s pretty huge. The part was literally for a homeless teen — a street urchin. I was so nervous beforehand that I ended up going into the bathroom and just continuing to put on makeup for like an hour. Decked to the nines, full face of makeup. And I did my scene in which I played a woman living in a box and the feedback from the casting director to my manager was, “Yeah, they said you were really dolled up” to play a homeless teen.
I’m sure there are plenty of homeless teens in New York who go to Sephora for a free makeover.
If I’m ever casting a homeless teen, June, you’re gonna be my go-to.
The other thing about auditioning in New York is that you’re also battling the elements. I remember doing pilot season in New York where you would have to get dolled up — I would blow out my hair — and then I’d take the trek up to the Upper West Side to NBC or wherever and by the time I got there through wind tunnels and rain and snow, I looked destroyed.
And it was before Drybar, too, which changed the game for all of us. I was doing my hair in the kitchen of my apartment because there was no room in the bathroom to plug in a blow dryer. All of my food would have strands of hair in it. I remember there was a commercial for a restaurant chain and I went in for three or four auditions and I was so excited to play a waitress where I was serving fajitas or something. It was during the winter and everything about me was destroyed — my soul itself, but also the outside of me. My hands were so chapped and bloody from the cold. June, I don’t know if you’ve ever taken note of my hands, but I don’t have good-looking hands to begin with.
I’ve never really gotten my eyes on them.
The next time I’m going to stroke your cheek, you’ll see they aren’t really attractive hands. They’re very small. It would be weird seeing as I’m under five feet tall if I had big hands, but they’re not small in a dainty way; they’re small in a way that I imagine Joe Pesci’s hands look like.
Okay, now I’m picturing that Kristen Wiig character on SNL.
Yes. And in New York they were even worse because of the cold. So, at the audition, the commercial director said, “What’s your availability for next week?” And I thought, This is mine, I got this. And he was like, “Just one more thing before you go, could you show your hands, back and front, to the camera?” I did and I heard him shout from behind the camera “Jesus Christ!” I did not get that job.
No, you didn’t.
I did not get it.
I did not get one job in New York.
Yes. I did not get a single one. New York’s just not a good place for me. Once I came out to L.A., I could be in the safety and security of my car practicing my lines and having a space to myself before an audition. In New York, I was constantly late. I was constantly running in and changing shirts in a Starbucks. Or deciding on the subway that the shirt I was wearing wasn’t right, so I’d run into an H&M and buy two more. It was so frantic. I’d walk into an audition with that energy — with an energy of anger and resentment of all I did to get there, which is not anything anyone wants to see.
I get it.
I also really struggled in New York with street harassment. Not to brag or anything, but I was a hot number on the streets of New York City and I would get so angry and I would fight with men. I really was not equipped, not that anyone should have to deal with it. I would react and talk back. It was insane.
What would you say?
I would say things like, “Wow. Wow. You’re mother taught you well. Do you have a mother or a sister or a daughter?” I would engage them.
I love that.
Although I do remember one particular guy. I walked by him and he said something to me and I turned around and I screamed at him and he was like, “Yeah, well you got small tits and no ass.” And I was like, “Okay, ouch.” He came back at me so much harder.
Melissa, it was crazy. I lived on St. Marks, like the block after that horrible strip of St. Marks Place which is all sunglasses and tattoos. I would have to walk down that block every day. And there was a guy whose face was completely pierced and he was standing outside of a piercing parlor and had these flyers that he would flick at people. This was going on for months, where I would get flicked at. He was just so disgusting. So, one day, when I was walking past him and he flicked that fucking thing at me, I had had it. He was standing two steps down from a brownstone and he flicked it and I pushed him.
I need details on this. Was it a one-hand push where you didn’t even stop? Or did you stop and do a two-handed thrust?
From what I remember, it was a two-handed shove. And he stumbled down the steps. I just had to keep walking and not look back because I was convinced he was going to come over and slit my throat with the multiple amounts of piercings that he had. He was a scary-looking dude. But I couldn’t handle it anymore.
As a friend and a fan of your work, I’m constantly impressed by everything you do and the person you are. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt this level of being impressed by you till this moment.
But Melissa, I could have gotten myself killed. I left New York at the right time because I was literally losing my mind. I was also cocktail-waitressing, which is another level of putting myself out there. I couldn’t take it anymore.
I feel like we were leading interesting parallel lives. We didn’t know each other in New York, but I was experiencing the same thing. I was cocktail-waitressing and started to crack as well. The customers who came in every week would make jokes about how they couldn’t see my head over the bar because I’m so short. And every week it was that joke and them complaining. It was five dollars for all you can drink and free apps for two hours straight. It was a great deal. And people would just get sloppy drunk and not tip and just complain, “Oh, I don’t want potato skins. I want chicken fingers.” And they weren’t paying for it! And this one guy was just giving me shit and I threw a plate of potato skins up in the air, like, “You don’t want potato skins? Fine. Don’t take the potato skins.” They went up and landed all over the bar. I got a talking to. It does push you to the edge when you’re not given an opportunity to do what you want to do.
Waitressing was starting to take piece of my soul. I know that some people can do that and continue to pursue their dreams. It’s one of the hardest jobs in the world. I can tell who you are as a person by how you treat waitstaff.
A hundred and twenty percent. I stopped dating guys for being rude to our waitress. Absolutely deal-killer.
I waited tables at a big Irish bar on the Bowery and the ratio of guys to gals there was interesting, because men would arrive by the dozen and then two or three girls would come in. The energy there was so masculine. And I would have to carry huge trays, every inch of the tray was filled with a pint glass of some beer, and I would have to carry them over my head. The bar would get so packed that the only way to cut through people was to kick them in the legs.
You have physically assaulted a lot of people in New York.
By the way, Melissa, I was trained to do that. That was sanctioned. I was trained by the waitresses and management: “Yeah, that’s the only way to get through the crowd.” There’s this interesting thing about Irish bars where you’re encouraged to be rude to the customers, especially the men. They like a saucy waitress. Which for me was actually great. I worked at other places where they were like, “we want service with a smile, we want you to be super nice to everybody,” and as waitress that was never my style. I was like, “I will be super efficient and I will be pleasant. But I will not be giving you everything I have. I can’t.”
What was your outfit at this bar?
We had to wear all black. It’s really hard because it would suck so much out of me and then I would have to go to UCB and try to do a show that night. I was like, “I’m destroyed emotionally.” That’s what led me to assault a man on St. Marks Place.
Rightly so. He probably said to himself on the way down, “You know what? She needed an outlet for her anger. She put on way too much makeup for that Law & Order audition.” And that’s probably why he didn’t come after you with a knife.
I know. I thank him for that.
What other survival jobs did you have?
I worked at a lot of restaurants in New York. Another one was a Brazilian steak house where the servers would have to walk around with giant skewers of meats. And I was a vegetarian at that point. This is another place that huge bachelor parties would come to. I would have to reach over a table of ten men and carve steak onto their plate. I remember one guy was calling my name and I hate when people ask for waitresses’ names. I was trying to cut a piece of flank stank or whatever onto this guy’s plate, and, Melissa, I didn’t turn around soon enough, I guess, because I felt a fork in my ass.
You were forked by a man while serving him meat.
I was serving one of his friends meat and I was poked in one of my ass cheeks.
How severe was it?
I recognized the three prongs immediately. I was like: That’s a fork being pressed into my ass. I turned bright red. So much was going through my body and I’m holding a giant knife and a huge skewer of meat and I turned to him — I really regret this moment — and all I could muster up was, “Sir, that was very inappropriate.”
It’s better than what I could have done. What did he say to you in that moment?
He was like, “Can we have another pitcher of beer?” This was the beginning of my waitressing career. By the end, I was kicking men in the shins.