Having to transition from being an eccentric sitcom neighbor to a reality show housewife to any number of historical figures as filtered by intoxicated comedians would normally make for a serious case of mental whiplash, but it’s no issue for the incredibly talented and incredibly funny Tymberlee Hill. The Virginia Beach native began her career as a classically trained stage actress before making the completely accidental switch to comedy after her move to LA. A few chance performances at UCB have since led to roles as the insanely entrepreneurial Phe Phe on the Hulu exclusive The Hotwives of Orlando, as a frequent player on Comedy Central’s Drunk History, and as Casey Wilson and Ken Marino’s crazy friend on the upcoming NBC sitcom Marry Me from Happy Endings creator David Caspe.
I recently had the chance to talk to Tymberlee about her work in one of her busiest years yet, her Broadway aspirations, and why we should all be excited for next month’s premiere of Marry Me.
So, how are you? What’s going on?
Oh my gosh, well, I think everything is going on! We’ve got the show up and running. We’re shooting it non-stop. That’s what’s happening! Marry Me non-stop.
Well, in your Twitter profile you describe yourself as “the hardest working brown in the biz,” and that seems especially true of you this past year. Has it been a particularly crazy time in your career?
It has! It’s been nuts, that sort of all of a sudden, y’know… We started with Hotwives around November of last year and then we had reshoots into the new year, into 2014, which coincided with me shooting Drunk History, which coincided with me shooting Marry Me. So at one point, for like a week in March, I was shooting all three of them.
Was that hard for you at all?
It wasn’t hard at all. It was the most exciting thing ever. I mean, I did have to sit each night before and look at what it was I was supposed to be doing the next day, but other than that it wasn’t hard at all. I think it wasn’t hard because I was so happy. It’s really exciting when you’re an actor to get to go to different jobs every day. It’s kind of a dream.
How did you get involved with Marry Me? Was it just a role you auditioned for?
Absolutely – that is a role I auditioned for. I mean, of course I’d heard about it, because Casey [Wilson] and David Caspe are friends of mine, and they’re getting married for real. That’s actual life. And I knew about it and stuff, but I never think about myself in my friends’ projects, you know what I mean? And then I just got the audition for it, like everything. And I went in for the audition and I went back for another audition and then I tested for it. And then the next time that I tested for it, the final test, was the same day that I was leaving to go to Casey’s bridal shower weekend. And it was sort of weird, because I was leaving a test for a show about her getting married to go to her bridal shower in real life. It was crazy.
Was this the first sitcom pilot you’ve ever done?
Two years ago, I was on a pilot by Kari Lizer called Lady Friends, with Andrea Anders and Minnie Driver, but it didn’t get picked up. But the pilot was a ton of fun! Oh, and Rachel Dratch was in there with us, too.
What’s the experience been like as you’ve begun to film Marry Me and to be a part of the show as it grows and develops?
It’s been fantastic because somehow, oddly, I’ve ended up getting to work with my friends. These are all people I know, so I don’t have to have that – normally when you’re starting a job you sort of have to have that adjustment period where you just get comfortable. Comedy is hard to do with people you don’t know, because you don’t know how they play. With this we got to skip all that and went straight into just working. It’s been fantastic. It’s been great. We already all know each other. I mean, even the guest stars who come in are people who we’ve worked with at UCB and know from the comedy community.
Do you prefer doing these kinds of ensemble shows? Because in your other series, Drunk History and Hotwives of Orlando, you’re also a part of pretty extensive casts.
Yeah, that’s the only way I know how to do it actually, and I prefer it that way. I came from theatre, and so that’s all ensemble work. You rehearse all day together from ten to six, and you perform every night together for eight shows a week. I love that that’s what this is. Because when you’re a guest star by yourself just floating around from job to job, it’s lonely and weird and you’re not part of their family. You’re only in for a couple of days and it’s a weird feeling. But this, nothing, we skipped all of that.
Speaking of your theater background, you actually received your graduate degree from the Shakespeare Theatres Academy for Classical Acting, and acted in stage plays for a number of years. When did you decide to transition into comedy?
It was all completely accidental. I moved out here and then I started doing one-hour drama because that lent itself to the work I had been doing before and then, just by accident, because Casey and June [Diane Raphael] and all these girls that were friends of mine and they were like, “Oh, hey, come do these shows at the UCB.” And I told them at that time, “I don’t know anything about improv or comedy or anything at all.” They were like, “Oh, it will be fun, you write your own stories, blah blah blah.” So mostly I ended up doing this out of blissful ignorance, not realizing that I should have been worried about it. I sort of just did what my friends told me and it worked out. And the next thing I knew Naomi Odenkirk, my manager, came to see a show at UCB and she said, “I’d love to manage you.” And, again, I was like, “Comedy is not really my thing,” and she’s like, “Sure it is! It will be fine.” That’s just how it happened.
Your character Kay in Marry Me has been described as the eccentric but well-meaning neighbor. Can you elaborate on that a little and talk about who Kay is as a character?
She is a lesbian. She is all fun all the time. She is eccentric, she does very, very strange things, but it’s a pretty accurate description. I mean she absolutely loves her friends, they completely and totally love her. She’s just your friend, you know, everybody has one friend that’s just sort of a free-floating entity. You don’t know how they make money, you don’t know how they live and go on vacations. They just sort of move through life and you don’t really ever know how. That person. I have a friend like that named Jimmy who, like, every time I look his Instagram he’s in Spain or some place and he’s doing this or doing that and you’re like, “You don’t have a job. How do you live?”
Are you allowed to tell us about any upcoming storylines for your character, or are you under a strict “no spoilers” policy?
I don’t even know if we’re allowed to talk about that, so I won’t because I don’t want to get in any trouble! I will tell you this brand of comedy – Kay’s storyline anyway – goes back to like fun, old school stuff. You know what I mean? It’s jokes and relationships. It’s back to basics, and it’s working and it’s funny.
The eccentric but well-meaning neighbor is a bit of a storied role in sitcoms. Are you excited to be tackling that sort of role in a show?
I’m incredibly excited. I begged for this audition. When I originally was called in for the appointment it was for another character and I said, “Oh my gosh, can I please read for the weird one?” Because I feel like I get that. I feel like I know exactly what that is. They were like, “No, no, no, go ahead and audition for this other part.” So it was actually a couple weeks into the audition process and I didn’t even know if I was going to get to audition for it, but I wanted to read for that part the moment I read the script. She made perfect sense to me and I was like, “Please, let me read for this.”
You’re a regular on Drunk History and you actually starred in one of its earliest segments when it was still a web series. Are you somebody they came to when they got picked up by Comedy Central?
Oh yeah, so Derek Waters is a dear, dear friend of mine. I met him also accidentally through UCB. He saw me in a show there and then he said, “Hey, I do this thing called Drunk History.” This was back when it was just a YouTube thing. I had never heard of it. I had just moved to California and that was one of the first things I did. He just sent me an email and said, “I got your email from some friends of mine, here are a couple of videos.” You know, they had Jack Black and Michael Cera and I was like, “Oh God, I don’t want to ruin this, but I would love to be in it.” He was like, “You won’t ruin it. It will be great.” And that’s how that happened. So Derek and I had just been friends for years and years, and then when the Comedy Central show rolled around he just called me up and said, “Comedy Central picked it up, we’re going to get to do it. Do you want to do it?” I was like, “Absolutely!” And that’s just how that happened.
And it just got picked up for a third season, so congratulations!
Yes! It’s amazing. I’m so glad that it’s finally out there for everybody to get at it. Because I think it might be one of the last great original ideas.
It’s such a unique show. Are there any particular skills you use as a performer when doing the show, considering how much of the performance is non-verbal and having to lip synch with a rambling drunk?
That’s the thing. What’s wonderful about this is that everybody comes at this from the same place. Now I’ve gotten kind of used to it because we’ve done it for so long. But it is wonderful to see A-list stars, people who can act their ass off, they walk in and they’re like, “What am I about to do?” Everybody is on the same level when you start a day at work on Drunk History because nobody has ever worked that way before. But everybody catches it really fast, you get really comfortable, and it’s nice. It’s actually really nice to have all of that taken care of. The lines and the words you, just have to sit and listen.
The production for it seems pretty elaborate with the costumes and the historical setting, but the actual performance isn’t difficult?
For us it’s pretty easy because we’ve been at it for a while. Now, I’m not saying it’s not hard to do that audio. Because you have to really stick with it and listen to it over and over again because it’s all broken up, people are drunk, sometimes you have burp in the middle or a weird pause. It’s like learning a song on the radio. You’re just listening to the lyrics and listen to it over and over again until you get it.
Do you have any favorite segments you’ve done for the show?
I loved being on the boat with Brandon T. Jackson. That was so much fun. But it’s really hard to say because every day that you show up for work on Drunk History you’re standing next to someone you idolize. So it’s hard to pull one out. One day it’s John Lithgow and the next day it’s Jack Black. I mean, Dave Grohl, he’s a legitimate rock star, like a real rock star. There’s no way to pick a favorite out of all of those people. Every day that you go to work is like the most exciting day ever.
There’s just too many to choose from?
There’s no way! It’s insane how excited you are. I mean, if you show up to work one day and see Lisa Bonet that melts your brain. And then you show up the next day at work and it’s Dave Grohl, brain melted again. Next day, John Lithgow, brain melted again. Yeah, it’s amazing. Can you imagine showing up some place every day and seeing someone you’ve been watching your whole life? It’s wild.
If you had the opportunity to drunkenly recount a historical event, what would you choose?
You know, my heart was set on the Claudette Colvin one. That was the one that I had asked Derek about. That was the story of her versus Rosa Parks. Not versus Rosa Parks, but there was somebody else that started that story, and I always wanted that to come to life, and this year it did. So that was the one that I really wanted to see happen. And Lisa Bonet was in it, who I lived for and love, and I got to work with her again. Like, that’s just weird.
That was one of my personal favorite segments this season. I had no idea who Claudette Colvin was before that.
A lot of people didn’t. Derek was real worried when I started talking to him about it. He was worried because he was like, “I don’t know how a white guy tells this story without looking like a complete asshole.” And I was like, “But it’s worth it. People should know. They should absolutely know.” And I think he found a beautiful way to tell that story without making it look like anybody was coming down on Rosa Parks.
Now moving on to The Hotwives of Orlando, I read an interview with Paul Scheer where he said you did most of the work for the series in seven days.
We did it all in seven days.
Was it an intense experience doing the whole show in such a short amount of time?
It was, but because it only lasted seven days, it was perfect. Not one person on the crew, the cast or otherwise, could have kept up that pace up for one more day. I’m telling you, by the seventh day, we were done. And we were shooting almost 24 hours. You would be there from five in the morning to three in the morning. It was non-stop. We were all in one little trailer together. And inside that trailer it was not just all the actors changing, including boys and girls, but all of production and all of hair and makeup. It was wacky but it was a blast. It was guerilla style, you know? I loved it.
Is it fun to do series like Drunk History and Hotwives considering how much comedic talent they pack into just one show?
It so fun, yes. If you can get through the takes without laughing it’s the best thing in the world. That’s the only thing that’s difficult, is not laughing your ass off. And because you don’t have a lot of time, you’re not going to get 20 takes. You’re shooting seven episodes in seven days, you got to get it together. Which is why if you watch it you’ll see people giggling or holding glasses up or holding things up in front of their face because we couldn’t go back and do it again. If you giggled, it’s in there.
Was it at all difficult to parody a House Wives-type of show, considering how ridiculous and over the top those shows already are?
It was not difficult for me at all because the girls had written it so perfectly. I wasn’t as familiar with it as other people. I had seen some of Atlanta and some of New Jersey, but I hadn’t watched it for years. I had been a fan of it early on and hadn’t seen any of the recent stuff, so I was coming at all those stories as if they were just stories and that made it really easy and a good time. But I had been dying to put Nene Leakes and Phe Phe and Wendy Williams and all these extraordinary women with the biggest personalities you’ve ever seen in the world into one. Like, you can’t have more fun than that because you can do anything.
Was Phe Phe wholly formed as a character when you started the series, or was there anything you brought to her development?
As far as bringing things to her, I think what I brought to that character was such an excitement to do it. I was so happy and so psyched to show up. Some jobs, you feel like they wear you down a little bit, or you’re not quite sure what’s going on, but this job I knew what it was from the beginning. I knew that Danielle [Schneider] and Dannah [Phirman] and Paul and all the girls were going to let us run wild, have freedom, and that made it – I was so excited every day I showed up. I think that what I brought to that more than anything was enthusiasm and excitement. I think that’s why she’s so big and full of life because I could not wait to do it every day.
I know it only premiered a little over two months ago, but would you ever be interested in doing a second season and giving the world more Phe Phe?
Oh God, I hope that we get a second season. I pray for a second season! I was just asking Dannah and Danielle the other day and they said, “Hopefully the second season will come. We’ve got our fingers crossed that there will be an announcement.” So yes, every one of us wants there to be a second season. I mean, Phe Phe is like my favorite character I’ve ever played so far. I’ve never just gotten to go wild and have a blast.
Do you ever find times in your life where you “just gotta be Phe Phe?”
I have found that there are definitely times in my life where I wish I was Phe Phe. Times where I was standing in front of somebody who was unloading some crap on me and I wished I could say to the, “Shut the hell up and go sit down.” But Tymberlee cannot do that! Phe Phe can do whatever she wants, and I envy her there.
Well, yeah, I mean Phe Phe is a lawyer, a taxidermist, the 2008 Strong Man Champion. She can do anything.
[Laughs] There’s nothing she can’t do. Mostly I wish I had Phe Phe’s balls. I wish I could just tell people to get the hell out of my face or to shut it down. It would be so nice.
Life would be a lot nicer if you could do that.
Oh my God, life would be so much easier if you could look at someone and say, “You’re completely ridiculous. Go away.”
Besides Marry Me, do you have any other upcoming projects, or anything you’d like to try to do in the near future?
In the future, my dream is that I want to get on Broadway. That’s what I’m after. I love this and I’m grateful for it but as soon as we go on a little break, I would love to get my butt back on the stage.
Is that where you feel at home?
Absolutely. And that’s the thing. Being built up by that community and that world is what makes it okay for me to be free in this world. I wouldn’t have courage or freedom or I wouldn’t be able to feel confident if I hadn’t been in theatre for all those years before I came here. This would be really daunting for me if I hadn’t already done that work.