comics talk to comics

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Talks to Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham About Playing House, Babies, and Physical Comedy

Photo: Illustration: Maya Robinson and Photos by USA Network and Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Like on their short-lived but long-missed Best Friends Forever, on Playing House, creators/stars Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham offer one of the most realistic portrayals of female friendship ever put on the small screen. It sure helps that they are best friends in real life. With the show’s second season premiering tonight on USA, who better to interview the comedy duo than another one of their comedian friends, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. They discuss physical comedy, having babies, and neck-editing. Enjoy, because they sure did.

On Putting Family Before Business:

Jessica St. Clair: JLD! Thank you so much for doing this.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus: Wait, a minute but I didn’t get my baby.

JSC: Goddamn it, you can pick her up. Or I’ll drop her off. You’re in the Palisades?

JLD: Yeah, just stick her in a box and put her right outside my door if I’m not there.

JSC: She forced me to get pregnant and then I told her I would just drop the baby off at her house, and she was like, “Great.”

JLD: No, she said, “I’m pregnant,” and I said, “Then it’s mine.” Just to be clear, because this is going to get printed: Jessica and I were in a movie together, Enough Said, as a matter of fact, and she said to me that she was thinking that she wanted to have a baby and that she wasn’t sure. Right, Jessica?

JSC: Right.

JLD: And then I said, “What are you waiting [for]?” I mean, she’s 85, she’s got to get going. And so I said, “You need to go home now and get it on because time is a-wasting and who cares about show business.” And so she said, “Okay.”

[Lennon Parham joins the call.]

Lennon Parham: Hi, it’s Lennon!

JLD: Lennon, I’m explaining the pregnancy story. And so then she went home and evidently slept with her husband and got pregnant. Then she reported the news to me. So obviously, that baby is mine.

JSC: I showed up on the Veep set and said, “I’m pregnant, bitch! It only took one time!” And she said that it was like an old-timey fairy tale where I didn’t realize I had made that type of bargain.

LP: Well, congratulations, I guess, to all of you.

JLD: How old is she now?

JSC: She’s going to be 2 in October, if you can fucking believe it. It’s the best thing. I am so happy you forced it on me because I would have waited — I really would have. That philosophy that you have that life is more important than all the business stuff, we have been trying that. In fact, we have a phrase we say: “WWJLD?” Is that creepy?

JLD: It is a little bit creepy. Also, since I gave you that advice, I’ve changed my philosophy. I’m much more focused on the superficial and fame and making money. It’s better now to make a complete switch and start making cash. Don’t you think, Lenny?

LP: Yeah 100 percent. Once your kids get into high school, you can switch the focus back pretty quickly.

JLD: I’m going to have to disagree with you and just say you need to get it going now because the goal is to get as much money as you can. Don’t worry about your kid. Just make money.

LP:  How else are you going to get all the plastic surgery that you need? That’s really where it’s at. You have to get it all lifted.

JLD: Yes, that’s right. I am in a full-body cast as I’m speaking to you guys. I had everything lifted. They took all the skin and just pulled it at the top of my head, tight, and then stapled it up. It works really well, but I can’t move my arms or legs anymore. I’ve been told it’s going to sort of settle down in a minute.

JSC: It’s like a water balloon, tied at the top.

JLD: Right, right. This interview is going well.

On Working on Playing House Season Two:

JSC: We finished shooting Playing House season two. It almost killed us, per usual. Now we’re staring at what happens to our necks in the edit room. We do a lot of neck inspection, a lot of talks about whose neck looks weirder.

JLD: Perfect.

LP: So much of comedy happens between your chin and your shoulders. Nobody tells you when you get your own TV show that you’re going to watch yourself in the edit room over and over and over again. It’s a tough lesson.

JLD: Yeah, it’s like looking at a magnifying mirror all day long.

JSC: Do you go into the edit room for Veep?

JLD: Yeah, I have something set up at the house so that I can watch the edit. The last four years, the edit has been in London. Now the edit room is moving to Los Angeles, so I’ll be in the room moving forward.

JSC: Lennon and I have the benefit of sitting next to your best friend. You can say, “My thighs look strange in that,” and they’ll say, “Yes” and then we ask, “Is there another take where my thighs don’t look like that?” The answer is always no, and then we have to keep it in.

JLD: You know there is something called a visual special effect that can fix that — just saying.

JSC: Oh my God, JLD, I wore three pairs of Spanx – one, two, three – at the beginning of the season because I hadn’t hit the gym. I heard that Beyoncé wore double Spanx and that she cut the butt out, so I thought, if Beyoncé has to wear two, I definitely have to wear three. I literally almost passed out in a bathroom with Lennon because I couldn’t breathe. The fat had nowhere to go. It was fighting for its life.

JLD: Well, you should have cut the butt out!

JSC: I should have cut the butt out.

JLD: Just cut the butt out, and then you can breathe out your butt.

JSC: Some more words to live by, JLD. I’m going to crochet that on something. JLD, remember when you would workout in the hotel and then I would show up three minutes before we were supposed to be picked up? I would read a magazine on the bike and it would turn off because I wasn’t moving my legs.

JLD: I do remember that, actually. Also, I recall they had free nut-date bars in the gym that you helped yourself to as well.

On Babies:

JLD: Lennon, how’s your baby doing?

LP: She’s great. She’s 2 and some change, and she’s talking up a storm. She’s learned all the words to that song “The Warrior” by Patty Smyth.

JLD: You’re kidding.

LP: Nope. It’s her favorite song right now, and every time I get in the car she’s like, “Mama, play warrior song.” My husband said she’s a warrior, and therefore she is.

JLD: That’s a great song for her to learn at age 2 and change. That’s important.

JSC:  Bebe [Jessica’s daughter] and Saraya [Lennon’s daughter] both come to set with us almost every day when we’re shooting, and they have a very similar dynamic to Lennon and I. Bebe really thinks Saraya’s got it figured out, as I think Lennon does. So in order to trick Bebe into doing things, I say, “You know who sits at the table is Saraya.” And that’s the only thing that gets her to do it. If I ask her to do it, no way. If I say, “You know who is wearing pants today, it’s Saraya.” She’ll be like, “Okay, put them on.”

LP: When they first, met they had this real dynamic of Jess and I. Saraya was trying to lead Bebe around. She was like, “Come this way, let’s take a moment to celebrate life,” and Bebe was like, “Nope, this is where we’re going and this is how it’s going to go.”

JSC: At one point I was like, “Where are the girls?” and I look out, and Bebe had convinced the dog trainer on set to let Saraya and her train a bunch of baby Chihuahuas.

JLD: Oh my God.

JSC: Did you take your babies to work when you were on Seinfeld?

JLD: Yeah. That was not easy, as I’m sure you are aware. Plus, I was nursing and stuff ,so it was like back and forth between the set. Somebody asked my oldest son, Henry, when he was really little, “Do you like going to work with your mommy?” and he said, “Yeah, they have good raisins.” Because it was one of the few things I would let him eat off of the craft services table.

On How Jessica and Lennon Met:

JSC: Lennon and I met at the UCB. How many years ago, Lennon?

LP: A million. I started after 2002. Jess was already on a team there.

JSC: Lennon and I were the only girls who would show up in cardigans.

LP: Weird stretch cardigans that didn’t really match the weird Capri pants we were wearing.

JSC: But there were so few women that we weren’t put on the same team. You would very rarely have another woman on the same team as you. I would see her and think we’re kindred spirits. Then in L.A. I saw her do her one-woman show, which was literally the funniest thing I’d ever seen in my entire life. I physically punch the friend that was sitting next to me in the arm, giving him repeated dead arms, because I had to express what was happening inside my body.

JLD: Stop there for two seconds — what was the one woman show about, Lennon?

LP: It was almost like SNL-style, larger-than-life characters of people that had been living in my head. I was just trying to be like, “This is what I think is funny, does anybody else think this is funny? Because I don’t think that you probably do.” It was like murdering a child in her pajamas. Or I was dressed like a Croatian man who wouldn’t let the child eat her buffalo wings because he just wanted to give her hugs. And the big finale was this woman who was like a solid-gold reject dancer. She was the understudy, but she’d never been able to dance because the time she tried to, she shattered her pelvis. So she’s now teaching kindergarteners dance.

JSC: And she’s drinking from a box of wine the entire class. It’s just the funniest thing.

JLD: So you saw her one-woman show and you guys became best friends?

JSC: Well, that’s when I said to myself, I have to have her and I won’t stop until I do. That’s how I feel about certain women, including yourself, JLD. So, then we went on a date. We said, “Why don’t we meet for yoga?” which neither of us do, we had never taken a class, we pretended to each other that we had, like it was no big. Then we got in an advanced class. It was a total nightmare. And in the middle of it, when we were in this horrible crane pose (Is that even a pose? Because I never went back), we looked at each other, and I was like, Yes, this is it, she doesn’t know what she’s doing either. Then we went and shoved as many fries as we could shove in our mouth.

JLD: I love that story.

JSC: I texted my husband and was like, “I want to write with this person for the rest of my life,” and he said, “I hope to God you didn’t tell her that because that is the creepiest fucking thing you could ever say.” And I said, “I’m pretty sure I did.” Look who came back for more.

LP: We were shoving those fries in our mouth and we were improvising at the table. It was seamless because we were both using the same vocabulary, and within seconds we were falling on the floor laughing at each other.

JLD: There is nothing like that bond, when you are so in the same groove comedically — it goes beyond comedy. The give and take of it has to be unnoticed; it has to just happen. It gets me really where I live.

JSC: I remember thinking, Wow, it feels like I’ve known Lennon since I was 4 years old. Lennon, what weird psychic told me that we travel in pods throughout all the lives we have, but with the same group of people you just switch what your roles are? When you have that feeling, like, Oh, I’ve known this person my whole life, maybe in your previous life you were husband and wife or you were business partners. What did we say we were in our previous life, Lennon? Like, Mad Men–style ad executives that were like, fucking our secretaries on the weekends and drinking martinis and selling jingles by day?

JLD: So, your previous life wasn’t that long ago?

JSC: Yeah, it was like ten years before we were born.

JLD: Usually you think of previous lives as being maybe in the 30s, or Victorian-era. But no, in this case, it was just the ’60s.

JSC: I don’t think we learned anything, that’s the thing. We burnt out fast, and we had to come right back.

JLD: That’s right, because you were both alcoholics in your previous life.

LP: We drank alcohol and got discovered in the bed of one of our lovers, and the husband was like, “I had enough,” and that was it, our lives were over.

JLD: I’ve got news for you guys: I was that husband.

LP: Oh, boy!

JLD: Together again.

On Physical Comedy:

JLD: I’d say whenever there’s an opportunity to do physical comedy, grab it. End of story.

JSC: Do you love doing it?

JLD: I love doing it. I love it so that I put myself a little bit in harm’s way, but to get a laugh, I’m for it. On Veep, there was an episode where I had to walk through a glass door. It was tricky to do and it was a little bit terrifying, but it was really worth it in the end. If there’s something that you can find that’s not even in the script but it makes sense for the scene, that’s like winning the lottery, don’t you think?

LP: There was a moment where we were shooting that scene with Hugh Laurie, where I was trying to grab the straw in my drink after I said the dumbest thing in the world, and you were like, “Do that again.” In my mind, I’m like, If it happens, it happens, but then you were like, “You have to do it again,” and I was like, I’m going to do it again. It was super-funny.

JLD: That kind of moment is just a complete guess, and can really make a scene come to life.

LP: Jess and I, we’re always hanging from a fire escape. Or Jessica was trying to round the corner in her espadrilles and they slipped out from under her, and she slammed into the edge of a vintage stove, right into her vagina. It was so funny.

JSC: The medic had to ice my vagina. I was like, “Was it a good take?” That was all I cared about. Luckily it still worked well enough to have a baby, so there we go.

JLD: Wait, were you able to use the take?

JSC: Yeah, we used it. Lennon and I have ended up in the hospital like almost every season. Lennon is not going to like me telling this story, but she got a massage during our first season, and they used an expired Victoria’s Secret body splash on her and she got an all-over body rash. We had to spend three nights in the emergency room and then shoot all day. All that really mattered at the end of the day is that we got the funny scene.

Lennon and I physically fight in at least the first three episodes. Best friends are really physical with each other, so Lennon and I are always wrestling. I love trying to get an article of clothing off Lennon. When we do it, we actually try to do it, like we’re not faking. The thing with physical comedy is that you have to actually try to do the thing you’re trying to do — you can’t fake it. You’ll end up tugging a nipple by accident, but that’s just what’s going to happen.

JLD: Or breaking your vagina. But it’s all worth it.

LP: Yeah.

JSC: It’s all worth it. Oh, JLD, you are the greatest.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Talks to St. Clair & Parham