Getting ‘Lady-Like’ with Stephanie Simbari

You may have caught standup Stephanie Simbari on @midnight or in the ensemble of Oxygen’s 2015 reality series Funny Girls, or heard her co-host her popular wellness podcast That’s So Retrograde. The New York native has a lot of projects right now, including a role on Jay Pharoah’s Showtime series White Famous. And now Simbari’s stepping out in her first starring film role with Lady-Like, which debuts on iTunes today.

The independent coming-of-age film follows Allie (Simbari), a loudmouth trainwreck of a college student who enjoys hilariously catcalling men and showing up late regardless of whether it’s a party or the first day of class. Allie attends Georgetown University with her best friend, Kort (Allie Gallerani), and the two are inseparable. But when Kort ditches her for a lacrosse boyfriend, Allie’s left to fend for herself and accept that she’s alone due to her own misanthropy.

I chatted with Simbari about making the “best friend” the lead of the story, the surprising things she’s learned from her podcast, and what it’s like to wear a towel as a dress.

Tell me about Lady-Like. What attracted you to this project?

It’s like a romantic comedy, but between two friends. It’s a really cute story about the complex relationships that we go through when we’re young women, when you want to be there for your friend but don’t know how to manage yourself. I think we’ve all been in that place where we shouldn’t be mad or jealous that our friend is happy with a new relationship but we can’t take it. So it’s a story of growth.

What interested you in playing Allie?

I thought she was really fun, and I liked that she’s the rom-com best friend who gets to be the lead of her own story. You never get to see the lead being the messy, fucked up one. There’s more characters like that now, but we shot Lady-Like a couple years ago. And I resonated with that, because that’s always been me, also: just shy of having it together.

Have you ever gotten ditched by a best friend for a guy?

Yeah, of course. I don’t think that when women get boyfriends that they decide to ditch their friends. It’s just that they’re happy and they’re excited, and they forget that there are other people living their lives that don’t have anything to do with their relationship. I had this conversation with my best friend a couple years ago. She had gotten a boyfriend and I was like, “I just feel like you’re always with him.” And she hadn’t even realized we were spending less time together because she was just happy. And that’s when you have to be like, “Oh, right. This isn’t about me.” It’s like, you’re just happy and you don’t know that I’m alone — because you’re not alone.

I love the scene where Allie’s just home alone in her bed going, “I guess I’ll watch a movie…”

The hours of life that I’ve lost just scrolling through dating apps is unreal. You open it like, “I’m gonna find someone!” And then you scroll for 45 minutes to an hour and think, “I’ve never felt more alone.” If you take it seriously, you’ll end up in a dark place, but if you treat it in a lighthearted manner, it can be fun.

How was the process of shooting the film?

Shooting a film is very much like being in the trenches of something – we’re all in this together and we all just have to pitch in and get the work done. The other girls I worked with were all so amazing. Allie Gallerani and Olivia Luccardi are two of my dearest friends from this project because we were together 24 hours a day. And I feel like women coming together in this sort of tribal mentality was a big part of this movie.

In indies, it’s all hands on deck. No one can be like, “I don’t do that!” Everyone is just trying to do everything to make sure it gets done. Our costume designer did our costumes, our hair and makeup, and even acted in it. He was the one person doing ten things at all times, and all while looking incredibly chic doing it. But that’s what’s so fun about doing indies. It’s like camp.

As a character, Allie’s voice sounds really similar to your standup. Did you have any input into the script?

There were moments where we talked about changing some stuff so it fit my own experience. It was collaborative in that sense. But I think the reason I wanted to do it is because when I auditioned it seemed naturally like stuff I would say anyways. It was, “Oh, this is someone who shares that point of view” — especially at that age. She likes casual hookups and acting like a dude and she acts insane and reckless. And she thinks that’s gonna make her happy, but deep down she knows it probably won’t. But what she really wants is her friend. And that’s a real relationship, as opposed to just being like, “I’m gonna go out and fuck whoever.” That’s an extreme reaction within feminism that doesn’t really work for us. Or at least for myself.

I love the scene where Allie decides to just go to a party in her bath towel.

[laughs] And you know, I don’t know if that was what was supposed to happen, but we just decided it needed to happen.

I was impressed that it actually looked like a dress underneath the jacket!

We sewed it and taped it to keep it on. I had to stay in that costume for an entire overnight shoot. I wore that towel for probably 24 hours.

But Allie is still plenty different from your real life. I can’t much see her hosting a wellness podcast. What made you and your co-host start your podcast, That’s So Retrograde?

We started it almost three years ago. It’s an exploratory wellness podcast. It started because my best friend and I kept having conversations about astrology and wellness stuff. But it was before the word “wellness” had become trendy. It was stuff we were genuinely curious about and trying to implement into our lives, and we couldn’t find the information in a way that was cool, that was digestible. It just felt far from the world we were in. I’ve learned and changed so much just from doing it.

You guys seem to have a more welcoming, down-to-earth approach to stuff that often gets labeled as only being for rich white ladies.

Yeah. People ask us what the most important thing we learned in doing 150 episodes of the podcast is, and we’re like, “Hydrate. And pay attention to how your body feels.” It’s not expensive stuff. It’s so simple. Sure, there’s all this information out there that can be applied, but at the end of the day, just listen to your body and you’ll figure out how to take care of yourself. Slowing down and being aware is the number one thing someone can do.

Have you learned anything especially surprising from your interviews?

Of course! We’re living in insane times right now, and I think a lot of us are learning how to react and how to feel. So as a professional communicator, I feel it’s part of my job to not perpetuate an angry narrative but also not just have my head in the clouds and be like, “Oh, we’re gonna pray.” I don’t think either of those work. So what’s been refreshing is having these conversations with some of our spiritual guests and really being able to go in and express my desire to be angry but my awareness that that’s not helpful. And learning from them how to manage that territory. The go-to response is so often either to shut down or freak out. And neither of those things is going to help anyone, including you.

You’re also in the upcoming Showtime series White Famous with Jay Pharoah. What was it like working with him?

I play the love interest to Floyd’s (Pharoah’s) best friend, the mailman. My character, Esther, comes in in episode 3. It was so fun to work on that show. I understand what it feels like to be in a population that gets put in a certain category in their work, and that’s kind of what the show is about. I just love being able to contribute positively to a narrative like that.

Erica Lies is a writer and comedian. Her work has appeared in Bitch, The Hairpin, and Paste Magazine, and her humor writing has run in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and National Lampoon.

Getting ‘Lady-Like’ with Stephanie Simbari