Hollywood Comedy Roundtable

I almost didn’t clock that this was the ‘potential Emmy roundtable’ session that happens every year, because of how much fun this group is. In the past, these roundtables always seem to be about ‘serious’ performers - but almost everyone in this group feels like a legit funny person who just happens to be on a show that airs every week. 

Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Tracee Ellis Ross, Ellie Kemper, Kate McKinnon, and Gina Rodriguez sit down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about what it’s like to be a comedic actress, and I don’t know why, exactly, it feels so refreshing compared to other years.

I mean, they look like they’re wearing prom colours from 1992, they aren’t all blonde and 98 lbs, and generally, they’re telling something much closer to the real truth than what we usually see from actresses.

Maybe it’s because they don’t all seem like they’ve known each other for years, or like they’ve all been this successful for years. Maybe it’s because these women aren’t all super-experienced at being rich:

What's the biggest fight you've had about money?
KEMPER I'm not powerful enough to have that fight.
MCKINNON I'll work for a hamburger.

I mean, that’s interesting stuff right there. Dunham and Schumer say yes, they have fought for money, and Ross agrees that it’s about knowing her worth – it’s just fascinating that these kinds of experiences aren’t mitigated by being famous or high-profile or the stars of their shows:

ROSS I was raised by a woman [singer Diana Ross] who has high standards for what she's worth, which has been called "diva behavior." I have witnessed flagrant, disgusting behavior, and that is not my mother. There is a way to be a woman, ask for what we deserve and be able to negotiate.
DUNHAM When it was leaked how much I was getting for my book [a reported $3.7 million for Not That Kind of Girl], there were 39,000 articles asking, "Is she worth it?" Then it came out what [comedian] Aziz Ansari was making on his book [a reported $3.5 million]. No one says a goddamn word.

But mostly, this roundtable is particularly interesting because it wasn’t warm and fuzzy. The fascinating thing about this interview is that it’s printed and also in video form, and you can see glances across the table as people wonder if so and so is going to stop talking. And they definitely don’t all agree. In the past, these roundtables are about “Oh yeah I’ve had that experience too”, and they all kind of smile and listen to each others’ opinions. This is not that.

Not that people aren’t listening to each other, but there are barbed situations. At one point the interviewers ask Gina Rodriguez about whether ‘the Latino audience’ is more conservative, and she kind of barely restrains her eyeroll as she says ‘the Latino audience’ comprises over 50 countries and many different cultures. Ross eggs her on going ‘Have you met every single one of them?’ Like, what a stupid question! But it’s clearly Ross who is in that experience with her. 

At other times, Lena Dunham is having a private full-on Amy Schumer fanfest, and I’m of two minds about that. On the one hand, when she says “Amy Schumer’s 12 Angry Men sketch is the most important thing that has happened on TV this year”, I wholeheartedly agree and I’m glad it’s not just me out there in the hyperbole. But other times, it seems like they really want to just be hanging out by themselves and they hijack the conversation. Witness:

RODRIGUEZ I was up for a role and auditioned in character. They're like: "We love her. But can she come back in with a tight black dress?"
MCKINNON Just another whore story!
DUNHAM I want to say we all have really nice faces.
SCHUMER I would love to eat you out. (Laughter.) Is that OK? When this is over. Right after?
DUNHAM I feel the same way about you.
ROSS Gina, finish your story!

See? On the one hand, let the woman finish her story! It feels like being in a room of all my funniest friends and you but you also want to tell your funny story if you could get a word in. On the other hand, I am so delighted that we are in a place where ‘I would love to eat you out’ makes it to print.

(And I love that Lena Dunham references Mara Brock Akil, who created Girlfriends (which Ross was on for years) and Being Mary Jane, and who is not remotely as famous as she should be. I had the opportunity to hear her speak recently and the fact that she’s not a household name is criminal.)

This is, as it is every year, a delight, plus this year it’s a little prickly. Though, if you’re an Ellie Kemper fan, I gotta be honest – she’s a little outshined here. You don’t get a lot of huge Kemper insights.

But the group is so new and it’s so refreshing. I would be so delighted if this was the new ruling class of comedy. Funny and totally unreserved and fresh. I wish we could bottle it.

Click here to read the entire interview and to watch the videos.

 
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