Not everyone can say they get to work with their best friend, but that’s one dream Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair are getting to live out. And they're using that dream for inspiration.
"Both of us felt like, on television, there are so few, if any, real life best friends depicted. So most of the time you’ll see best friends on TV, and it’ll be like: one’s the slut, one’s the nerd, and like, somehow you make it work," says St. Clair.
The duo, who met through the Upright Citizens Brigade, created and star in “Playing House." The show follows the adventures of a pair of friends, Emma (St. Clair) and Maggie (Parham) who decide to raise a baby together after Maggie catches her husband cheating on her. The new season finds them living life with a newborn, and trying to figure out their lives as parents.
What made you guys want to focus on female friendship as a comedy source?
Jessica St. Clair: In real life, women are as close as I think romantic relationships, and I think Sex and the City did an amazing job of that. I think Leslie and Ann [of “Parks and Recreation” did that well. But we really wanted to portray what a realistic best friendship is, which is, amazing and you have each other’s back, but also, you’re almost as close as a romantic relationship and you can get in fights.
Where do we find the ladies in Season 2?
JSC: The season picks up six months after the baby was born and the girls are coming out of that fog of motherhood and figuring out how to get back into the world. They’re both gonna try dating, figuring out what they want to do with their lives, that kind of stuff.
Lennon Parham: Yeah, there’s a lot of figuring out when you first have a child. You sort of recalibrate, like who am I as this mom? But also with the stuff that I used to love to do before. The thing that’s different about our show obviously is that it’s two best friends raising a baby instead of a couple. So, I think when you’re doing something like that with your best friend they always have your back. There’s no other agendas on the table. They’re both able to go further than they would have by themselves.
How do you decide what’s a Lennon joke versus a Jessica joke?
LP: Well, the way we write is super weird. Because we both came from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater improv background, we’ve never sat in front of a computer to write. We break the story with our room, which means we figure out the beats and outline it really specifically, and then Jess and I will take the writer of that episode, and if it’s us, it’s just the two of us in a room, and we act everything out. We improvise the scene and we revise it on its beat, and we talk about it, what we like and what we don’t like, and then we re-do it. And we record all of that on GarageBand. Then it gets transcribed and we use that as our source material.
When you guys are doing this, are you guys playing all the characters?
JSC: We actually fight over who plays Bruce [Maggie’s ex], and when we do him, we give him an accent like Tony Danza. For some reason when we improvise, he has that accent, but he doesn't in real life. And Lennon always plays Keegan [Michael Key, who plays St. Clair’s high school boyfriend]. We have a lot of romantic leads this season, that’s something that’s definitely different. There are a lot of romantic arcs. So when you see a really romantic scene between Keegan and I, I want you to imagine us in our living room improvising that. Together. It is so awkward. Often the writer is like, should I leave the room? Like, I do not want to see this. And we’re like, you are going to sit there and you are going to watch it.
So you’re acting out a flirtation with Keegan-Michael Key, but Lennon is playing him.
LP: Yeah, I’m there and the other writers are there paid to be watching. We are paying them, so we don’t feel that bad.
JSC: Yeah, we don’t feel that bad at all. But it is crazy, when suddenly we get on set and Keegan is saying the words Lennon improvised. It’s always hilarious to me. Everyone on the show is one of our best friends, so we know how they talk. When they get on, they often perform it exactly as we improvised it. So it’s just hilarious to see Keegan doing what Lennon did a month ago in a dark room.
Does Brad Morris [Bruce] know that he’s supposed to sound like Tony Danza or are you keeping that on the down low?
JSC: Yeah, we keep it on the down low.
LP: Well, now it’s out.
JSC: He’s kind of like Joe Piscopo, too. If Tony Danza and Joe Piscopo had a baby.
Is Keegan-Michael Key going to catch a break this season? He’s always so stressed on the show.
LP: I think we enjoy him being in turmoil, but he is kind of caught between a rock and a hard place, you know, with Tina [his wife]. He is going to make some big, grown up decisions, but not before we get to see him running around in a garbage bag, and doing some other insane things. Because let’s face it, Keegan is super funny when he’s stressed. So we’re writing for that. But he does make some big strides this season in his character arc.
Well, he was Obama’s anger interpreter, so he’s kind of a stress specialist.
JSC: Yes. The other thing we had as a goal was, I would like to see Keegan-Michael Key in a tuxedo on our show, so he is in one in a full episode. So he spends an entire episode in a garbage bag, Silver Linings Playbook style, and an entire episode in a navy tuxedo where he looks like James Bond. So we have two sides of the coin there. I think the ladies are really going to enjoy seeing both.
How much does art imitate life on this show?
JSC: We couldn’t have done any of it without each other. When Lennon has to be out of the editing room, I have a nervous breakdown. I’m so used to having her there.
LP: Jessica says that Julia Louis-Dreyfus convinced her to have a baby but I think it’s because I had a baby, and she was like: I’m not doing this alone!
JSC: Yes. I would have waited forever but then Lennon did it. And I was like, oh god. I’m not going to have us have totally different lives. Might as well have a baby. And then it was the best decision that I ever made. But I’ll tell you what I did do that was not right. I didn’t do any research before I had a baby and I copied Lennon’s birth plan much like you’d copy someone’s eighth grade social studies test. So when it came time for me to have an epidural, they were like, it’s too late and also it says on your birth plan: “Don’t ask me about an epidural.” And I was like, what psycho would write that? It was Lennon. So sometimes it backfires on me.
LP: Check your work. Check your work.