Playing House is a new hit comedy series on USA that revolves around businessperson Emma who gives up a successful career to help her newly single best friend Maggie through her pregnancy. Although it sounds like a drama, the show stars real-life best friends Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair who met while training at Upright Citizens Brigade and includes a very impressive list of recurring actors such as Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele), Zach Woods (The Office) and Jane Kaczmarek (Malcolm in the Middle). We recently had the opportunity to speak with the very wonderful Ms. Parham about the show, what it’s like working with her best friend and much more!
To begin, congrats on all the success of the initial episodes! Critics are saying this is finally a comedy of how women actually speak to each other. Why do you think it’s taken so long to get a show like that out of the water?
Thanks so much! We are very proud of the show and we are so happy that people are responding and relating to it.
I think the dialogue sounds real because it is really what we say or would say — we write by improvising, so we force our writers to sit in our office with us (I play all the men) and watch us act it all out, then we transcribe that and that becomes the first draft.
I think there are a lot of shows doing relatable dialogue, but our show kind of takes you behind the curtain of real female friendship, how we talk when no one else is around.
What has it been like working with USA? They seem to be really keen on nurturing new shows.
Working with USA has been a dream. We couldn’t be happier or feel more supported. They let us know early on that they wanted to support our voices as creators and I think that’s why they’ve been so successful. I mean, they let me dress as a Duck Dynasty-type man for an entire episode so they are literally helping me make my dreams come true.
Your background is in improv. How has that helped with the creative process of this show and how much is scripted vs. written?
As I mentioned, we write by improvising because that’s the only way we know to capture how people really talk. Both Jess and I came up through the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and so we identify as performers first. It terrifies us to sit in front of a blank screen and just type, so instead we put the scene up on its feet. We are able to tap into our subconscious that way and out come the weird things that people really say to each other. Plus we have an amazing supporting cast and guest stars who are mostly improvisers and our best friends from the UCB, so it would be a shame to not let them do what they do best. Like you can let Zach Woods improvise a poem for 30 minutes and it’s the best thing you’ve ever heard.
You have such a stellar supporting cast on board. How did they all get involved?
When the writers’ room first started we made a list of all of our friends who we’d want to write funny stuff for and then tried to find ways to fit them into the stories we wanted to tell. We tricked a lot of people into taking their clothes off and doing weird things with meats.
Also, congrats on the new addition to your family! Has becoming a new mom affected the way you see comedy?
It’s probably made me trust myself more. The stuff that you don’t need kind of falls away because you realize what’s important. So I don’t get bogged down by the trivial stuff that I used to worry about. And with comedy, that trust goes a long way too, ‘cause it helps me get out of my own way and not judge my ideas or improvisations as they’re coming out of my mouth.
What is it like working with your best friend (Jessica St. Clair) on this show? I couldn’t stand working with my best friend every day if I had to.
It’s great, except when she eats a bunch of cashews and breaths her hot cashew breath into my face as we’re trying to write. Seriously though, it’s really a dream. And we feel very lucky to get to go to work with each other and all of our other friends and crew who have become like a family to us. But please tell Jess I said that about the hot nuts. Enough is enough. This is an intervention.
You and Jessica previously had a show together on NBC. What did you learn that helped you create this show?
From BFF, we basically learned how to make a TV show. It was our first time doing it and everything was new. We’re also control freaks ‘cause we have a very clear vision of what we want, so sometimes it’s hard to let other people do their job. With Playing House, we did a much better job of delegating and trusting that the amazing people we’ve hired will do what they do best. Seems like trust is a running theme, huh?
Now that you’re a television star, do you still make time to do improv?
I try to perform every once in a while. I love it so much. I recently did a benefit for the Thomas Angel Foundation and we did a Playing House Live show at UCB which was really fun and RECORDED! — it’ll be up online soon. But most of our improvising takes place in our office with our writers as the audience, which definitely makes it weirder but we can wear our sweatpants so that’s the trade off. And we make it over to Comedy Bang Bang to “Womp it up” too. I’m hoping to get back to Soundtrack and Let’s Have a Ball at UCB soon!
And finally, what can you tease to fans for upcoming episodes of Playing House?
Oh wow, some stripping cops (you’re welcome!), some big secrets revealed, I dress up as a Southern man named Bosephus (that’s the Duck Dynasty dude), Jess smooches John Lutz, a baby is born… Lots of little treats await, friends.
Thanks to Lennon for catching up with us. And be sure to watch Playing House on Tuesdays at 10pm EST/9pm CST on USA. And for more from Lennon, follow her on Twitter at @lennonparham.