GIRL TALK: Fortune Feimster On Working With Tina Fey, Joan Rivers, and How Being a Lesbian Drives Her Comedy
One of my favorite Chelsea Lately roundtable regulars, Fortune Feimster, is performing this Thursday through Saturday at Philly’s Helium Comedy Club. The out lesbian took some time to chat with me on the phone before flying in this week. We gabbed about what it’s like being a lesbian in the comedy game, working with Tina Fey on the recently (and unfortunately) canned Cabot College, and she even weighs in on the recent attacks that happened in Center City, sharing what she does to stay positive when life gets a little too heavy.
How much does being a lesbian play in to your act?
I talk about it, because it’s part of who I am, but it’s definitely not something I focus on. I like to have something in my standup for everybody. I share a lot of family stories, stories about growing up in the South—any observation or perspective I have on life that I’d like to share.
Are you afraid of being pegged as a lesbian comedian?
No, not at all. I’m definitely very much out of the closet. Everybody already knows what they’re getting. It’s more about having something available for everybody. If you’re a male comic, you don’t want to just talk about male topics. You want to have something everyone can relate to.
I’m sure growing up in the South and being lesbian has given you a few crazy stories.
Well I didn’t come out till I moved to Los Angeles, so I didn’t experience being an out lesbian in the South. My material is mostly about being that angsty teen who had secret crushes but didn’t really know why. I definitely have some of those stories.
I imagine life really changed for you after you started appearing on Chelsea Lately.
That was a big break for me. It opened a lot of doors. People who watched that show love it so much. It broadened my fan base a lot. It also allowed me to have steady work for three years, so I got to save money. It was a good experience for me all around. I made some nice, big steps in my career and worked with a lot of really great people.
What are you working on now that the show’s over?
I left the show in January of this year to pursue acting. That’s where my focus is at the moment. I’ll be guest guest-starring in this new Fox sitcom that’s coming out soon called Mulaney. I’m also writing a sitcom that I’m going to try to sell.
Is it a lesbian sitcom?
No, it’s more about me and my family. I mean, I would be in it, so it would have a lesbian element.
You were going to be in Tina Fey’s sitcom Cabot College. I’m sorry to hear it didn’t get picked up.
That was the reason I left Chelsea originally. We filmed it, and it was a really good experience. Working with Tina Fey was amazing. [The show] unfortunately didn’t move forward. But it was great for me, because now I have this nice working relationship with Tina Fey. She’s a good person to have in your corner.
What was it like working with her?
She’s very nice; very much a hard-worker. She’s at the point in her career where she can just put her name on something and tell other people to do it, but she showed up every day. She was there all day, giving notes, telling jokes, making tweaks. She ate lunch with us. She was very down-to-Earth, and very much committed to making the best show possible.
Speaking of big female comedians. What are your thoughts on the passing of Joan Rivers?
I know not everyone cared for her style of comedy, but as a woman comic I certainly appreciated her, because she made a lot of headway for women in comedy. She was doing things and talking about things that other women didn’t way before it was the acceptable thing to do. I admire that part of her, that part didn’t care what people thought. If it was funny, she was going to say it. I know she was older, but I thought she had a lot of years left in her. I’m sad she died when she did.
Joan is known for crossing the line when it comes to making jokes about things people aren’t ready to laugh about. We’ve had some bad news in Philly recently, when two men were attacked for being gay. What’s your philosophy about looking at tragic circumstances and putting a positive spin on them?
It’s unfortunate when bad things happen, because it’s senseless. You wonder why people have such anger toward other people because they’re different. For me, I try not to dwell on the negative things. I just try to lead by example, by being a good person and making people happy. Anyone who doesn’t agree with the gay lifestyle can see someone like me living a productive life and know that it’s not a bad thing. It’s not something they need to be afraid of. Making people laugh in general is a bridge that brings people together.
Your comedy is pretty silly and lighthearted, not usually controversial. Who were you inspired by?
I would say my comedy comes from a pretty happy place. I always liked comedians like Carol Burnett and Will Ferrell and Ellen Degeneres—people who have more of a positive message and a nice, bright light about them. I was always fond of those people.
So you want to get into acting. Do you want to stay in comedic roles? Do you ever see yourself doing a dark comedy?
I’m pretty open to anything. If the project’s good and the writing’s good and I feel like it’s a role I could portray, then I’m pretty open to whatever it is—as long as it’s not porn. Nobody wants to see that.
My very last question, which all the ladies in Philly want to know is: Are you single?!
[Laughs] I am single. I work a lot, so it’s hard to find a nice girl willing to put up with my schedule. Hopefully there’s one in my future, but at the moment I am single.
Maybe you’ll find someone in Philly. There’s no lesbian bar here, but there are plenty of lesbians.
You never know. Hopefully they’ll come out to my show!