Comics Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham are real-life best friends, having trained and performed together at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York, then created and starred in the 2011-12 NBC comedy Best Friends Forever.
When their new show Playing House premieres April 29 on USA, their friendship will again make it to the screen. In addition to serving as creators and executive producers, St. Clair and Parham star as lifelong pals who move in together to raise Parham’s character’s unborn child. Both actors were pregnant when they shot the pilot — Parham eight months, St. Clair three months — and both had already given birth when they went into production on the series.
St. Clair and Parham spoke to B&C Tuesday at NBCUniversal’s summer press day in Pasadena, Calif.
You mentioned Bridesmaids during your press-day panel session. Is it easier to sell a show about female relationships in a post-Bridesmaids world, or is that just something people like to talk about?
Parham: It is easier, because we can just say Bridesmaids, and people are like, “Oh, right. That worked.” We don’t have to assure them that it will work, because they’ve seen it work.
St. Clair: The business needed to see that men would also tune into a show that stars women being funny. Our guest stars are all of our best guy friends from the UCB — Jason Mantzoukas, Bobby Moynihan, Zach Woods, Keegan-Michael Key — because we wanted the show to have a broad appeal.
Was it tougher to get a show picked up the first time around with Best Friends Forever?
St. Clair:Best Friends Forever became our calling card. So when we went in to USA and they said “Well, what would you like to do?” we had a body of work that we could show them and say, “This is our tone. This is what our comedy is like.”
Parham: “It will be a different story, obviously, but this is who we are.”
You’re both products of the Upright Citizens Brigade. How did that theater become one of the primary feeder systems for television comedy?
Parham: For a while it felt like we were doing comedy in a vacuum. We were doing it to make each other laugh and crafting our skills.
St. Clair: It wasn’t about getting an agent or getting a show.
Parham: It was about doing great comedy. So we all got really good at comedy, and then we just descended on the world.
How difficult was it to do a pilot while both of you were pregnant?
St. Clair: To be honest, it was easy being pregnant. Having the babies outside of our bodies and feeding them while shooting was a challenge. But we were so lucky, because we had a dream of having our own show before we had children so we could bring them to work. And we got to do that. It’s so nice, because every five minutes you can run in and get a smell — you know that baby smell.
You structured your writers’ room to be a 9-to-5 operation so you could be home in time to be with your kids. How hard was it to structure the day that way?
Parham: We had a writers’ room before, and we knew that as new moms, we weren’t going to be able to do the same long hours. We set a precedent of trying to protect our real lives in the writers’ room, and that just bled over to the shooting.
St. Clair: The thing is if you have eight hours, you just work faster. When we would stay until midnight in the writers’ room, we weren’t getting better work done. We’d spend three hours looking at YouTube clips. If everyone knows you’re working 9-to-5, no one’s messing around. Also we took an hour for lunch, like French people.