Questions for Casey Wilson

The Happy Endings actress talks about writing movies, evil Internet comments, and why The Real Housewives is like a Greek tragedy.

Casey Wilson. Click image to expand.
Casey Wilson

Happy Endings is a delightful underdog of a show: After some mean reviews when the sitcom premiered earlier this spring, the charming sitcom about six Chicago-based buddies has gained some prominent supporters. The backlash against the initial critical drubbing is well deserved. Happy Endings— which has its season finale on Wednesday might not be breaking any new ground with its Friends-like cast of attractive, underworked twentysomethings, but it has a certain exuberance that often results in surprise Fosse dance moves, endless neologisms (instead of referring to a pal as homophobic, the gay character coins “gaycist”), and a lot of bad dates, including one with a guy named Doug Hitler.

Casey Wilson, who plays the chronically single Penny on Happy Endings, is one of the brightest spots on the show (which just got renewed for a second season). Wilson also has a sideline co-writing feature films such as Bride Wars and the forthcoming Ass Backwards and The Bachelorette Party with fellow comic actress June Diane Raphael. The ex-Saturday Night Live cast member talked to Slate about how she and Raphael write their movies (it involves taking stripping classes), why she stopped reading Internet comments about herself, and how the Real Housewives is like a Greek tragedy.

Slate: Since you started out doing sketch comedy at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater and then at Saturday Night Live, doing Happy Endings is a shift. Had you always been interested in doing sitcoms?

Casey Wilson: Even before I got on SNL I assumed I would do some type of sitcom; I kind of thought that was how I would start. I don’t mean to sound arrogant—I just thought I would be best suited to the form. So then I got the script and I loved the idea that this character of Penny is single but not jaded. I thought, That’s true to life and to my friends and funny. She’s not a dark, bitter, black-hoodie-wearing single girl—she’s not that.

Slate: What was the shift from UCBto SNL like?

Wilson: I went to drama school at NYU for serious acting. So I was doing Chekov and Sam Shepard plays. So the weird transition was going from that into sketch, and then I guess everything is a weird transition in my life.

Slate: You’ve also had a good deal of success as a screenwriter, co-writing studio movies with fellow comedian June Diane Raphael. What is your writing process like?

Wilson: [June and I] try to do a lot of things together, like take weird classes.We took an S Factor stripping class this year. We started a book club. We’ll just do any old thing. Just because there’s something funny for us about exposing ourselves to the weirdoes of the world. It’s given us just a wealth of material. Then we just sit in a room together and try to make each other laugh and struggle to stay on task, and struggle to work instead of talking. She’s very busy with her career and I’m busy, so ultimately we’ll split things up and send things back and forth. We share a sensibility about what’s skewed or the weird thing about whatever’s going on in the moment, so we like to experience those awkward things together and write about them.

Slate: You and June wrote Bride Wars, and now you’ve written a forthcoming movie called The Bachelorette Party—what is it about weddings that have so much comedic potential? Do you think our feelings and anxieties around weddings are changing because women are getting married later?

Wilson: Sometimes with Bride Wars and Bachelorettes, it’s not really coming from June and me. It’s more what studios are willing to put out, which is movies about weddings. So there’s that aspect of it, but then the flip of that is that I think women actually like those movies, and I don’t believe in putting any women down for liking those movies. I mean, guys like nerdy movies and we’re all fine with it.

At the same time, I think that is so true [about women getting married later], that’s what our movie Ass Backwards is about. It’s about two best friends who are so codependent they share a waterbed, and they build each other up in all the wrong ways. But they have to because they’re 30 and they’re single. They really only have each other. You do end up—more so now than in the past—relying on your friends. Not everyone is married at 25 and taken care of.

Slate: I was reading about your recurring UCB show, The Realest Real Housewives, where you do a staged reading of scenes from various episodes of the Real Housewives franchise. How did you get the idea for the show?

Wilson: There’s seven of us girls who are all comedians in L.A., and we watch [The Real Housewives] together every Thursday and we drink and have a ball. And then one day I was thinking: How can we turn this into something artistic? The amount of time we spend on these Housewives? And we just thought it would be hilarious to transcribe the scenes word-for-word like it was a text or a real play. We do every city. We pick the three to four funniest scenes that we remember the most and are just weird. Everyone plays four to five parts. I play Teresa with the table flipping, I play Kelly from New York on scary island. I play Michaele Salahi from D.C. Everyone says there’s no parts for women—we were laughing so hard—if everyone just took on the Housewives parts, they’re the most histrionic parts women could play. Each part is like Medea. * Every person is getting a tour de force. It’s all poignant.

P.S., I gotta tell you this. They’re doing a Housewives episode on Happy Endings next season, where Jane, spoiler alert, decides to audition for the Real Housewives of Chicago, and I (Penny) become her stage mom/coach, coaching her through the auditions.

Slate: Speaking of Real Housewives of D.C., I saw you recently played Callista Gingrich in a Funny or Die video. I know you grew up near D.C. Are you into politics?

Wilson: That just happened because my friend wrote the sketch and called me and asked me to be in it. My dad was horrified because he’s a Republican. My dad was like, That would be like if I went online and did a video bashing Judd Apatow. No, he was kidding. My dad’s cool. He is socially liberal. But, yeah, I’m into politics to some degree. I went on the road with Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was out campaigning.

Slate: You did another video for Funny or Die where you read comments from users on your IMDB page. Were those comments real?

Wilson: Oh yes, unfortunately. I got kind of burned on SNL, so I haven’t googled anything about myself for Happy Endings. I can’t. It’s sprit crushing. [Fellow SNL castmate] Kristen Wiig said this to me: Everything could be positive, but the one negative thing is what you’re going to remember, so you can’t win. And it’s too painful. Of course I want to know, but I know I’m going to be sad.

Slate: Finally, what’s the best thing you’ve seen on the Internet this week?

Wilson: The best thing I saw on the Internet this week was my friend John posted a picture on his Facebook wall, from when he was in high school. He was a Goth kid and dressed as a vampire. He’s wearing a cape, and he was one of those kids you would be scared of him if you saw them. His hair looks insane, and [he had given himself] a vampire name: Louis D. Vampire. He looks like one of those kids who’s going to shoot up the school. Meanwhile now he’s the most lovely, cool, normal guy. His best friend, who was also in the photograph, went by the name of Fetus.

Interview has been condensed and edited.


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Correction, May 25, 2011: In the original version of this article Medea was misspelled. (Return to the corrected sentence.)