We sit down and chat to queer funnywoman Fortune Feimster (and yes, that is her real name).
Firstly, congratulation on your engagement earlier this year! Did you ever envisage yourself marrying a woman when you were younger?
Thank you so much. When I was younger, I never really envisioned getting married to anyone…man or woman. I wasn’t the kind of girl who dreamed of her wedding. But I always hoped I would find a nice, supportive person to share my life with. Once I got older that seemed harder and harder to find. I kind of resigned myself to just focusing on my career and then I met my partner Jacquelyn and everything sort of fell into place.
A little birdy told me you have quite a funny story about realising your queerness- care to share it with the class?
Ha! Yes, it’s sort of an embarrassing story. I had always known something was off when I was younger. Guys and I never connected in the way that you see in the movies or that you hear your friends talk about. So I just sort of never dated. It never occurred to me that I could be gay, which seems bonkers to me now.
Then when I was 25 I was watching a Lifetime movie; not sure if you guys get Lifetime movies but they are sort of cheesy, over the top movies. In this particular movie a young girl in high school realized she was gay. I sat there and watched that movie and as soon as it was over I was like, “Oh my god, I’m gay!” I still to this day can’t believe that was the catalysis to making me realize this huge thing about myself.
So you’ve been ‘out’ since before you started doing comedy. Do you find yourself facing particular challenges, as an ‘out’ woman in the entertainment industry?
I came out around the same time I started doing comedy so for me they have always been hand in hand. I don’t know what it’s like to perform as a “straight” person so I don’t know if it’s been more challenging being gay or not.
I think the entertainment industry in general is tough regardless of your sexuality. There are only so many jobs and there are tons of people constantly in competition for them. For me it was always important to be myself no matter what. Luckily there were a lot of gay comedians who came before me who opened doors for people like me coming up now. Ellen DeGeneres, Wanda Sykes, Rosie O’Donnell. Them being out and facing those challenges made it a lot easier for someone like me to be myself.
I got to interview Lea DeLaria earlier this year, and she mentioned facing some limitations as a butch actress, that she was only cast in certain roles despite her versatility as an actress. Have you noticed anything similar?
It’s hard to categorize myself as butch or otherwise because I’m sort of in between. Yes, I dress in a more masculine way but there are qualities about me that are a lot “softer” than people would realize. I’ve been cast in some butch roles and I have to really push myself to act that butch.
I’ve been cast as a straight, feminine girl and that’s a stretch too. So often times I sort of get cast as a version of myself – something in between. But for me the whole point of acting is stretching yourself and taking on roles that aren’t the norm for you. I love playing parts that are outside of my comfort zone. But, yes, part of that challenge is getting people to give you the opportunity to do that in the first place. The opportunities can be few and far between so you just have to make sure to nail it when the opportunity does finally come.
What were you doing (and what did you want to be doing) before you got into comedy?
I had just graduated college before I got into comedy. I think everybody at that age is trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. In college I was very studious and a bit of an overachiever so think I always assumed I would go to graduate school and then become like a lawyer or some sort of corporate person. It wasn’t my dream per se. It’s just what I figured was the next step because it’s what I saw a lot of people before me do. When you’re from a tiny town in North Carolina, you don’t think that moving to LA and working as an actor or comedian is even an option. But life, thank goodness, had other plans for me.
You were a member of Groundlings Sunday Company in LA – for us Aussies who don’t know, tell us what they do?
The Groundlings Theatre is a well-known and very competitive improv and sketch comedy school and theatre in Los Angeles. It’s where people like Will Ferrell, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Lisa Kudrow, and Maya Rudolph studied and performed before they hit it big. It took me about five years to get through the school and then eventually I made it into their performance group called the Sunday Company where we would write our own sketches and perform them in a new show every Sunday night.
What’s the secret to good improv?
I’m not exactly sure what the secret is to good improv. Everybody who does it has very different styles. Some people always have tons of information and are always contributing lots of explanations to a scene. Others play funny characters or add a funny line here and there. I think the best improv comes from people just having fun and being open to whatever is happening in the scene. As they say, the number one rule of improv is saying yes. If someone labels you as a doctor, the scene immediately dies if you say, “I’m not a doctor. What are you talking about, you crazy person?” You have to just go with it and say, “Yes! I am a doctor and now you owe me a million dollars for replacing your hip.”
You’ve also been busy co-writing a number of shows – do you prefer being behind or in front of the script?
Yes, I have been doing a lot of developing since the Mindy Project ended. A lot of people don’t realize I’m a writer, but that’s where I’ve made my living most of my career. I was an entertainment journalist for seven years while I pursued comedy, and then my first TV gig was as a staff writer on the late night TV show, “Chelsea Lately.” But while I was at Chelsea I was still creating other projects. I sold two TV pilots during that time.
Then in the last two years I started getting into movie writing. My writing partners and I have now sold two movie scripts to Steven Spielberg’s company, Amblin. So we’re currently working on those. I’m also working on creating some other TV pilots and movie ideas but it’s a long process of actually getting anything made. But as far as what I prefer, I prefer acting only because I love performing but writing is imperative to someone like me. I’m not your typical actress in terms of looks or mannerisms so the roles that I can play come around less often. So when I write something, it’s usually with the goal of me being in that project.
What are the pros and cons of being a comedy writer/actress?
One of the pros of me being a comedy actress and writer is that I get to wake up everyday doing the thing I love more than anything in the world. I think there are so many people in life who are working at a job they hate so I consider myself very lucky. I also get to meet lots of people all around the world when I do standup and getting the opportunity to try and make people laugh is so incredible. I love it so much. I’d say the con is that there isn’t a ton of stability in this job.
You can be working steadily for a while and then suddenly not have work for the next year. It’s so up and down, but you just have to learn to roll with it and be smart about money.