Liz Feldman talks making “One Big Happy” with Ellen DeGeneres

 
 

AE: One Big Happy is being co-produced by your idol, Ellen DeGeneres. How happy are you?
LF: I’ve never been shy about the fact that Ellen is my absolute hero. Getting to work with her nine years ago [on The Ellen DeGeneres Show] was a dream come true and beyond anything I could ever imagine. And so now, having a show that’s mine, and she is the person I’m making it with? It’s two dreams intersecting and making out with each other.

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AE: What is it about Ellen that you love so much?
LF: It would be creepy if I told you just how much I was fixated on one day working with Ellen. Literally, I would have a recurring dream that I knew Ellen or I would talk to her. We would have lunch in my dreams. I swear to God, it’s so weird. I’m not even someone who has recurring dreams but she has this weird figure in my dreams.

She was the first person I really aspired to work with. And I actually got to do that, which is incredible. I learned so much, not just about comedy while writing jokes for her, but about focusing on being kind and not being mean with comedy. Because it’s easy to be mean. It’s much harder to be clever and smart and kind. Writing for her made me a better joke writer.

AE: You had a dream that you would work for her, and you did. And now you’re working with her again on One Big Happy. Maybe it is a recurring dream.
LF: She’s exactly the kind of entertainer that I hope to be like. I might not be the host of an incredibly successful talk show, but we both want to put positive messages and images out there.

AE: But you did have a talk show. Remember that AfterEllen jewel, “This Just Out with Liz Feldman”?
LF: Yes! It was an actual dream doing that little talk show from the kitchen of my one-bedroom apartment. It was the most fun I ever had, creatively, and a really happy time in my life. There were no stakes, it was for no money, there was no pressure to get good ratings. It was very freeing. “This Just Out” is something I’d love to do again. Or at least some version of it. I loved being an internet talk show host.

AE: There’s something very intimate about a web show, as opposed to television. There are no rules, either.
LF: Exactly. “This Just Out” was almost like stream of consciousness. Whatever I was thinking that day became whatever the show was. But behind it was always this idea, “You’re so gay, I’m so gay, and that is so great.” Putting something good out there and showing that a lesbian can be just as trustworthy, and lovable, and hilarious as anybody else, that’s something I’d love to capture again.

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AE: It didn’t hurt that you also know a lot of celebrities. Kate Moennig, Tegan and Sara, Emily Deschanel, Clea Duvall, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, your mother. You had some really great guests.
LF: I was lucky! I do have a lot of friends that are of interest to the lesbian community. They were so cool about coming over to sit in my kitchen. When people would come on the show, we would just end up hanging out all day.

AE: How’s your former “This Just Out” sidekick, Raimy?
LF: She’s awesome. We’re still very good friends. She has a fancy title at a huge media marketing and advertising company. She’s their brain trust, basically. She’s a genius.

AE: Here’s was going to happen. One Big Happy is going to get picked up, and be great. And it’s going to start chugging along nicely so you don’t have to devote 27 hours a day to it. And then, you can re-boot “This Just Out.” Hey, Amy Poehler has an internet channel. You can do it, too.
LF: That’s the dream, honestly. I think about that all the time. Once you’re a performer, you always are. I’ve been a comedian for the majority of my life, at this point. I miss it terribly. I wish I had the outlet to do that. So you basically read my mind.

AE: It will probably happen, because it’s you. What’s it like living a charmed life?
LF: My life has been really charmed because… I don’t know. Somebody, at some point, put me on this path. And once you have that, things come easier and fall into line.

AE: You delayed going to college because you were hired to write on a show for Nickelodeon right out of high school. What the hell, Liz? How does that happen?
LF: When I was still in high school, I did stand-up. I would go from Brooklyn to the comedy clubs in Manhattan and I got scouted by All That, a sketch show on Nickelodeon at the time. They asked me if I want to be on the show, which I was thrilled about. They asked me who wrote my material and I said that I did. They also asked me if I had ever thought about being a writer and I said, “No. I had never thought about it.” So they offered me a job writing and performing on All That. But it was literally three weeks after I graduated high school. I was supposed to go to Vassar – which was a far better school than I was supposed to go to – but at Vassar, you either start in September or you don’t start at all. And this job was going to take me way past September. So I basically said, “All right. I’m going to Orlando, Florida to work on the show.” And Vassar said, “Cool. You can’t come here.” And my mom cried.

That was my first gig in television. When I finished with that, it was fall or early winter. My best friend from high school went to Boston University and I went to visit him. He was going to audition for an improv group and I went with him. I auditioned and I got in, but they found out that I didn’t go there. So the next day, I walked into the admissions office, sat down, filled out an application, did an interview, and started there in January.

AE: Has anyone ever said “no” to you? Seriously?
LF: So many times, I promise. I have heard “no” many times. I was an actor and trust me, I heard “no” a lot.

AE: Maybe “no” just means “not now.”
LF: “No” does mean “not now.” There are so many factors in the decisions about whether you get a part, whether you get a job as a writer, whether a pilot is picked up. The best thing you can do is figure out what your exact intention is, what you want to put out there, and focus on that. That’s the only power you have. I do that really hard-core. I meditate twice a day and I do a lot of visualizing, imagining doing the thing I want to do and how I’m going to feel when I do it. That practice seems to really work for me.

AE: Yes. Yes, it does.
LF: My father has a great saying and it’s true: “The harder you work, the luckier you get.” I’m not all braggadocio, but I do work hard.

AE: My mother used to say, “Don’t give me your malarkey.”
LF: OK well, that’s good, too. I’ve always had the belief that we make our lives what they are. I always wanted to be in the entertainment industry and I really focused on it my whole life. I think when you have laser focus, it helps. Sometimes being multitalented makes your life more difficult. I have friends who are so much more talented than me. They can build, they can create, they can write, they can act. It’s almost limiting when you’re that talented. I’m lucky that I’m only good at one thing basically.

AE: That’s all you seem to need.
LF: It’s almost like too much. I’ve been walking around my house asking my wife if I’m awake. Because it feels surreal, it really does. I’m just trying to enjoy the moment of doing this because you never know how long it’s going to last.

AE: One lasting thing in your life is your marriage to musician, Rachael Cantu. Can you get Rachael to pen the One Big Happy theme song?
LF: I’m not sure that’s up her alley, but yeah. These are all things I’ve thought of.

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AE: Tina Fey did it. Her husband wrote the theme song for 30 Rock.
LF: And Sean Hayes‘s boyfriend wrote the theme song for Sean Saves the World.

AE: Did he? Well, there you go.
LF: I know. We’ll see.

AE: If Lizzie is based on your life, does this mean you want to have a baby soon?
LF: I want to have a baby one day, yes, definitely. I don’t know if I’d use the word “soon” but I definitely use the words “one day.”

AE: You have to plan these things at least a year in advance, Liz. Maybe two. Give yourself time to choose the method, the donor, it might take several tries, then there’s the actual nine months.
LF: You sound like my mother.

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