Culture / Media

Liz Feldman of “One Big Happy” Talks Career, Comedy, and Cookies

We are all a titter at VillageQ about Ellen DeGeneres and Liz Feldman’s upcoming sitcom premiere on NBC, One Big Happy. The sitcom airs Tuesday, March 17th on NBC at 9:30 EST/8:30 CST with its first 6 episodes.

NBCUniversal Events - Season 2015

PHOTO CREDIT: NBC

Liz and I chatted about her journey to this place and about all the people behind the scenes watching and rooting for her success.

Deborah: You’ve enjoyed a fantastic career; stand up comedy since you could stand up, writing for Nickelodeon right out of high school and then on to This Just Out for AfterEllen, Blue Collar TV, 2 Broke Girls, and Ellen. One might assume that you lead a charmed life. Is there such a thing as The Lesbian Mafia in Hollywood, and are you the Frank Sinatra of said Lesbian Mafia?

Liz: That’s funny that you say that because I’ve been in this business for 20 years, a stand up comedian since 1995, and I’ve had my share of ups and downs. And, I have been incredibly lucky. There may not be a lesbian mafia in the romanticized sense that you mean it but, of course, there are many gay men and lesbians in Hollywood, and people in marginalized groups are inclined to help each other. There are those people who are very threatened by people who are like them, too. I’ve experienced both.

Ellen obviously helped me a great deal. I’m still slightly confounded as to how I got to this place. I idolized her growing up. I could try to down play that, but it’s true. I started working with her 10 years ago and she was very kind–very constructive. She took me under her wing and made me a better joke writer. I felt like I could write anything for her and she was kind but critical. She told me when she knew I could do better, and I wanted to do better for her.

Other noteworthy consiglieri in Liz’s Not-the-Lesbian-Mafia are her manager, Christie Smith, and openly gay television writer and producer, Michael Patrick King, who took her under his wing when he hired Feldman to write for 2 Broke Girls. And of course, behind every great lesbian – is a great lesbian, Liz’s wife of two years Rachael Cantu, or Mrs. Liz. Or Mrs. Cantman?  Feldtu? The two met at a BBQ in 2008 when Rachael got all up in her grill. Ok, I made up that part about the grill, but they did meet at a BBQ.

Liz admitted that she has always seen herself with a musician. “I don’t have a musical bone in my body and I’m fascinated by and a huge fan of anyone who can sing. And I love music. Anyone who can sing can definitely hold my attention for a long time.”

I, too, dated my fair share of musicians probably because I was also born without that musical bone. I wonder if it’s some sort of recessive, Jewish thing – like asthma and irritable bowel syndrome. I was a sucker for a good voice and an even bigger sucker if anyone wrote a song just for me. Turns out, Rachael wrote a song for her wife, as well, which you may be able to identify on Rachael’s Little Brutes album. And while you’re checking out the tracks over there, be sure to check out Make Our Own Way, which is the theme song to One Big Happy. That’s what I call one big happy nepotism post nuptialism, and it’s working for me.

While One Big Happy is based on Liz’s life story, the main character on the show, Lizzy (Elisha Cuthbert), is not married to a musician or a comedian or anyone else for that matter. Singleton Lizzy the Lesbian and her best friend, Luke the Straight Man (Nick Zano), decide to have a baby together. What they don’t anticipate is that Luke will meet and fall instantly in love with Prudence (Kelly Brook), and on the day that Luke tells Lizzy that he and Prudence have gotten married, Liz announces that she’s pregnant with Luke’s baby. I asked Liz where do the facts end and the fictions begin on the show.

Liz: I do have a best friend and at the time that I first wrote the show, we were inseparable, each other’s plus-ones. And then he met his wife and it was love at first sight. We did have this plan but then their relationship rocked my world. It changed the course of my life, and the way I dealt with it was to write about it in this comedic version of what could have happened. I’ve always been a semi-autobiographical writer, and I’ve written many pilots. It’s no coincidence that the ones that are most honest and vulnerable resonate with people more than others.

Deborah: In terms of writing about what you know, are you writing about pregnancy from a first-hand point of view?

Liz: No. No one is expecting in this house.

Deborah: Is that something you and Rachael want one day, to have kids?

Liz: Yes.

Deborah: I can’t dissuade you?

Liz: Our friends who are parents are not doing a good job of promoting it!

Deborah: Pay close attention to them.

I doubt that I was able to convince Liz not to have children. Which parents among us were warned but paid no mind to those who have traveled this treacherous road before us? And, which parents among us would also say that having children is, in fact, worth all the treachery?

Writing a sitcom about a lesbian that makes it to broadcast television must be similar to becoming a parent. There is planning and preparing and dealing with bumps along the way. Liz had been writing and revising and pitching her ideas for years before NBC finally decided to air it.

Deborah: Were you surprised that a broadcast network picked it up?

Liz: I was not so much surprised as I was determined, and I’m not talking about determined from an agenda point of view. This is what I want to write about. I was more surprised at how many networks admitted that it was a good idea but would never put in on air. It’s 2015! Ellen came out in 1997. It’s been 18 years since there was show with a lesbian lead character!

Deborah: And now that it’s going to be on broadcast television, do you feel restricted in what you can write about or what kind of dialogue you can use as opposed to writing a show for cable or streaming video?

Liz: My ambition or calling has always been to be as mainstream as possible. I’m not writing for Girls or Looking. I do well with a mass audience because those are the shows I like writing and grew up watching.

And because Ellen is a producer of show, I have to filter through her brand. What sets Ellen apart is that her comedy is clean and hilarious at the same time, but this show is edgier than Ellen’s sitcom. There is an entire scene where Kelly Brooks is naked, and the relationship between Luke and Pru sexually charged.

Regardless of the pixelated parts we’ll see on air, the show is very much written for a mainstream audience. Liz is more than aware that the LGBT community will be tuning in, to support as well as to criticize, and she hopes that everyone understands that as edgy as One Big Happy may be, the show is purposefully written for the network television viewer.

I want to love the show because I’m a Fan-of-Feldman, but I do need to adjust my expectations. I don’t watch network television, aside from Madam Secretary because Téa Leone wears power and a pantsuit as well as any lesbian could. To compare One Big Happy to Transparent or Orange is the New Black would be unreasonable.

Photo credit: CBS

PHOTO CREDIT: CBS

One Big Happy runs instead in the same circles as network shows featuring minorities such as Blackish and Fresh Off the Boat. The challenge remains, however, in contextualizing the jokes. When you have a family or a group of friends within a minority laughing at themselves, mainstream viewers not only get the joke better, but they also feel more comfortable laughing along with everyone else. Lizzy is the lone lesbian on the show. I can’t help but think that a gay friend or girlfriend would likely lubricate laughter at lesbians, but alas.

All that to say that One Big Happy cannot be a sitcom about lesbians in the same way that Fresh Off the Boat is a sitcom about Asian Americans, therefore if we are looking at this show to normalize queer life or queer parenting, we will be undoubtedly disappointed. One Big Happy is written to make the general public laugh without getting hung up on the fact that a lesbian is cracking the funniest jokes.

I have no doubt that it will be a funny show. If you haven’t seen Liz Feldman’s stand up comedy or the many shows she has contributed to, let me tell you that Liz is hilarious whether she is writing or performing or chatting on the phone–so much so that I had to ask her why she wasn’t starring in her own show as Ellen did hers.

Liz: Ellen wasn’t the showrunner of her show. She wasn’t in charge, especially at the beginning. I came to this realization many years ago. I watched people starring and showrunning, and I really think that it’s nearly impossible to do every job perfectly well. It’s more important to me to be behind scenes to make it funny, fresh, and authentic.

Deborah: So, the show is based on your life and you’re the showrunner. Why is Luke front and center of the show’s trailer?

Liz: That was a marketing department decision, but he IS in the middle of the two women on the show. But because this is coming from me, Lizzy is the emotional center and anchor of show.

Deborah: Last question. Can you share with us one of your guilty pleasures?

Liz: Chocolate chip cookies.

Deborah: Store bought or homemade?

Liz: I prefer cookies that are made by hand by a master baker because master bakers really know how to use their hands.

Well, that line was enough to convince me to tune into the premier of One Big Happy on NBC on Tuesday, March 17th at 9:30 EST/8:30 CST!!

 

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10 Comments

  1. I love this interview and look forward to watching the One Big Happy with my lady friend

  2. Great interview! Always looking for great new shows to watch!

  3. Great interview — it’s high time for this kind of show.

  4. Great interview, Deborah!

  5. Great interview! Definitely has me looking forward to getting into this new show.

    • Deborah Goldstein says:

      It’ll be all unicorns and rainbows every Tuesday. Or maybe just a lot of flannel. Either way, I’m excited!

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