The Jester Interview:
Citizens Brigade Theatre performer Lennon Parham has been performing her
own solo character showcase, “She Tried To Be Normal” at the theater
recently (see review), and has at least
two more performances scheduled, 8 p.m. Thursdays, May 22 and 29. Parham
first was affiliated with Second City's New York company after arriving
in the city in 2000, and since taking classes at UCB has become a
veteran of that theater, performing in improv teams Dillinger, The
Shoves (see profile), and Kill Your Darlings.
Parham currently performs with UCB’s Reuben Williams team and is a
regular in its “all-star” Assscat shows on Sunday nights. She starred in
the theater's parody of “Showgirls” in 2005 and 2006) (see
review), and will also be appearing in a production of “Showgirls”
at the UCB’s L.A. theater later this year. Jester spoke with Parham
about the development of her solo show and her experiences with UCB.
Jester: Is this the first time you’ve done a solo show like this?
LP: I’ve done pieces of it. I’ve done Sandy Michaelson, the Solid Gold
dancer character in ‘The Real Real World,’ so I’ve done pieces of it but
not the entire thing for 35 minutes like this.
J: So what were the challenges of that?
LP: Knowing whether or not I could do it, and get through it. Just the
sheer fact that it’s just me for 35 minutes, whether that was a
J: Where did all the characters come from for this?
LP: Most of them live in my brain. A couple of them are people that I’ve
met, reformatted. The Solid Gold character was the first one that I did.
She came off a comment a friend made to me once when I was dancing
around … she said, ‘You look like a Solid Gold dance reject.’ So I got
taken with that idea and then I developed her in a character class I
took with Seth Morris several years ago.
Forsythia is based on Delilah, a syndicated radio advice show host that
I was obsessed with. People who grew up in areas where she was on the
radio are really well aware of her, and love her because she's so crazy.
She does all these great dedications, gives advice and reads letters,
and has a crazy website. It's great.
The ’50s housewife piece I had originally done for a show that Daisy
Rosario put together for Women's History Month. I got the idea to do a
’50s housewife who loses her cool.
Then … Susan Edgar is the woman who has an affair with her professor. I
was shooting a Maytag commercial. It's a very short commercial but it
took a whole day to shoot. So I spent the whole day staring lovingly at
the Maytag man. I found that really interesting -- a woman who’s
completely in love with someone who doesn't know anything about it. So
that's how that came about. I also wanted to do something with real
Victorian text, like a recitation of a romantic novel. I wanted to play
a woman who's studying that and is wrapped up in that world and
therefore is projecting it on her own life.
The country singer character, Kitty O’Sullivan, I developed for a
two-woman show I wrote and performed with Melle Powers called The
Adventures of Lock & Kay. It was about the rise of a pop superstar duo.
Kitty O’Sullivan was only on video so I didn't perform her live. I've
been rewriting Kitty and tightening her up for this show, figuring that
out. But I'm really comfortable as her. I fit well in her; it’s easy for
me to be her. I did do her in a show a couple times at UCB called “Sweet
Tea and Sorrow,” which was like a variety show that she hosted with her
three sisters, which were my friends in drag -- Jeff Hiller, Eric Bernat
and John Flynn. That was a lot of fun because I wrote some of the songs
and we did different segments.
Rafael is a guy that hit on me in a bar that I was working in at the
time. I was sitting at the bar when it was really slow and he wouldn't
leave me alone. I literally went home and wrote down verbatim what he
said to me.
J: So a lot of the characters have their genesis in something you
experienced. Do any of them ever come out of thin air?
LP: The E.T. and Freddie Krueger monologues. It’s just stuff I get
interested in, where I think, ‘Wouldn't it be funny if?’ and I wouldn't
mind spending a lot of time thinking about the idea. It’s things I
thought were funny and wanted to do all my life -- like in fourth grade,
I did a ribbon dance to this exact song, “Someone in the Dark,” and in
the show, I dance on stage to it. People don't need to know that
necessarily, but that song to me is hilarious, and I wanted to find a
way to insert it somehow. The Freddie Krueger monologue is a verbatim
monologue from “Nightmare On Elm Street,” but it’s cut down a little bit
though. Usually it’s just a phrase or idea that I get enamored with and
just go from there.
J: The Kitty O’Sullivan character is one way you show your experience
playing and performing music. How did you bring your musical interest
into that character and the show?
LP: I’m pretty good in Mac’s Garage Band. Most of what I’ve done I’ve
created on that program. The country music songs I wrote, overlaying
different musical instruments like cellos, thunder and vocal harmonies.
I’ve always been into music. I played percussion in high school and
middle school. I studied voice in college and love musical theater.
J: How long did it take to write this whole show?
LP: If we’re talking about individual characters, it would be from the
beginning of when I started writing Sandy Michaelson, which was probably
four years ago. I put together all the ideas and characters for this
show about a year to 18 months ago, and met with Anthony King [artistic
director of UCB] and ran through some of those with him, then glued it
all together with the Forsythia pieces between the rest. Anthony helped
me put the whole thing together and envision it as a whole, which was
invaluable. Then, Jason Mantzoukas took over direction of the show.
Jason is so great. He's really good at helping me with the structure of
it and the writing, punching it up and really knocking it out of the
park. He was instrumental in helping me cook with it, and pushing me to
ask for show dates and getting a deadline -- not just working on it
forever, but actually doing it.
J: Let’s go back a bit. What was your performing background or comedy
background? When did you come to UCB and start taking classes?
LP: I did theater all through high school. I did programs at the
Alliance Theater in Atlanta. I grew up in Atlanta and performed in
various ways in high school. In my senior year, the drama
department entered a “Comedy Sports” competition with other neighboring
high schools. We had never done anything like that before. I had only
watched “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” which I was obsessed with. We
competed with seven other high schools and we won, and it was pretty
great. It was the first time I had been able to do just pure comedy. I
knew I was funny but I had never felt the power of that. I remember
doing a couple scenes in the “Comedy Sports” competition that really
hit, and I thought, ‘Ah, this is cool.’
I went to the University of Evansville in Indiana, and I was trained in
straight-up classical and contemporary theatre. I didn’t really do a lot
of improv. I was just immersed in theater for four years. I happened to
be lucky enough to be a freshman there when Jack McBrayer was a senior.
He moved to Chicago when he graduated and we kept in touch. And later,
between my junior and senior years, I lived in Chicago for the summer.
Every week I would go see Jack on Harold night at Improv Olympic. It was
the first time I’d ever seen long-form improv and it was incredible, it
blew my mind. I got excited about that.
After graduating college, and two years in the “Teach For America”
program teaching high school French in the Mississippi Delta, I moved to
New York in June 2000. I still hadn't quite figured out what I wanted to
do. I just knew I wanted to be an actor. I took classes in the Second
City’s New York training center program and then performed in their
first ever New York revue showcase, “We Built This City on Rent
Control.” Kevin Scott directed it. Leslie Meisel, Molly Prather, Will
Nunziata, Kimmy Gatewood -- all really cool people -- were in it. Molly
and Leslie were both on Harold teams at UCB at the time. They told me if
I wanted to perform comedy in New York, I had to go to UCB. So I did. I
took levels 1 and 2, and then took a little break, then took 3 and 3B,
after which I auditioned and got on Dillinger. Dillinger for a year and
a half, then the Shoves for a year and a half, then Kill Your Darlings,
also the touring company. Now Reuben Williams. That was the trajectory.