Another Period’s Feminist History

Comedy Features Another Period
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This summer Comedy Central debuted a satirical look at the Gilded Age from comedians and actresses Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome. The two women have been in their fair share of projects, whether doing stand-up (Leggero as a solo comedian, and Lindhome as one part of the comedy-music duo Garfunkel and Oates), TV or film. Still, nothing fully satisfied their creative drive, so they set about creating a period piece in the vein of Downton Abbey with a snarky twist aimed at today’s reality show hysterics. And, voila, Another Period was born.

Focusing on the world of the nouveau riche Bellacourt family and the servants who pamper them, Another Period continually pushes the envelope in terms of what it can say, what it can do, and what it can get away with. It helps that the show’s cast features a who’s who list of contemporary comedians like David Wain, Paget Brewster and Brian Huskey, who all go to outrageous—and hilarious—lengths. Leggero and Lindhome recently took some time to talk to Paste about Another Period and the zany world of the early 20th century.

Paste: You two have worked together before onscreen, but what made you want to create something together?

Natasha Leggero: We really wanted to be a part of something that we thought was funny and that we would watch. We looked at all the shows we’ve been in—I think we each have 50 or 60 credits on IMD—and we’re like, “How many things did we really think were funny?” We realized not that many. We were like, “We should create our own show with characters we’re dying to play and an idea that we would love to write.” So we got together and when this came to us we started thinking of all of our comedy friends for all the parts and it started to write itself.

Paste: Was there any kind of leg pulling you had to do to get the cast together?

Riki Lindhome: I don’t think it was leg pulling, but we did a lot of work to make people interested. We made this 10-minute short to show people what the tone was, and we wrote all the parts specifically for people we went out to. We didn’t go out to them and say, “Hey would you put on a costume?” We tried to write it in their voice and play to their strengths and really focus on that person, and we were lucky to get all of our first choices.

Leggero: We would start writing for someone and Riki would be like “But who is our ultimate person?” And then we would pick that person. Yeah, somehow we got our ultimate person. A lot of times when you’re writing if you have someone in mind it can really help the writing process, and so we just imagined our dream cast and somehow we got every one of them.

Paste: That so rarely happens. It’s such a fantastic cast.

Leggero: I think people really want to be in historic things. If they’re funny, you know.

Lindhome: And people also trusted our director Jeremy Konner because he’s done Drunk History and people knew they were in good hands.

Leggero: So it wasn’t going to look bad.

Lindhome: Yep.

Paste: How do you push each other beyond your comedy comfort zones?

Lindhome: We want things to be the best they absolutely can be up until the last second. We are trying to top a joke; we’re trying to make the best possible version of everything in the time we have allotted. Neither one of us will really go, “Okay, that’s enough. Moving on.” We don’t do that at all. I think it’s good to have a partner who is like, “No, better, we can make it better.”

Leggero: Riki’s really good at like, “Let’s just get something on the page.” And then we just work at it, work at it, work at it. We don’t want to figure it out on set before we start shooting. Even though we have first-rate improvisers as the cast, those will just be extras. Of course we did end up with some great improvs from our hilarious cast like Tom Lennon and Brian Huskey and David Wain.

Lindhome: Yeah, because we had to shoot so fast we couldn’t take any chances. Some things we had to get to quickly, and some things we had more time to improvise. We wanted to make sure everything was solid going in, and then if we were lucky enough to have time to improvise we definitely took advantage of it, but sometimes we didn’t.

Leggero: It’s hard to tell our show was not high budget because of how it looks. We have such amazing perfectionists working for us like Jeremy Konner, the director, to the people who did the set design to the wardrobe to the lights. Everything was so awesome and amazing. But really we were block shooting, which means we would shoot scenes from five or six different episodes in a day. You really had to keep track of your character arc and what’s happening, where are you at emotionally in this scene, who do you hate, who do you love, because everything changes. So it definitely had to be well written.

Paste: Rather than set the show in an earlier or later time period, what was it about Newport in the 1900’s that attracted you?

Leggero: I’m fascinated by the Gilded Age. We set it specifically in this time period; it wasn’t random. When you go to Newport and you learn about these people, basically 1902 to 1912 was this golden age, there was no income tax and people were living like rappers. The women were in charge of society, and they were basically ruling the city and spending so much money. Whenever someone addresses this time period, to me it’s never been that interesting because it’s always been about bootlegging and the men and war.

Lindhome: And the robber barons!

Leggero: And the robber barons and the carpetbaggers. You know, what about the women? These society women were ruling Newport, and Newport was where 90% of the wealth was at this time period, the Gilded Age. That’s where they all lived. We wanted to tell a story of women, so this was the perfect time and place for them.

Paste: I’ve so appreciated the commentary that keeps arising through Lillian, who doesn’t give two craps about women’s rights. She’s comfortable, wealthy, and has someone to look after her kids, so she doesn’t want to rock the boat. So often you learn about men and the ways they fought against women’s rights, but here you see how women had a hand in it.

Lindhome: It happens today, too.

Paste: What’s one of the more unexpected moments, either in terms of writing or during shooting? A moment where you thought, “I can’t believe they let us get away with that.”

Lindhome: I can’t believe they let us do the ravishing scene, when Garfield gets ravished in episode 2. I was pleasantly surprised that we got to do that.

Paste: I wonder if you would’ve gotten away with the tone had it been a female character.

Leggero: Downton Abbey pretty much had that story line. We were inspired by the Downton Abbey storyline.

Lindhome: I was happy they let us do it.

Leggero: Yes, yes, me too. Oh, and when they let Ben Stiller finger me with cocaine.

Lindhome: That’s in [this] week’s episode. [Episode 6]. It’s real.

Paste: I’ve seen the episode where Freud experiments on Lillian to release her female sex moisture.

Lindhome: The thing he uses on Lillian was a real contraption.

Paste: Right. You always see those old fashioned advertisements for muscle relaxers and vibrators.

Lindhome: They had steam-powered vibrators.

Paste: It would have been so loud and distracting!

Lindhome: Laughs. Exactly.

Paste: You mentioned Ben Stiller fingering you with cocaine. Who does he play?

Leggero: We call it romance powder.

Lindhome: Ben plays Charles Ponzi, the inventor of the Ponzi scheme and Lillian’s ex-boyfriend, who was engaged to her when she was 11, the height of sexual peak.

Paste: How did you strike a balance between discussing life during that time period while also critiquing life today, especially by way of reality TV shows?

Lindhome: As the show goes on, it veers a little bit away from the reality style and more towards the time period. It kind of flows back and forth throughout the season, but by the time we get to the end of the season, it really focuses on the story of the house more than the Real Housewives-ness of it all.

Leggero: But still, Lillian’s desire is to be famous and that doesn’t change. When you look at someone like Kim Kardashian and her mother Kris Kardashian, what was that personality type 100 years ago? That was someone who was trying to climb their way to the top, whatever means necessary. And it’s a woman trying to do it, so they’re not in a covered wagon trying to discover gold to have a monopoly. They’re doing it their way. So we’re doing it our way, and the women do it their own way. It’s a personality type that has always existed, so that interests me. You always want to feel that women and women types are being represented, and they’re not just these fake, generic stereotypes that are vague and not really based in reality.

Lindhome: Like waiting for their men to come back from the battle.

Leggero: Or they’re all ninnies or prostitutes.

Paste: True. So often, they’re only ever one thing. It’s been nice to see that Lillian is not just one thing, there’s more going on.

Leggero: Right, so that [personality type] doesn’t change.

Paste: In episode 4, you stage a beauty pageant involving women, babies and cabbages competing against one another for the title of Newport’s Most Beautiful. I read that you based it on an actual historical event.

Leggero: Yes, yes that’s true.

Lindhome: They wouldn’t compete against each other. We did that for the comedy. But you would go and see all the things on the same stage.

Paste: Where do you see the show going in the future?

Lindhome: I see Lillian trying to branch out on a more national level.

Paste: Self-branding?

Lindhome: Yes, I see them trying to branch out to the rest of the country, not just Newport, as the series goes on.

Leggero: I also see the both of us being very pregnant. While we’re doing this, we do still have to do our womanly duties. I have eight children in the show but they’re all women.

Lindhome: [Laughs] So Lillian has to keep going.

Leggero: Look how many babies Kris Kardashian popped out! She’s got six children or something.

Paste: You’re talking about taking the sisters national. Do you think you would ever explore society in different cities?

Leggero: Newport is really the center of society for these people, especially in the summer. We could go to other cities, but I think it’s more about like changing the perception. The great thing about Newport is people would travel through. Even in Downton there weren’t hotels, so you had a constant stream of visitors coming to the house. I think the more people will be visiting, our status will rise throughout the community, but I don’t know how long that will last before we fuck it up.

Amanda Wicks is a writer specializing in comedy and music. She has also written for Consequence of Sound and The New York Observer. Follow her on Twitter @aawicks.

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