PHOTOS BY RANDALL SLAVIN WORDS BY TAMARA RAPPA
With A New Role In Tina Fey's Comedy Girls5eva And A New Platform For Sharing Her Voice, Busy Philipps Continues To Work It
Listen to the extended interview on episode 51 of the Story + Rain Talks podcast. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Listen Notes, and Soundcloud.
Tamara Rappa: In your book you said 'When I decide to feel really strongly about something, I can't really back myself down from it.'
Busy Philipps: I have an incredibly strong drive for all things, I guess, and maybe sort of a tendency toward some OCD or something, in my brain. You said the word 'hooked' and I was actually thinking the word 'hooked', because I think that's what happens. I get sort of hooked into an idea, or locked into an idea. Then it's just there, and it's very hard for me to get out of it. Whether I'm hoping to do something, or it's an idea of something that's going to happen in the future; if it's a feeling about a person; if it's a feeling of my own; if it's that I've been wronged by someone and even if they apologize, I have a really hard time moving on.
TR: In your book, you explain that you were talking to an unborn Birdie at the time, and you said to her, 'But that's the thing about what I do. It can be really confusing sometimes. It's a great job when it's great, but when it's not, it's literally the worst.' What did you mean exactly? And do you still feel the same way two years later?
BP: The book came out in 2018 and I started writing it in 2016, 2017. I was going through a lot of the process for the book before it hit shelves. I've thought about this a lot recently. I think with any sort of artistic pursuit you're going to have to deal with those two sides playing with one another. When it's good, there's nothing better in the world. And when it's not good, for whatever reason, it's total agony because you feel it's very deeply personal. Whether you're trying to get cast on a soap opera, or you're trying to complete your life's work on a canvas, it all feels really deeply, deeply personal if you're a person that connects in that way to what you're trying to express, and what you're trying to do. And so the hurt can feel insurmountable when it happens. And, specifically, I would say that Hollywood and the machine of television and film is its own beast. Any heartbreak tied into that is really unfair to everyone participating, because it was such a system that was set up for oppression, especially oppression of women---the old studio system, and how women have historically been treated. I've been lucky enough to have really good experiences, and I've been unoriginal enough to have the experiences that a lot of people have.
"It's not special to have someone in Hollywood tell you that if you changed your face, or your body, or you fucked someone, that you would get where you wanted to go, right?"
TR: What does that mean to you, 'unoriginal enough'?
BP: It's not special to have someone in Hollywood tell you that if you changed your face, or your body, or you fucked someone, that you would get where you wanted to go, right? And so it's very basic. The other side, for me, was that I was lucky to work with really great people right out of the gate...
TR: You came to the LA area for college from Arizona, and the truth is, you've been at it, you've been working, for a while. How do you think your work as an actor feeds you personally, beyond career goals?
BP: It's been over 20 years. I think it's served many different purposes throughout my life. And it's interesting, I'd basically declared, three years ago maybe, that I was retiring from acting...
TR: You mentioned that on your podcast too. And I thought, 'She actually just mentioned a huge project on her Instagram. I don't think that's happening any time soon...'
BP: I decided several years ago to take myself out of this business by telling my agents and team that I don't want to read scripts [for projects] if I'll have to try to prove to somebody that I should be the one to do the part. If I get offered things, I'm happy to take a look at it. If it's a personal ask from someone I'm friends with or have worked with before and have had a good experience with, obviously that's different. If there is so much money that I would be a fucking idiot not to consider it, then that's also something I'm not above. My whole thing is, I would love to be a billionaire just to give it away. I really like being able to give a lot. That was one of my conditions, a caveat: if it's a friend that I've worked with, a personal request, a straight up offer, I'll look at it but I'm not promising anything. Especially if there's a network and a studio involved, or people I don't know, and if it's just a bucket of money and the only thing I have to do is show up and do my job. Which I'm really good at. That's the thing I do know: I'm a professional, and I've really stuck to it. People have even reached out to me saying, 'I have this show, we would love to get you attached and set up here.' I've said, I appreciate it so much, but I'm really not focused on that right now, I really can't wrap my head around it. I'll read for people, just because I feel like they're doing their own thing, and I owe it to them to at least look at it.
TR: When they want Busy Philipps, they really want Busy Philipps because you're cut from no other cloth. How many Busy Philipps are going to read for Busy Philipps?
BP: 'Busy Philipps type'. The first time somebody told me that there was a casting breakdown that said, 'A Busy Philipps type.' I was like, 'Are you fucking kidding me? What?'
TR: Which of your acting roles do you cherish most and why? Do you think about it that way, or do you sort of find things that you love about all of them?
BP: Well, there are better logistical work experiences than others. Professionally, I obviously have a very, very warm place in my heart for Kim Kelly. I love her. I haven't rewatched the series in like twenty years. I'm really excited to watch it again, at some point, if I can ever convince my daughter, Birdie, to watch it with me.
TR: Oh, they'll be all over it, just give them a few years.
BP: No, no, no. Birdie is the age, but she declared that she's not interested. She doesn't want to watch anything that I'm involved in. It's not for her. Cricket might be of a different mind, I think that she might be the one. So I do have to wait a few years for Freaks And Geeks, for her. The thing that comes into my brain is that my high school had a really great theater department. The school actually got to go to the Fringe Festival the year after I graduated, of course, so I didn't get to go. It was a really good public high school theater program in Scottsdale. When I was a sophomore or a junior, we did John Guare's House of Blue Leaves. I played Bunny Flingus. I was always one of those people who said, and I mention this in the book, 'I'm going to be on TV, I'm going to be an actor'. It was the first time, on stage, that I felt like I was actually going to do this for the rest of my life. It was a next-level type deal for me. It was the first time I had the experience of dropping into a character that wasn't me at all. So I had that. And Kim Kelly. And I would say I really loved Cougar Town. That job was really special to me for so many reasons. I loved Laurie and I still love her, she's the best.
"I still have that thing where it's not about being seen, as much as it's about seeing what other people are expecting from me, and then exceeding their expectations or defying their expectations by being something else."
TR: How would you describe the tie between being a deeply creative person, and being a compassionate, sensitive, and emotional person?
BP: There's no way to separate those two things. In order to create anything, you have to be able to have a great deal of empathy for someone's experience. You have to be able to place yourself there, because if you can't, nothing truthful will come out. I think actors get a lot of shit for being narcissists, and a lot of them are. One thing I've always believed is one of my strongest points is that I'm very self aware. I don't know exactly how that connects to me being an artist. If that's just who I am, then that's who I am.
"I do feel at home in LA, which is also maybe part of the reason why I felt five weeks ago, 'I've got to leave, I've got to get out.'"
TR: It's a huge part of being an actor. You also talk a lot about being a person who needs to feel seen. Why do you think you've always had this deep need to feel seen? I think that we all do...
BP: Well yeah, I mean, look at social media.
TR: But would you say for you, that pull has been particularly strong? Maybe you were born with a double dose of it?
BP: I don't know. I think we all sort of have it. I do think it's less for some than it is for others. I'm a mom of two girls who are 7 and 12 now, 12 going on, it's crazy, 35. I would talk a big game to them, saying, 'Well, it's your circumstances.' It's like that line from [a song in] Chicago, ''None of us got enough love in our childhoods'. But then you see these little people, and they kind of come out the way that they are. My older child, she was born with a real depth of the weight of the world, you know what I mean?
TR: But maybe you and your sister passed that on to her, from your aunt, it's from your family.
BP: Mm-hmm. I've always kind of thought about that, inherited trauma and where we all come from. Did you, by any chance, see Heidi Schreck's play, What the Constitution Means To Me, last year? I think it's coming out on one of the streaming services soon, coming out before the election. I hope it is. It is truly fucking staggering. It's one of the best things I've seen in recent years. We took Birdie to see it, actually. But it's required viewing. Everybody should be watching it. She talks a lot about inherited trauma and the things that we hold in our bodies and hold in our brains that we don't even know we have, that come from our mothers, and our grandmothers, and our ancestors.
"I can see pretty deep metrics on my phone, on the app, because of my account. They showed me all the metrics, and they were super in depth, 'You really should be posting for maximum engagement, X amount of times a day, and every something hours...' And I was just like, 'Okay, but that's not going to happen.' "
TR: When do you feel most seen these days?
BP: I feel like my desire to really be seen in a big way has kind of gone down a bit. I do still come up against people who have very clear expectations of who I am, or what I'm going to be. One thing I still always love is when I see it and I know it. For anyone who's experienced anything for a long period of time in their life, you know when that thing is happening. For instance, we were looking at houses, and we have a realtor, then we met the listing agent. And I could tell as soon as she drove up that she was just like, 'Hollywood, this bitch...' She had an expectation of who I was and what I was about. A little switch gets flipped in me when I sense it. In my head I'm like, 'Oh, I'm going to make this woman fucking love me before we leave.' Who knows why? I felt compelled to have her understand that I'm not a fucking asshole. By the end of it we got to a point where she literally was like, 'I have a house, it's not on the market yet, and I'd love to show it to you.' Truly, I nailed it. When we got in the car, Marc was like, 'You really went overtime there, like really went for it, didn't you?' He knows me so well. I needed to get her onboard, and I did. So I still have that thing where it's not about being seen, as much as it's about seeing what other people are expecting from me, and then exceeding their expectations or defying their expectations by being something else.
TR: You also talk about feeling like an outsider at different times and in many ways in your life. You've lived a pretty Hollywood existence; you're married to someone in the business too. But I'm curious, do you feel at home in Los Angeles and in Hollywood?
BP: That's really funny. I don't know. I don't know, I don't know about that. Hollywood is my home-ish. I might be leaving. I feel like if you had asked me literally four months ago, I would have said, 100%. There's nobody that's more onboard with LA and Hollywood than your girl. I love it, I've lived there forever. I always hate it when people hate on LA because I'm like, 'You guys are just fucking jealous. We have great weather.' The people are no faker here than in any other city I've been to in this country, and I've been to all of them. You're not any better than anyone else for choosing to live in a place.
TR: I'm a native New Yorker, and I've lived in LA for work. I have a deep appreciation for both. When I was thinking about you talking about feeling like an outsider at times, I wondered if that penetrated to geography, to Los Angeles.
BP: My agent, Lorrie Bartlett, who has represented me since I was 20 something years old, has always joked that I'm the mayor of Hollywood. I feel like I know everybody. I've met everyone. Even just the other day I was on a Zoom, and somebody was talking about something. I said, 'You don't have to tell me who it is, but am I friends with the person?' And one of the other participants on the Zoom said, 'Who are you not friends with, Busy? You know everyone.' I guess that's actually true. So I do feel at home in LA, which is also maybe part of the reason why I felt five weeks ago, 'I've got to leave, I've got to get out.'
"Not everything has to go online, and I think that's where people get kind of fucked in the head, right? People like to say I post everything, my whole life; that everything is out there. No, it's not.'"
TR: How do you think being so open and so honest has helped your career? Would you say it's helped you personally, too?
BP: I do think that I've always been this way personally. It's certainly helped my career immensely. Because of Instagram and my Stories, I started getting a lot of recognition, and a lot of people paying attention to me and to my opinions or thoughts on things, and the stories I was telling. Then I got the book deal, which was essentially a blind book deal. And the talk show. I thought, that's what I want to do with this, I want to do a talk show, a late night talk show. And so yeah, all of those things have been a part of my being very open and honest online.
TR: You turned to Instagram when you were feeling lonely in your marriage, you explain a little bit of that in your book. And then your presence on social media really took off, your openness there really resonated with people. You were interviewed forThe New Yorker about it, how you were an early adoptor of the platform and served to kind of typify all that IG was, and is, about. What's your relationship with social media like presently?
BP: It's hard, because I have so much tied to it economically right now. Now it's how I make money, a lot of money, it's my living. Especially as someone who's declared that they've retired from acting! You got to make money somehow! I'm not going to necessarily bite the hand that feeds me, but I will say I actually don't feel beholden to it. I remember going in and sitting down with the people at Instagram for a meeting. This was a couple of years ago, around the time when Instagram Stories took off, and I remember them telling me about the metrics. I don't know if everybody gets those metrics, but I can see pretty deep metrics on my phone, on the app, because of my account. They showed me all the metrics, and they were super in depth, 'You really should be posting for maximum engagement, X amount of times a day, and every something hours...' And I was just like, 'Okay, but that's not going to happen.'
"The book, and putting it out into the world, was really scary. That was the scariest thing I could have ever imagined doing. So once I survived that, it was like, what do I care about some trolls?"
TR: Do you know when to post something organically, not for a partnership? Is there a feeling you get or is it just incredibly spontaneous?
BP: I would say that it's intuitive. And, I've always erred on the side of caution, always, the whole time. If I've ever felt like, maybe that's not cool, or too far---I won't do it. Not everything has to go online, and I think that's where people get kind of fucked in the head, right? People like to say I post everything, my whole life, that everything is out there. I'm like, 'No, it's not'.
TR:...It's actually not, there are like 10,000 things that nobody knows...
BP: Yes, 100%, and it's deeply edited. I choose what I want to put out there. Now, the things that I put out there are very authentic and they're truthful. But that doesn't mean that it's the whole fucking truth. People feel like the secret is to just give it all, put it all out there. Actually, you want to hold some stuff back. You should just have some stuff that's just for you.
TR: People on social media can be particularly nasty because of the baked-in anonymity. You're such a deeply sensitive person, is it hard being someone who's deeply feeling while putting yourself out there on social media?
BP: Yes. But there are degrees to everything. The book, and putting it out into the world, was really scary. That was the scariest thing I could have ever imagined doing. So once I survived that, it was like, what do I care about some trolls?
"I watched the first episode, I was like, 'There by the grace of God I didn't get Smallville when I tested for it, because I'd be in that fucking cult!'"
TR: You're incredibly fearless. There are a lot of people that really pay attention to all the questions and the comments.
BP: I know, and you know what? I need to watch The Social whatever...[Dilemma] And I'm so far behind on the NXIVM documentary too. I'm two episodes behind. It's so batshit. But by the way, it's my fucking thesis, right? It's these people just wanting to be seen. They wanted to be told that they were special, they wanted to be told that they were unique, that they could change the world, and that they were good people.
TR: Yes, that they were valued.
BP: That they were valued, and that this was a way to get to where they needed to be. And I swear to God, before I watched it, I'd said to Caissie and Shantira, 'Yeah, no fucking way. I would never.' And after I watched the first episode, I was like, 'There by the grace of God I didn't get Smallville when I tested for it, because I'd be in that fucking cult!'. I especially understand why it was so appealing to all these actors in the industry, an industry that's constantly telling you you're terrible, you're shit, or that you need to fix something about yourself. And this guy has all the answers. Anyway, I'm fascinated by it, but I'm very far behind on it.
"Part of the reckoning that we all, as women, have been able to come to in the last four years---and a lot of women have not been able to--- is that we don't have to hold onto things to make society and other people comfortable."
TR: What was your process like for writing your book? Were there moments in the process where you said to yourself, 'I want to pull back, maybe I don't want to tell that story?'
BP: It was hard when it was hard, and when it was going well, I was in a groove and I knew where I wanted the stories to go. The deal I made with myself in the beginning, was that I was going to write everything---because of the way that my brain works, and for the sake of storytelling. I needed to move through all my stories, even the tough ones, to get to the next ones. I created an outline, and it changed a lot from the very first outline I presented to the editor at the publishing company. But for me and the way my brain works, the way I knew I was going to be able to do this, was that I was going to work chronologically in my life. I literally started at the beginning, and just moved forward. And I overwrote a ton. Also, I look at people's lives as being made up of building blocks. If you take the third one up out, the whole tower crumbles. I've always loved reading memoirs. Sometimes memoirs are funny books just to be funny, and that's great. But when somebody's trying to give you the balance of who they are, their life experience, and it feels as though there's something missing, it's so obvious. It sticks out like a sore thumb. They omit chunks that are necessary to inform who they ended up becoming, and how it drove them. My intention was, if I'm going to do it, I'm not going to leave out one part just because it makes me uncomfortable or it makes someone else temporarily uncomfortable. I've lived with this discomfort for so long. Part of the reckoning that we all, as women, have been able to come to in the last four years---and a lot of women have not been able to--- is that we don't have to hold onto things to make society and other people comfortable. It's the same thing that my black friends and my POC friends are also experiencing now with this second wave of the civil rights movement happening in our country. They don't need to hold their experiences in a different way so that white people are more comfortable. Being uncomfortable is a great fucking place, because it means that something's going to change. And so, literally, through Soul Cycle... (laughs) It's like a message in Soul Cycle, right? You got to push through it, you got to push through it. You're not going to die on a Soul... well maybe somebody has, I don't know. I'm not going to die on a Soul Cycle bike, but I'm going to get to a point where I'm like, 'This is really, really uncomfortable.' It's not going to be painful; it might be a little painful, hence the title of my book, This Will Only Hurt a Little, but...
TR: What I love about the title of your book is that it gives a nod to your crazy knee dislocation situation.
BP: All of my falling down, my medical weirdness, all that stuff. When it came time to look at the book as a whole, the stories as a whole; where they were going and what they were saying, there was no part of me that wanted to take out the things that were uncomfortable. The only stuff that got edited out was stuff that didn't service the story...the things that happened to me, relationships I've had, experiences I had with people that didn't really inform who I became.
"I wrote this whole book about wanting to be seen. And here's this guy who I'd wanted so deeply to see me, and his response was, 'I wasn't in your book enough.'"
TR: Your book is filled with storytelling that is deeply personal, open, and honest. I love hearing that whatever was edited out of that book were things that didn't necessarily need to be there.
BP: Oh my God, do you want to hear a crazy story? I've never talked about this. But I feel like the chances of this person seeing this are slim. I have an ex boyfriend who was my boyfriend in high school, who I reference a little bit in my book. He was just kind of like a loser boyfriend in high school and he did drugs, and he was a DJ. He was so, I don't know, he was so fucking moded. 'Moded'---do people even say that any more? I'm going back to the 90's. He was so mad that he wasn't in the book more. He was trolling me on social media when the book came out. He was trolling, leaving comments like, 'For the real story of...' I never responded to it. It's like when we were little, and Phil Donahue would have an I Took Julia Roberts To Prom episode.. The guy who took Julia Roberts to prom would be the guest. And you're just like, 'This schlub. This poor, pathetic person'. It was ironic, because here I am, I wrote this whole book about wanting to be seen. . And here's this guy who I'd wanted so deeply to see me, and his response was, 'I wasn't in your book enough.'
TR: You had one particularly traumatic experience with idea stealing while working on Blades Of Glory. It really resonates with me, but not everyone has experienced that.
BP: I would say that almost every woman has. That's my thesis.
"You have to keep trusting people. You can't turn into Frances McDormand's character in Olive Kitteridge. That's always my biggest fear. You can't turn into a person that doesn't trust anyone and is out for themselves."
TR: Do you still think about that experience? Is there a takeaway about who to trust and who not to trust?
BP: At this point, that chapter is closed. And you have to keep trusting people. You can't turn into Frances McDormand's character in Olive Kitteridge. That's always my biggest fear. You can't turn into a person that doesn't trust anyone and is out for themselves. Then where are you? You're no better than any of these other motherfuckers that steal your ideas. I think you have to continue to move forward in an open way. You have to be able to heal yourself. Creatively, I was pretty much destroyed by that experience for a long time. I got married and had Birdie not too long after all of that. There was a distance I had from it, by being mom and then being on Cougar Town. But I didn't want to create anything. I was totally broken in terms of my confidence. Even the year after it happened, I was pretty broken, confidence-wise. My auditions were shit. I loved those guys so deeply, I'd known them for over a decade, and trusted them implicitly. I was being totally gaslit, like a lot of women are, we're just gaslit. It caused me to question the validity of literally everything I thought to be true, during that period when I was in therapy and trying to parse it all out. Luckily, my best friend Emily BB had been there through the whole thing. And so I did have people who were witnesses to it, who weren't those guys.. But I will say, in my old age, that I do also understand that they have their own version of events and they hold their own truth. I had forgiven, and had been back in contact with the ex boyfriend for a bit. I've never told this story. I will tell it to you. I was doing my edits on the book and I was working on Kimmy Schmidt in New York by myself, without my kids, and without my husband. I was really focusing on it. I was doing the edits on my book, and reading that chapter back. I believe I was doing the line edits, but with the legal team, which is like its own thing for memoirs. With memoirs, they don't fact check you. So if you're like, 'Blades of Glory came out in 1992', that's what they print in the book. There's a person that line edits and asks you, 'Is this the year that it came out?' And if you say, 'This is how I remember it', they're like, 'Okay, that's on you.' There is legal stuff you have to go through; what's libel? What's slander? I was going through the Blades of Glory chapter, which was really fucking hard for me, and I called Marc. I remember this so clearly, I have kind of a photographic memory, I was staying in this room at the Bowery Hotel...and I was like, 'I feel like I'm too hard on the boys. I feel like I might be too hard on them in this. Will you just read it again tonight, and tell me what you think? Pretend you've never heard the fucking story four billion times, which I know you have'. And he said, I don't think you are, but I will read it again, and will get back to you. I thought, okay, great, ate a bunch of jelly beans, and went to bed. The next morning I went to work at Kimmy Schmidt, I was in the makeup and hair trailer, and it was a Thursday. My ex boyfriend and I were in contact at this point, and he had recently texted me a picture of us from high school, and I thought, it's Thursday, I'll post it as my TBT. So I post the photo as my TBT and then fifteen or twenty minutes later, absentmindedly, in the hair and makeup chair, I'm scrolling through the comments, and somebody commented to him, 'Your profile quote made me LOL'. I realized I'd never looked at his profile. So I clicked on his profile, and there was a quote that didn't mean anything to me. It must be something nerdy, something I don't know about. But underneath it is the link area, and it was a link to a Nerdist article titled, The Complete Untold Oral History Of The Movie Blades of Glory. I was not asked to participate in it. And obviously I'm the complete untold story of the movie, at least the first part of it! When I saw it, my heart fucking sank and I was like, 'Those motherfuckers'. My heart sank and I was thinking, please let them say something nice and correct about me and my participation. I click on it, and the ex boyfriend says one thing about me that's so fucking crazy. 'Busy Philipps was a friend of ours from Arizona, and she and I were chatting about how funny ice skating is, and then I told Jeff, and Jeff came up with the story.' This is a total fucking erasure, and lie. I lost my shit. I screen shot all the stuff and started texting him and said, 'Look, dude, everyone had their own fucking versions, but this is a lie and I'm so fucking sick of it.' And we got into this thing. I blocked him. He said 'please let me apologize, blah, blah, blah', I was like, 'No, dude. I am 37 years old. I will not be gaslit by your fucking pathetic ass." They ended up correcting the Nerdist article, but whatever. I thought, you know what? Have a nice fucking life, enjoy my book when it comes out, go fuck yourself. That's it, you're done, cut off. This is the thing with me, I will give people so many chances, really, truly, really, truly. But that moment was just a bridge fucking too far, especially considering that the night before I had been sitting in my fucking hotel room thinking, am I too hard on them by telling the truth, am I being too hard on these boys? I haven't heard from him. But I have no interest, and he's blocked in all ways. His brother actually wrote me a really nice email, sort of owning and apologizing for things. After the book came out, he'd read it.
"It was a link to a Nerdist article titled, The Complete Untold Oral History Of The Movie Blades of Glory. I was not asked to participate in it. And obviously I'm the complete untold story of the movie, at least the first part of it! When I saw it, my heart fucking sank and I was like, 'Those motherfuckers'."
TR: Rest in peace and moment of silence for your talk show. What I loved about your talk show was how conversational it was. Personally, I've never taken to the late night talk shows helmed by men because I think there's nothing worse than listening to canned jokes at the end of the night.
BP: RIP, RIP. I think they're not made for us. It's just not for us. I wanted to make a show for me and my friends. That's all.
TR: What was the process of booking guests like? You had one amazing guest after the next.
BP: It was really hard. It was really difficult to get people. I feel really lucky. We had a great team, and we had really awesome talent bookers who worked really hard. Beyond that, I have twenty-plus years in this industry and for the most part, I've generated goodwill. That was part of it as well. I was able to trade in on that in a good way. There are a few people that don't like me and that's, quite frankly, not my problem. And when publicists would come with their clients to do the show, they'd see how much fun their clients had, and it became easier. Everybody says that the thing about late night talk shows, is that it takes a long time for it to get up and running and find an audience. We were dealing with so much behind the scenes, in terms of what that network was going through, and what cable in general was going through at the time. We weren't let in on it, we had no idea what was happening. We would have probably done things differently, We only took it to E! We had no other meetings. We were told one thing, and something else turned out to be true entirely. So it's bummer, but also, who cares?
TR: How many episodes did you do? You were pouring so much of your own energy into connecting with your guests, over and over again. Was it draining for you, or did it fill up your cup?
BP: I enjoyed it a lot. We did like a hundred-and-something episodes. It was six months. It was five nights a week. We did a show on Monday, two on Tuesday, and then one Thursday, I think, is how it worked. The two shows in one day was really hard. That actually was really draining. But the other bit of it...we had a really great time. We had such a great staff of people who had such great attitudes, and everybody was just making it happen. It didn't feel exhausting. It just was happening, it was what we were doing.
"I didn't want to create anything. I was totally broken in terms of my confidence. Even the year after it happened, I was pretty broken, confidence-wise. My auditions were shit."
TR: What was the most interesting or rewarding part about having and developing your own talk show?
BP: I loved all of it, honestly. I said 'who cares', but I mean 'who cares' in the scheme of things in this world right now---it's all a dumpster fire. It was incredibly fulfilling and creatively fun. I really liked our work environment. It was as non toxic as I think any work environment could be. We were really supportive of one another, and all there to put something nice and good into the world for people like ourselves. I wish I could have continued on, and I feel like the shows were really strong.
TR: Now that you've had some space from the cancellation of the talk show, what do you reflect upon, in terms of that experience?
BP: Listen, we need more women to have platforms of all sizes, in all time zones!
TR: You talk about wanting to create an 'entertainment utopia' with your new podcast, Busy Philipps Is Doing Her Best. What does 'entertainment utopia' mean to you?
BP: I think there needs to be the democratization of art in terms of the people that get to make it, who it's made for, and who gets to see it. Which should be everyone, whether you can pay for a subscription to a service, or not. Everybody should be able to have access to good art.
TR: Do you feel you're getting there, or does it feel a little work-in-progress right now?
BP: Obviously I can talk for days. Okay, so here comes the big reveal. No, people know this. I don't really listen to podcasts, so it's hard for me to know!
TR: What difference do you appreciate about podcasting versus TV talk show hosting?
BP: We talk about how, so frequently, we would have these moments in the writers room at Busy Tonight. We were a very small writer's room. It was literally three people, with the writers, and me and Caissie. Our producers and our assistants would come in, but that was it. Late night shows typically have like 14 staff writers. We were very pared down. We would go over the day's events, and people would just talk shit and make jokes. One of us wouldn't know what a thing was, and then somebody else would have to explain it to them in the way they understood it. And then somebody else would Google it. And we always said, that's a thing you can never capture on screen, because you have to make it so short. You have to extract the essence of it, and then that becomes the joke, right? The rest of it just goes away. Caissie and I pitched to E! early on that we should do a podcast to go with the show, a podcast that was the making of the show. I don't think they ever answered us, if I'm being honest! So this podcast has been great, because Caissie and Shantira and I are essentially in the beginning of the show, that first whole chunk is basically what we did. It's not just reduced to one line about a thing. There are lots of different takes.
"Everybody says that the thing about late night talk shows, is that it takes a long time for it to get up and running and find an audience. We were dealing with so much behind the scenes, in terms of what that network was going through, and what cable in general is going through at this time. And we weren't let in on it, we had no idea what was happening. We would have probably done things differently."
TR: Caissie and Shantira worked on Busy Tonight, and each of them have had really interesting careers. Where do you think the three of you intersect or connect creatively?
BP: We definitely intersect in our positivity, and our belief that we deserve nice things. We deserve good things in this world. We want to make sure that people know they're not alone. I think we've all felt, in our own ways, for our own reasons, othered in our lives. And if you've been a person who's felt that way, I hope that your response or reaction to it is that you don't want others to feel that way too. That's a driving force, a common thing for all of us. We also have very different takes on a lot of things, and very different life experiences.
TR: On your podcast you discuss setbacks. How do you get the guests on your podcast to feel comfortable discussing uncomfortable things? Why do you think they feel comfortable talking about setbacks?
BP: I think a lot of our guests, whether they do or don't, feel like they know me personally. A lot of people feel like they know me personally. When you talk to someone that you know, you're much more likely to reveal some shit. I think that's probably at the core of it. But I also feel like we did this on the talk show too, we would edit. If a guest was fucking tired or had been on a press tour, or just couldn't deal, I would always talk until they wanted to start talking.
TR: Your podcast discusses the idea of pivoting, and it, too, pivoted, due to the pandemic. I particularly loved your guest, Rosie O'Donnell, who talked about how she pivoted away from her own talk show. When you look at your own life, can you name the biggest pivot you've had to make to date?
BP: I would say Instagram, and being a personality as opposed to being an actor for hire. And when I started doing it, I have to tell you, I had some people who were like, 'This is a bad idea. This is career suicide. You should not be doing this in this way. You shouldn't be putting it out there, the way that you are.' I feel like that was like a pivot. I felt, 'So I never work again, who fucking cares?' I was at the end of my rope. I do think that's been my biggest pivot, for sure.
"I think a lot of our guests, whether they do or don't, feel like they know me personally. A lot of people feel like they know me personally. When you talk to someone that you know, you're much more likely to reveal some shit."
TR: What do you think you've learned most from the people that you've hosted, both through your talk show and also the podcast?
BP: I'm a firm believer in listening to other people, whether about their experiences or the stories they want to tell. One of the things I think you're speaking to when you mention the late night talk shows, is that it typically does feel like the hosts are only listening so that they can get the joke they've planned out, in. So they're not actually listening, they're just listening for their cue. And that's a different thing than listening to something someone is saying, and then asking a question that comes naturally. If you have a weird, funny non sequitur to go with it, you can add that in too. But I would never prepare jokes to say to guests based on what I knew they wanted to talk about. That's the part that can sometimes get a little bit tricky, with these talk shows. They don't feel as honest as they could.
TR: Is there anything that you're hoping to do in your career that you haven't tackled yet?
BP: I'm so lucky that I'm doing this new show because I'm going to get to finally live my dreams! I literally can't share anything, except that Tina Fey called me. I was standing on the street, she said, 'We're doing a show with Sara Bareilles, and Renée Elise Goldsberry from Hamilton.' She said 'It's about a '90s girl group that's in their 40's, trying to stage a comeback'.
TR: Is there another screenplay moment, one that doesn't involve a contentious writing partner relationship, or another book, in your future?
BP: I think I'll probably write another book. But I don't know if I care about writing a screenplay, My husband writes movies. I don't know if I want to. I don't know if I care. I don't have any ideas for any films anyway. If I had one that I wanted to write, I'm sure I would do it. But I don't have any, and it would have to be the right idea. So maybe it'll come to me, but maybe not.
"He's a man who's been through some shit, some real shit in his life and yet, here he is, at his age, deciding that this is the moment that he should step forward, and help try to restore a thing. So I'm a fan. I want to eat ice cream with him on the day after the election, when he wins."
TR: Towards the end of your book, you talk about being in New York at the Hillary Clinton party during the last election. Dare I ask what you're thinking about politics in America right now?
BP: I'm not thinking anything that any other sane person isn't also thinking. Look, I don't want this person to die before the election because I think that'll be total chaos. But I think we've been lied to so much. Lying is now this country's currency, it seems. And it's fucking disgusting. While Joe Biden was not my first, immediate choice in candidate this go round, and with the primary, now I'm all-in on Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. In fact, I'm becoming a fan of Biden. I'm looking forward to his stability and his ability to restore some faith into the rest of the world that this whole thing's not going to just crumble. But mostly, what I've really decided, I have to be honest, and I always liked Joe as Vice President, is that I've always wanted to see a woman as the president. Anyway, this is the most liberal candidate we have, running for president. What I've recently come to appreciate about him deeply, is what I see as his ability for empathy. And that he's a man who's been through some shit, some real shit in his life and yet, here he is, at his age, deciding that this is the moment that he should step forward, and help try to restore a thing. So I'm a fan. I want to eat ice cream with him on the day after the election, when he wins.
Episodes of the Busy Philipps Is Doing Her Best podcast are released every Wednesday.
Busy Philipps is Doing Her Best co-hosts Caissie St. Onge and Shantira Jackson with Busy Philipps.
THE HOSTS ON TOPICS + CONTENT
S h a n t i r a J a c k s o n
Off Limits: Nothing is off limits. Just not going to keep it all! We edit. Occasionally we face a time constraint, and we have to end the conversation. But we'll always be back!
Yes Please: Women accomplishing their goals. And we try to discuss the things the media is ignoring.
C a i s s i e S t . O n g e
Off Limits: I think it’s important to be open to talking about anything and everything. Even hard stuff. The only thing off-limits for me is talk about feet. You would be surprised how much they come up on the podcast! I have to take my headphones off and just mentally check out for that portion where Busy is talking about getting her toe fungus lasered. I don’t know why I hate foot talk so much, but during my pregnancies I would almost black out if the thought that I had feet inside me crossed my mind, so this is not a new thing. I hope this doesn’t alienate any of our listeners who are into feet.
Yes Please: I love making people feel seen and like they are not alone. Whether that comes from seriously discussing a listener’s dilemma or just shooting the shit about the latest cult documentary everyone is talking about. Above all else, I live to make people laugh. I could pretend it’s all because I just want to spread joy, which I do! But knowing I was able to make somebody laugh is also my favorite intoxicant. So much cheaper than a pitcher of margaritas, with no carbs! (As you know, the bulk of margarita carbs come from the multiple bowls of tortilla chips you eat with margaritas.)
B u s y P h i l i p p s
Off Limits: I don’t think anything is particularly off limits for me or any of us, really. But I do try to be respectful of my children’s autonomy and so I don’t always talk about them or things they’re going through in the way I would if we weren’t recording. Especially now that they’re getting older it just feels like I must be hyper-vigilant to keep in mind that they didn’t choose to have a mom whose career in part is talking about her life.
Yes Please: I always want to talk about the things that each of us are really doing our best at each week. This time has been so weird and hard, and I feel like just having that exercise of, 'Oh! You know what? I actually DID MY BEST at something this week even though I cried every day.' Or whatever is a good reminder for all of us to take a moment to be kind to ourselves.
Shoot prep and pandemic protocol: stylist Erica Cloud adds the finishing touches to Busy's look.
Slavin snaps on set at Busy's LA home. Philipps is currently in production in NYC for Girls5eva, the upcoming Peacock comedy from Tina Fey, co-starring Sara Bareilles and Renee Elise Goldsberry.
OCTOBER 2020 COVER
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
"Birdie shops at Aerie, she's like a teen now. Aerie's really soft and really comfortable".
"I have a lot of friends that are jewelry designers now. Jen Meyer is amazing, I love her and Jen Fisher, all the Jens really, anyone named Jennifer."
"I've always been a fan of antique and vintage jewelry too. My friend, Sarah Hendler in LA does a lot of estate jewelry, and she has her own stuff as well."
"Rock + Raw is this crystal company in England. And she makes those triangle crystals that I'm always wearing."
"I really like the Flesh Beauty lipstick. It stays on forever, you can even wear it under a mask."
"It's so funny, people used to ask me a lot about face masks for skincare, but now it's a different question. I really like the Royal Jelly Harlem masks. I love them. I really like Epona Valley, I really love Jennifer Behr's masks. And Lele Sadoughi's, truly, are my favorite masks."