Even if it’s the first time you’re listening to Fortune Feimster’s comedy, chances are it’s going to feel like a chance meeting with a great friend; immediately comfortable. The kind of natural slide into a conversation where both people pick up exactly where they left off, immediately going straight to the best stories — and the North Carolina native has plenty.
“I think people are immediately like, ‘She’s one of us,’” Feimster said. “It allows me to just sort of talk to people on a real level.”
But don’t let her relaxed personality fool you, Feimster is a creative powerhouse. Not only is she an accomplished comedian, initially making a name for herself on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” almost a decade ago, the openly gay comic has been a performer and a writer on “Chelsea Lately,” starred in shows like “The Mindy Project,” “Champions” and has a recurring role on “Life In Pieces” as Dougie. Then there’s her film career. She’s been in movies like “Office Christmas Party” and “Father of the Year.” Recently, Feimster sold feature films to Amblin Entertainment like “Bad Cop, Bad Cop,” along with two TV pilots.
“I think there are certainly people who think of you as just an actor or a standup and when they hear my accent and see my laid-backness they think that’s all I do,” she said. “They almost seem surprised when I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve sold two movies to Steven Spielberg’s company.'”
Lucky for Michigan fans, however, Feimster is taking a short break from acting and writing while in the middle of a U.S. tour, and she’s bringing a taste of her comedy to Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle in Royal Oak from Oct. 18 to 20. Before her three-date stint, Feimster made time in her touring schedule to chat with BTL about what drives her creativity, what it’s like to be a comic in politically divisive time and her thoughts on being a role model for other creators in the LGBTQ community,
Have you ever performed in Detroit before?
I’ve done one show here and there. My fiancé is actually from Detroit, and I did a couple of shows in the past. We kind of combined that with visiting her family, but I’m excited to be there for a whole three-day run.
We’re excited for you to stop by, but just letting you know the weather just took a turn for the worse. For me right now it’s 45 degrees and raining.
Dang. I don’t want to brag but I was just walking my dogs in 80-degree weather here in LA (laughs).
We’re highly jealous of that here in the Midwest. Speaking of different regions, do you find that you tailor different jokes depending on where you’re touring in the U.S.?
I mean, I usually keep it pretty similar. I don’t have to change up a lot. A lot of the things that I talk about are pretty universal, or they’re just particular stories to me. The only thing I really change up is if it involves a restaurant and that particular restaurant is not popular there, I’ll just sort of switch it out to a restaurant that that area knows a little better.
Like how most people here wouldn’t know about Bojangles’ or something like that.
Exactly, yeah (laughs). I’ll talk about my love of Bojangles’ outside of the south and people will be like, “What? What are you talking about?”
What inspires your humor? Do you draw from personal stories primarily, or is it something broader like politics? In another interview you mentioned you decided to stop doing your impression of Sarah Huckabee Sanders on “Chelsea.”
I definitely don’t talk about politics very much. Not on stage. Just because everybody is so divided right now. … Normally my audience is fairly liberal but there are shows that I appear on that appeal to a broader audience. I never want to make anyone feel isolated or that they’re somehow the butt of my jokes and opinions, so I keep it personal and to myself and to my own stories.
Don’t lose empathy…even for the people you disagree with.
— Fortune Feimster (@fortunefunny) August 26, 2018
You wrote a tweet once telling others not to lose empathy even for the people they disagree with, could you elaborate on what you meant?
People get so upset about what’s going on in the world which I totally get and understand, but to paint one side as one thing and one entity and just to be against that, it doesn’t help things. It doesn’t help bring people together, it doesn’t help change minds, it doesn’t help bridge gaps when you say, “I am against you. I don’t like you and I refuse to listen to your thoughts.” You’re setting yourself up to have zero dialogue and to have a harder time, where people can never find middle ground. I mean, there are people who I love and respect who have very different opinions than me … but I don’t write them off.
Do you think your openness toward other viewpoints comes from being gay in a small town and then moving to a big city like LA? You mentioned you were somewhat isolated from the LGBTQ community growing up.
Yeah. I think it was the same for my family. They knew some gay people but not anyone really close to them so they didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t have examples like, ‘Oh, uncle so-and-so’ (laughs). It was just something that had not hit as close to home for us.
How did your parents deal with you coming out? Your mom is the president of your town’s PFLAG chapter now, but was it always like that?
I was living in Los Angeles (and) I think it helped in my process because my family, and my parents in particular, was like, “You know, she’s her own person. She is who she is and we love her no matter what.” So, I think the timing of it worked out well where open to it. You know, it was a hard thing for my mom to hear that I was moving to Los Angeles, like, “I can’t believe you’re going to move 3,000 miles away.” Once I did that, you know, she was just kind of, “She’s her own person.” So, coming out was not a big deal at that point. They just wanted me to be happy. I think for my mom, she didn’t want life to be any harder for me than it had to be.
When did you first realize you were funny? Were you always drawn to comedy?
The older I got and the more comfortable I got in my own skin, the more my humor and personality developed. … Once I got to college, that’s when it all really started to come together. I just felt like a more complete person and I gained a lot of strength and confidence in college through professors and friends and they encouraged my creativity and the comedy part of myself and I think it really started to blossom then.
When did you first feel bold enough to do stand-up?
I didn’t start stand-up until I was 27, so it was a little while. I did theater in college, and I started to dabble in being on stage and it was terrifying at first. I just was so scared and I didn’t have the cool yet as an actor to be more at peace. I started taking improv classes at the Groundlings when I was 25. That really helped get rid of all my stage fright because I finally could feel comfortable. … It was just like, ‘Alright, you conquered one thing, let’s try to conquer another.’ I did a stand-up show I think in 2007 and it just fit like a glove. It just felt so right and it felt like what I was supposed to be doing. If they smell fear, you’re a goner (laughs). Half of comedy is just being comfortable and being OK on stage.
Has your humor changed since you’ve moved to LA?
I don’t know. It’s hard to say because I’ve lived in LA for the last 15 years. I don’t know what would have been my perspective had I stayed in North Carolina. It definitely opened my eyes up to different things that I didn’t know about. It’s funny, even though I lived in LA for 15 years, I still draw on a lot of experiences from growing up and things that I experienced when I was younger, and I sort of tie it in to my experience now living in LA.
As someone who successful and is publicly out, do you ever feel like a role model to other LGBTQ people who might want to pursue a similar career?
I don’t think I purposefully think of it, but I think I’ve always been naturally a responsible person and I’ve always tried to be a good person and, you know, my family really instilled a lot of qualities in me that are important to me to this day about being a good person. … It’s a bonus when someone tells me that by me being me and by being comfortable with who I am, living my life the way I do, that it somehow inspired them or that it influenced them in some way positively. I’m so happy to hear that.
You always seem to be involved in many projects. What draws you to write and perform?
I don’t want to just be a stand-up or just be an actor, I want to have my hands in a lot of different things. And I also want to be able to tell stories from a southerner’s perspective, from a lesbian’s perspective, from a woman’s perspective — I want to take all the things that make me who I am and put that back into the world so that other people can see themselves represented in those things.
What new projects are you working on now?
The two movies that I sold to Amblin (Entertainment) are both being developed and, hopefully, if one or either of them go I would be in those projects. … In the meantime, because development takes such a long time and it’s so much behind the scenes, I’m back on tour and I’m doing a lot of guest stars. I’m back on “Life In Pieces” and I’m popping up on some different TV shows that will be coming out in the next year.