Speaking to self-professed Bravoholic Casey Wilson days after the arrest of “Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” star Jen Shah is what I imagine a sit-down with a former pro feels like after [insert sporting event here].
Before diving into her new essay collection “The Wreckage of My Presence,” we must first get to the business of the latest reality TV tea. With the same wit that’s fueled more than five years of chronicling the lives of Bravolebrities on her podcast “Bitch Sesh,” Wilson immediately started discussing the charges against Shah, who’s accused in a decades-long telemarketing scheme that defrauded hundreds of people.
“I’ve been obsessed with looking up the audio recordings of her calling people trying to get them to refinance their college loans. It’s really so dark,” Wilson told HuffPost. “I just pray and hope, as we all do, that her husband Coach Shah is not mixed up in this. I don’t think he’s pep-talking her out of this one, by the way.”
Herein lies Wilson’s power: convincing die-hard fans, casual viewers or those completely uninitiated to her brand of comedy that she’s one of us. It’s this same appeal that made her rant extolling the virtues of a “whore’s bath” on the sitcom “Happy Endings” take up permanent residence in our heads rent-free, and a welcome presence in a string of projects (the nosy neighbor, “Gone Girl;” a casting director, “The Disaster Artist;” Kathryn Hahn’s confidant, “Mrs. Fletcher;” an Ivanka Trump-esque denim heiress, Showtime’s “Black Monday”) over the last decade.
While fans might feel like they know her, “The Wreckage of My Presence” gives a layered, emotional mapping to why we’ve identified with Wilson all this time. Detailing the experiences of her life that have informed much of what we see on screen or hear on her podcast in a hilarious and heartbreaking fashion, the essay collection traces Wilson’s journey to self-assuredness through its many detours. From moonlighting as Susan Sarandon’s assistant’s assistant and getting fired from “Saturday Night Live” after a brutal two-season stint to surviving a nightmare boss who involuntarily enlisted her in a weight-loss program and ultimately landing her dream job, Wilson has endured the hell of “making it” in the entertainment industry.
But the book’s real triumphs lie in how Wilson bravely confronts her more personal battles, as she grapples with the love and loss of her mother, postpartum depression and an unknowable anger that has brewed inside her for as long as she can remember. This wreckage, as the title suggests, has certainly come at a cost, but it’s a testament to Wilson’s self-awareness and knack for decoding life’s curveballs that she manages to find the laugh and the beauty in all of it.
Did you always have an observational self-awareness about your own life? When your boss was throwing pennies at your head, were you like, “Oh, this would make for a good story one day?”
I have for some reason from a young age, if there was ever anything borderline traumatic happening, I was always kind of like one foot in, one foot out in a way. I somehow could understand absurdity alongside kind of sadder moments for some reason. I don’t know if that’s compartmentalizing or never fully being present. I remember hearing that Nora Ephron quote, “Everything is copy” and kind of being like, “Oh, maybe that’s what this is.” For me, comedy is the only way to reconcile the unspeakable. It’s just that some things are so difficult that you have to laugh. You’ve genuinely got to laugh, which I know sounds so lame, but you have to.
In the opening essay, which made me feel very seen, you self-identify as a bed person: someone who seeks out comfort at all costs. I found that striking because the writing process is about actively engaging discomfort in some ways. Did you have to fight against those instincts?
Yes, I definitely did. I think I’m always fighting against inertia. Literally, I am in every single second fighting against moving from just like a seated position to a lying down position. It’s who I am, but you might not notice it if you were around because I work a lot. I do a lot, but in my heart I’m always lying down. I did have to battle against being social and so collaborative. I love to do things with other people, so this was for the first time, I’m like, “Oh, I hate this person I’m writing with.” I don’t want to be alone with my own thoughts. Of course, it’s so much more comfortable to take a nap or call a friend or do anything but write. It was kind of in a good way for me to face that and be like, “I think I could do something on my own.”
You joke in the book about wanting to feel like Rachel McAdams or the Kerry Washingtons of the world. But when you meet a “Bitch Sesh” listener or a “Happy Endings” fan, they are so passionate and legitimately convinced you are their best friend. I can speak as one of them. Why do you think that is?
That’s so nice to say. I mean, it’s so funny because I guess people think I’m relatable, which I never, ever claim to be. I’m the most unrelatable person you’ll ever meet. I just love connecting with people and making them laugh. It’s so flattering and so nice. I’m sure if people spend any more time with me, they’d be like, “Oh, she’s a monster.”
Maybe there’s something on the other side of that coin? Your experiences might be specific to you, but you’re also so honest about them that it becomes very endearing.
There are some things that we’ll talk about on the podcast that later I think we should’ve cut. I don’t think anyone wants to hear about the medication I’m on or my mom dying. I did kind of have a wake-up call when the most response we would get was when [co-host Danielle Schneider] and I would just talk about our lives, which is just strange, since it’s a podcast about the “Real Housewives.”
We kind of were like, “Wow, I wonder if this could be about more than the “Real Housewives,” even though that’s our framework. I never shared anything like that before our podcast, but that’s kind of the benefit of one. You’re in each other’s ears and it’s so intimate.
Is there ever a pressure that also comes with being the locus at which so many people do identify?
I wish I felt that. Maybe I should? I will say that the people who listen to the podcast by and large, 99.9% of them I find to be such normal, nice people who are just really great-spirited and understand that life is hard and this is why we’re laughing at these women to have some common connection. I feel like they get what’s funny about life and what is playing out in front of us with our common family members, the Housewives.
So much about how people have related to you has been implicit through characters you’ve played, but here you are explicitly revealing the experiences of your life that have informed what we know about you. What’s at the heart of wanting to release an essay collection? Did you feel like you haven’t been fully understood on some level?
So interesting. Nothing makes me more upset than misunderstandings of any kind. There’s just something that rubs me so wrong when one person’s intention is one thing, but it’s seen as another. Maybe unconsciously I was trying to clear up anything, even though I don’t think people have misunderstandings about me. There’s something concrete about an essay collection that’s not just a passing story on the podcast, which is largely kind of a fuck-all in the sense of you say it and it’s gone. I’ve always wanted to write an essay collection, even before I wanted to act. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do, but was a little too scared to do. I love this genre and female essay collections, and obviously I love David Sedaris, too. It’s been with me. I just love the idea of people telling their stories and what’s weird and funny about their lives and laughing. Just people being open about the things they’re struggling with. It’s just a relief to read and they’re also short, which I appreciate.
Obviously, I’m in comedy and I think there were certain things I did want to share I would never say to help people ever. That’s so gross, but I’ve been surprised by how touched people have been when I’ve opened up about my mom’s death or postpartum. I thought, well, maybe someday someone will get something out of this. Literally, my only intention with the book is that someone gets a laugh or feels touched, what do you call it? They can relate.
I think you really did accomplish that. You mentioned feeling sort of scared at points to put this out there. Was there a turning point when you thought, “I can really do this. This is happening.”
It was after writing an essay in Lenny Letter. I got a good response from it and thought, “Maybe I can do this.” There is something scary about telling other people’s stories. You know, I always liked to tell stories where the joke is on me and always try to be very conscious of that. Now, I think I have enough stories where the joke is on me [laughs]. Finally! I just turned 40 this year and I finally felt like I both don’t care what people think enough to write this and also do care enough to want to share this with people.
The book covers a number of difficult chapters in your life. What was it like to revisit your past and excavate some of that darkness? Was there a therapeutic element to the process?
There really was. I do feel now like, “Oh, I, no pun intended, can close the book on the past in a lot of ways.” I think because my mom died at a weird age, I almost had a lot of arrested development where I was clinging to my family of origin almost like a little too long when everyone else was getting out there, making their way and kind of settling down. I was a bit late to that. I’ve spent so much time mourning that familial structure that after I wrote the book, I’m like, “Oh, I’ve done that. I’m all set.” I’ve made sense of that to the best that I’m going to make sense of it and I’m ready to kind of move forward.
You write so beautifully about your mom and your relationship. I just love how you lay yourself bare here and how uncompromising you are in these essays. Was there a fear in revealing the thornier, less palatable sides to yourself?
Yeah, and certainly less palatable sides of my mom. She’s not here to okay this. Although, of course, you know I consulted a psychic, who said she is okay with it. I want everyone to know that she has weighed in and she’s good [laughs].
I’ve never gotten hung up on like presenting sides of myself or whatever. I didn’t want my dad, brother, my mom’s family or her at the end of the day to feel like I’m revealing something that casts someone in such a bad light. There’s sadness in that if that would be the case. I had no fears about exposing my own things, but just fears about anyone thinking I’m being exploitative of my mom or telling something she wouldn’t want because she was a sensitive person. My brother told me, “It’s also your story now and it’s fair to put it out there.” I hope it’s clear that this is also a love letter to her.
A lot of the book focuses on your growing up period and non-entertainment life, but I loved the “Happy Endings” essay so deeply.
I’m so glad you did. I did not know if I should put that in there.
It was so unexpectedly moving! As a fan of the show, to feel that the people making it also have a tenderness for it was so satisfying because often there is that real disconnect between how something is received and what’s going on behind the scenes. Any news on a possible reunion revival?
It’s so frustrating. They’ve tried to do it, but everyone’s schedules didn’t line up. Like the last time they tried, people really, genuinely wanted to do it and it just didn’t work out for like the most banal, annoying reasons. So, I am holding out hope. But then I’m like, “Do people want to see us in our late 40s and 50s?
Um, we absolutely do. You also touch on your time on “Saturday Night Live.” I came across this tweet recently that said, “Casey Wilson should get the opportunity to host SNL someday and say no.”
Was that my dad? Oh yeah, he doesn’t know how to tweet!
Ultimately, the show wasn’t a good fit for you, but there’s still something about how you’re treated that feels fucked up to me, especially as our culture continues to grapple with misogyny and celebrity. Do you still carry around anger about that experience?
I wish it was anger. I don’t think I have the self-esteem enough for it to be anger. I’m more just like sad or disappointed in myself still. I’m still sort like, “Oh, you had this huge opportunity and you didn’t seize it.” At the same time, if I’m then taking it a step further, I’m like, “Oh, it’s a very difficult opportunity to seize, given the circumstances.” I’m at peace with it and so grateful it happened, but it’s also like, just looking back … I don’t even know what to say about it, to be honest. I appreciate what you said.
Would you ever go back and host?
Oh, my gosh, of course. I mean, yes, I appreciate that brave fan who said they want me to say no. I wish I were strong enough for that.
My husband’s working with [“SNL” creator Lorne Michaels] now on Kenan Thompson’s show. He was like, “Would you be okay if I work with Lorne?” I said, “Absolutely. Of course you have to.” I don’t have any ill will towards Lorne. It’s just such a mixed bag of emotions, but mainly it feels like what I just said to you earlier, like such a misunderstanding. That’s what I can’t reconcile.
Especially a misunderstanding in the public’s reaction to you. It must’ve been very difficult to receive that sort of negative attention back then.
I just am not built for that and I don’t know if anyone is, which is just comical that I’m about to put out a book about my whole life [laughs]. It was just such a misunderstanding. I was so not ready to be there that it was such a bummer to have that negative reaction. It’s like a dream to get cast, you know? Like winning a lottery and then you spend all your money the next day.
They did you dirty! What is your relationship to fame at this point, after all of that? Does releasing the collection now strengthen it or make it more complicated even?
Gosh, I mean, it’s so funny. I don’t think of myself as famous on any level at all. So, it’s comical that someone would suggest I host “SNL.” I think that’s in the fan’s fantasy world, god bless. I don’t know that I really have a relationship to it. I’m just kind of like, “Oh, there are those famous people over there,” and then I’m existing in this middle plane. Again, there’s something that goes on with the listeners of my podcast that just feels more like a conversation. I cannot describe it. I’m afraid to sound so pretentious or weird. I feel like some people know me, but a lot have never heard of me. I just try to be realistic about my place in the fame structure.
You talk in the book about being a forever-seeking type of person, which I think is such a universal journey. Have you come to terms with that? What are you seeking these days, especially in light of the craziness of this past year?
It’s so interesting that my search for healers has really plummeted. Oddly, this year in particular, just with my kids and working so much, I feel like I’ve really gotten down to brass tacks and basics. I’ve just been meditating every day, which, you know, I always wanted to do, but could never land that plane. I would try and always wanted to be someone that did that, but now I am doing it every day. I’m just kind of like, “Wow. I could have just sat for 20 minutes a day and gotten so much out of this.” But, you come to things when you come to them. For whatever reason, at least now, I feel genuinely as even-keeled and centered as I ever have in my life and I’m not paying anyone $1 for that feeling.
Wow. That’s growth!
That is progress. I turned 40 this year and I think there’s a lot that has to do with that. Just like shucking off needs to be liked. I mean, I certainly still want to be liked. Especially, I’ll say that I don’t know if you’re aware that this year I was named the most beautiful 40-year-old woman in People magazine.
I saw. Congrats!
Yeah, well you didn’t say anything. I really think that carries such weight with it. As a leader of all 40 year-olds, I finally feel I’ve gotten my due, you know? I can rest now. Just know that I take this honor very seriously.