Debra Wilson has never been one to hold back. The comic’s parodies of a chemically altered Whitney Houston and an overly enthusiastic Oprah Winfrey – played without remorse or reservation during her eight-year run on MADtv ― proved as iconic as they were scathing. The fiery actress doesn’t mince words about the queer community either.
“I don’t give a fuck who you fuck; that’s your business,” said Wilson emphatically.
“That, to me, doesn’t define you as gay [people],” she continued during an interview on Party Foul Radio with Pollo & Pearl. “The complexities of your relationships, and the commitment to your relationships, define you as a human being who happens to be in love with another man.”
In 1995, when Wilson was cast as a series original on sketch comedy MADtv, she had no idea her performances would lead to a cult-like queer following. When she started to spoof legendary vocalist Whitney Houston, however, the actress noticed an increasing number of LGBT fans.
“The ‘diva’ aspect seemed to really speak to people, especially young, gay men,” she told Podomatic’s No. 1 ranked LGBT podcast.
Though the skits were well-received by audiences, the subjects of Wilson’s parodies sometimes did not appreciate the portrayals. Though noting Whitney “liked” her caricature – “She didn’t take herself too seriously,” the actress said, drawing incredulous gasps from both hosts – Oprah was less charitable.
“She did not appreciate it,” Wilson told listeners, noting it did not prevent her from continuing. “It did not matter. As long as your audience agrees there is some semblance of a possibility [in a performance] they concur with, then I can do that.”
(The comedian then launched into an extensive run-down of Oprah’s behaviors contributing to those still-relevant parodies. The result is an epic, must-listen read of the media magnate which gagged both hosts.)
WATCH: Debra Wilson as Whitney Houston on MADtv
Since leaving MADtv in 2003, Wilson has been incredibly busy, largely as a voiceover actress in both animated projects and popular video games. Most recently, she signed on for six episodes of the tello films web series My Sister Is So Gay.
Written by and starring Terry Ray and Wendy Michaels, up-tight, homophobic Amanda (Michaels) crash lands in the home of her gay brother Seth (Ray) after finding her husband has cheated with her best gal-pal. Her misplaced distress about the break-up –- and increasing curiosity about Seth’s lesbian coworker (Wilson) – signal more to Amanda than possibly even she realizes. WKRP in Cincinnati icon Loni Anderson and Nashville actor Tilky Jones costar.
According to Wilson, the role is special for many reasons. Not the least of which, she said, is how producers allowed her to fully, physically become the character — one of only a hand-full of roles to do so. Five years ago, she shaved off her well-known dreadlocks. Since that time, she has stretched her earlobes to an inch in diameter and undergone full-body tattooing.
“They’ve wanted me to embody a character using my own body,” she pointed out.
WATCH: The Trailer for My Sister Is So Gay Featuring Debra Wilson
Lending herself to the role physically is simple enough, but embodying the character emotionally is a different challenge. Though it is Wilson’s third time as an onscreen lesbian, the actress is quick to note she never approaches any role by focusing on its sexuality. In an effort to avoid a “stereotypical” performance, she looks first to the heart of the character.
“If you stripped away who you slept with, you’d still be this human being who goes through the trials and tribulations, your joys, your sorrows, your celebrations and chooses how you experience and express your humanity,” she explained.
“So if you’re playing that first, and the character happens to be gay based on the lines, then so be it,” Wilson said. “So I’ve never really played a ‘gay character.’ I’ve always played a person in the midst of a situation – who happens to be gay.”
Taking that into account, Wilson says, allows a performance to convey a full range of human experiences. Whether those experiences are “complex,” “beautiful” or “sexual,” thinking of a character as “human” rather than a “gay person” staves off “cliché.”
“More than anything else, I am talking about the complexities of having human relationships,” Wilson concluded, “The complexities of having love relationships, and that person happens to be of the same sex.”
tello films is an emerging queer media portal featuring original, lesbian-focused content. For more information, or to view the first six episodes of ‘My Sister Is So Gay,’ click here.
LISTEN: The complete ‘Party Foul Radio’ interview with Debra Wilson, including full discussion of portraying lesbians on-screen, her hilarious rant about Oprah Winfrey, race on television & more. Out actor Jason Stuart also joins the podcast to discuss his ground-breaking role as a heterosexual slave owner in The Birth of a Nation.