I recently interviewed Peter Cambor of Showtime's Roadies who also plays Barry, boyfriend of Brianna on Netflix's hit series Grace & Frankie. While chatting with Cambor's publicist, I casually mentioned that I am also a big fan of June Diane Raphael who plays Brianna on G&F. At the time, I considered my admission terribly geeky and was not expecting what I heard in response: "Would you like to interview her?" Uh, hells yeah! The hilarious Raphael is not only on my radar screen for Grace & Frankie where she shines alongside Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, but since I began my foray into the wonderful world of podcasts, I have listened to her as a guest (Bitch Sesh and Ronna & Beverly) and a co-host with her husband, comedian Paul Scheer (How Did this Get Made?). I have also seen her play a realtor on Netflix's quirky comedy series Lady Dynamite and have caught up retroactively on earlier work she produced with co-writer and best friend, comedian Casey Wilson (the movie Ass Backwards).
Sometimes when you speak with someone you admire, it's a let-down - like that certain 90s actor who blew ringlets of smoke in my face and asked me to go on some more about how I liked his work. However, chatting with Raphael was everything I had hoped for and more. She started off our phone conversation by saying she has a "dear friend named Shira Weiss" (sister in law to Casey Wilson who also guested on a Bitch Sesh episode) so it had been funny to see my name in the emails preceding our interview. Instantly, she felt like a "friend in my head" (to quote Wendy Williams) with her endearingly warm tone, humility and the way you could tell she really listens when you talk.
An extremely busy mom to an almost 2 year old with another child on the way, she is currently filming season 3 of Grace & Frankie and spends a lot of time writing comedy when not filming, so we spoke early in the morning for 20 minutes.
SW: I came to know you through Grace & Frankie but as a Bitch Sesh fan, I went & caught up on your prior work, particularly with Casey Wilson. How has being on such a hit show with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin changed your day-to-day and your fame?
JDR: There's a misconception that actors and writers in the alternative comedy scene want to avoid the more mainstream. It's not true for me. I pursued it, but this is the first thing that I'm in that really became a hit in this way. I have to say it's nice to alternate between different types of comedy. I've always felt so supported by the comedy fan community who has been with me since the early days, really smart people who will follow you to the ends of the earth. They have been amazing with feedback and with recommending my work to others who wouldn't necessarily find it. People who follow more mainstream comedy will say "Who is she and where did she pop up from?" but I've actually been doing this for a while so it's really nice and flattering to be newly discovered by these people who knew nothing about me. Overall, I don't feel any different. More opportunities are coming my way. More people have seen G&F who are just now seeking out old work I did. As far as 'fame,' I can still walk down the street with a lot of ease and comfort.
My dad watches this show and that has felt like great support. His peer group loves it and he loves it! It's addressing issues that he and his friends are dealing with. On a very personal level, that validation from a parent has been great. The show means a lot to our parents, addressing some stuff that's not really talked about. It's been nice to see that they feel represented, which they should.
SW: From what I read, you just announced that your second child is on the way. What's it like filming Seasion 3 of G & F during a pregnancy & juggling new motherhood?
JDR: I feel supported with the pregnancy. The struggle I'm having, to be honest, is with really putting my body out there. With Season 1, I had just had a baby and now I'm pregnant. I'm not feeling like myself and how I would present myself given the choice. Some women drop pounds from breastfeeding, but I didn't start losing weight until I stopped. Suddenly, I was the heaviest I'd ever been now doing a job that was going to reach the most people. The reality is that it's totally normal to have baby weight and I was where I should be: If it takes a year to put on that weight, it should take a year to lose it. So physically putting myself out there in a very public way and not feeling like myself has been challenging. That said, I always say that I have it easier than so many working mothers, and very often when you've worked so very hard, the time when you achieve success coincides with when you start a family. While it can be challenging having a young child to take care of while working, I'm not being filmed every day on the show like Jane and Lily are and I have a certain freedom. Though I will say that when I'm not being filmed, I'm busy with my writing career. With my son who is almost 2, I'm feeling a lot more confident today about how I divide my time. And now of course, I am headed into another transition.
Having a child has probably been one of the best things for me because there's a certain amount of freedom - a not caring what people think. I have this child and know I don't want to be gone too much so I've achieved a balance. If he's ok, then I'm ok. I'm feeling a lot more freedom to fail. It can actually free you as an artist because you have a different perspective.
SW: You and Casey Wilson (comedian and Bitch Sesh Co-Host) are writing partners and have a certain style as women who are goofy and don't worry about being ladylike, kind of like Wedding Crashers humor but with girls acting "ass backwards." With that preamble, how do you want to go down in history as a comedian?
JDR: Well, the movie Ass Backwards we co-wrote (and acted in) and is about the two of us in New York based on our real experiences there and the delusions and dysfunctions of that time period. Of course, we did this with heightened characters. I have such a love of physical comedy and think things can be as broad as possible as long as they're rooted in some sort of reality. I'm not really as interested in that sort of Indian Sundance comedy.... I enjoy comedies that are going for hard jokes. That said, some of the stuff we're writing is so different because we're different. We''re very curious about female friendships and what goes on, which is Bravo's 'Real Housewives' is so interesting, how they are so aware of themselves being seen on TV as the seasons go on, and it's actually so funny to get a look into this world. I am absolutely fascinated by female interactions and that will be the crux of my work. The humor in Casey and my work is different because we're different and want to showcase those type of female friendships. We really do have so much fun together.
SW: You're married to comedian Paul Scheer. How did you guys meet?
JDR: Paul and I met at the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. Paul came to see Casey and my performance since he was one of the mainstays of the theater - He was called on to give us feedback on our performance.
SW: How did the opportunity for Grace & Frankie arise?
JDR: Grace & Frankie came along when I was postpartum lying on the couch. It t was the one script I read and I decided I had to go in and audition for.
SW: I think I'm funny, but one of my son's cringes with embarrassment sometimes. I'm sure that has to be a little different when both parents are professional comics. How do you envision your kids reacting to their parents' humor as they get older?
JDR: I grew up in a family where my parents were not comedians. My mom worked as a teacher and my dad was in construction. They weren't into comedy necessarily but were the funniest people I knew. There was such a premium put on making each other laugh at the dinner table. I don't really care if my kids see my work - I actually hope that they don't see a lot of it (laughs) - but I hope for a family dynamic that includes sharing a lot of laughter.
SW: Some quick words on the podcast "Ronna & Beverly" where 2 comedians are in character as older Jewish women with thick Boston accents. They are hilarious and I know you were a guest. I want to turn my friends on to listening to this absolutely brilliant show-- What can you say about these fellow comedians as if you were promoting them? What would your advice be so I can get my friends to listen?
JDR: They do have a really committed fan base which you see at their crowded live shows, but their podcast is not as well-known as it should be. All of us in this group of female comedians based in LA have been on each other's podcast and are friends (this network includes and is not limited to: Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin who play Beverly and Ronna respectively, as well as comedians Jessica St. Claire and Melissa Rauch.) I'm really proud of that and it's pretty special how everyone is there for one another.
SW: I wish I were funny enough because I'd love to somehow break into that group!
JDR: (laughs) It's a pretty elite group. Everyone is so super talented that I'm so happy that I, myself can actually be a part of it. But most importantly, it's so incredible how everyone in this group of women is so supportive of one another!
You can listen to June Diane Raphael on the podcast How Did this Get Made? & if you haven't seen it, now's the time to binge watch Seasons 1 and 2 of Grace & Frankie on Netflix. Season 3 is currently being filmed.