Fortune Feimster has been a comical force of nature since first appearing on NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2010. The North Carolina native has been a member of the legendary comedy troupe The Groundlings; a writer and performer on Chelsea Handler’s groundbreaking late night talk show, Chelsea Lately; and has guest-starred on hit TV shows like 2 Broke Girls, Glee and Life in Pieces.
In Mindy Kaling’s hit Hulu series The Mindy Project, Feimster guest starred as the loveable nurse Colette, and was so loveable that Kaling turned Colette into a permanent character on the show.
Now Feimster is coming to Florida to perform in Lakeland for Polk Pride June 16. Feimster spoke with Watermark about her good fortune in Hollywood ahead of her Pride show.
Watermark: You grew up in North Carolina. What was your experience like growing up gay and in the South?
Fortune Fiemster: I had a pretty positive experience. I come from a really nice hometown with nice, good people. I actually didn’t come out of the closet until I had moved to Los Angeles, so I don’t know what it would have been like growing up out of the closet in the South; I know growing up in the South I didn’t have a lot of gay influences. I didn’t know anybody who was out so I didn’t get that chance to see people living normal lives out. Since I’ve come out, even though I don’t live there, people from my hometown are very supportive of me.
Did you always want to do standup?
No, I didn’t really follow standup as a kid. I watched Saturday Night Live, and I watched reruns of The Carol Burnett Show, so most of my knowledge of comedy came from improv and sketch comedy, things like that. I didn’t really get into standup until I was already an adult. I thought it was just such a cool way to express yourself.
Where did you develop your sense of humor from?
My family was all pretty funny. We, as a collective group, laughed a lot. We went through hard times and we didn’t have a lot of money but we seemed to make the best out of everything and find the lighter side of life, even in the harder times. We always managed to laugh, so I think I got that lightheartedness and positivity from my family. And there’s just a lot of “funny characters” in the South. People who aren’t necessarily trying to be funny, but they are very colorful and full of life and I think I just observed my surroundings and learned how to find the humor in that.
You have done a lot of guest appearances on TV shows, and your guest spot as Colette in The Mindy Project was bumped up to a series regular in the fourth season. Were you nervous at all about becoming a permanent fixture in a cast that had been working together for some time already?
I was actually more nervous to do the guest spot. At the time I didn’t have a lot of acting experience, so I just really wanted to do a good job and make Mindy proud. When I got the part, Mindy called me personally and went over her ideas for the character, and I thought that was just really cool and it showed me that this was a show that she really cared about. So, yeah, I was more nervous for that guest spot because I wanted to make sure she knew she made the right decision in hiring me. Then once they asked me to be a series regular I was honestly just shocked. Finding a steady acting job is not easy so I was just happy to get to lay down some roots for a minute. And by that time I had already worked with everyone and they were just lovely to me and each other so I was just so happy to be there.
You are probably best known for your work with Chelsea Handler as a writer and performer on her show, Chelsea Lately. How did you and Chelsea meet?
I applied to be a writer on her show. They were doing a open call for writers and I submitted a package. I had been a journalist for seven years while I pursued comedy at night, so I knew how to write but I had never written for a television show. But I was an entertainment journalist so I was very familiar with pop culture and that whole world. I was active with the Groundlings at the time so I had done a ton of sketch comedy. I mean they took a chance on me knowing I would have to learn a lot along the way, but they knew I could bring it with sketches and such, so I was really excited to not just have a job but have one on such a cool show. I mean nobody was giving me a chance. I had a lot of people saying that they liked me but they didn’t know what to do with me so I will always be grateful for Chelsea taking that chance.
Chelsea does a lot of political commentary along with the pop culture stuff. When you came on the show as a writer, were you already really into politics. Did being on the show make you more political?
I think just as a human being and as a gay person, as a woman, politics are just a part of my conversation in life. We’re trying to get equal rights as a gay person – and equal pay and respect as a woman – so I just think it’s important to be aware and to be verbal and stand up for yourself. I don’t necessarily consider myself political, but I have a voice and I have opinions and if there is something that I think isn’t right, I would prefer to speak up. I think that we as humans just need to look out for each other, and I don’t want to go out there and act like my opinion is better than everyone else’s; I want to be conscious of everybody. It’s impossible to please everybody, but ultimately my job is to make people laugh and make people feel better, and then use my voice for good when it matters.
You were on Chelsea’s Netflix show a few weeks ago playing Ivanka Trump. Do you worry at all about a late night Tweet from the president?
I think that is the least of things I think about. I can’t imagine I am even on his radar; he has a lot of other things to worry about. But again, you never know. He is very unpredictable so something could come out of nowhere. You know Chelsea asks me to do these sketches sometimes, kind of like an homage to old Chelsea Lately where we used to do a lot of impressions and characters, she doesn’t really have that as much on her show now, so it’s kind of like me just coming back and being silly. Obviously I’m not impersonating Ivanka Trump because I look nothing like her, and that’s all part of the joke, too. Here I am, this big woman from the South who is also a lesbian, putting on a blond wig and pretending to be Ivanka Trump, I also did it once pretending to be Ann Coulter, and I was pretty much the same person, so it was all just meant to be silly.
You are going to be here in Florida for Polk Pride in Lakeland, which is a lot like rural North Carolina with its small town feel. What are you most looking forward to being here for Pride?
I’ve never been to Lakeland or Polk County. I was just in Tampa last summer so not too far, but I’m always excited to go to a new town or a new city and meet people. Thanks to standup I get this great opportunity to visit all these new places, and there’s just something nice about getting to meet people in person who enjoy what you do. So I’m excited and Prides are always fun.