Emmys 2011: Comedy Actress Nominees Recall Their Favorite Funny Moments
Sofia Vergara, Betty White and five others share highlights from crafting their hit series.
Not to take away from the demands of working in series TV, but after talking to seven of this season's nominated comedy actresses, we say they all have it pretty damn good. And why shouldn't they? Among this throng are two Broadway veterans (Edie Falco, Martha Plimpton), a movie star in the making (Melissa McCarthy), dueling co-stars (Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara), a 2010 winner hoping for a repeat (Jane Lynch) and a legend so beloved that giving her another Emmy seems too understated a gesture to show her how we really feel (Betty White, of course). Here, these very different women offer candid insight into how a simple flub of a line can elicit a tidal wave of laughs, why it's a wonderful thing to work on a show where it's customary to lick the showrunner's face and how really, truly, some actresses (OK, at least one) are happy just to be nominated.
Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
"It wasn't actually a funny line in the script that got me; it was one of those hours of the day when all the stars align for a perfect, hilarious moment. Me and Stephen Wallem, who plays Thor the nurse, and Paul Schulze, who plays Eddie the pharmacist, were doing a little kind-of-nothing scene. Stephen messes up one line, and it was absolutely intoxicating, can't-stop-laughing funny -- not to mention incredibly unprofessional because we were holding everything up. It was just a stupid, immature little bungling of words! It was long past the point where the crew was laughing, but it didn't matter. We were a bunch of grown-ups finding a moment funny and simply could not stop. You really, really do want to stop, but it's out of your control at that point. We'd really try to pull ourselves together, but it just wasn't going to happen. We laugh our heads off. For that reason alone, I am the happiest person in the world to have this job."
Hot in Cleveland (TV land)
"We all love each other so much, so we're constantly positioned to crack up. We try not to make eye contact any more than we have to because once our eyes lock, it's over. There was one scene where we were sitting around the table in the kitchen, and Valerie accidentally says some sort of tongue-twister. We had to close down -- we literally had to stop filming. We had to start all over again because we were all a mess. There are so many lines to learn, and sometimes, all of a sudden, you realize it's going to be your line coming up -- and for the life of you, you can't remember it. That happens a lot. When you get your cue, usually the line pops out. But then, every once in a while, you get there and it isn't there. And you just have to stare at each other. That's when we lose it because you can read somebody's eyes and know that they're in trouble. But I'd say the toughest moment to get through without cracking was when Carl Reiner and Tim Conway were on the show. They were 'fighting' over my character and had a fistfight. It was easily the silliest fistfight you ever saw in your life. Trying to get through that and play it straight, that was the toughest moment of all."
Modern Family (AbC)
"The 'wedge salad' episode was a particular favorite of mine, where Phil [Ty Burrell] and I are fighting, but he doesn't know what we're fighting about -- and I know we're actually fighting about the fact that he finally admits he likes wedge salad, and I've tried to get him to try it 1,000 times. I end up outside and having to crawl in through the doggie door. He sprays me with the fire extinguisher -- so pretty much a typical workday for me. I love physical comedy. I think the writers know I feel very comfortable being an idiot. There was another great episode where I go to the mall, a real mall in Topanga, with my dad [Ed O'Neill], and I get a back massage and essentially have a When Harry Met Sally … ecstasy moment in the massage chair, like, 'Oh … my … God.' I'm there moaning in public. And Ed says to the crew, 'I think you've gotten what you need.' They're like, 'No, I got to get another shot.' But an episode we could not get through without laughing was one with Ty and me when his character says that to remember people's names, he uses mnemonic devices -- but Ty said 'nenemonic' instead, on purpose, over and over again. There is a 10-minute gag reel of us just lying on the ground laughing. He is so deeply funny. I'm very happy to be fake-married to him."
Mike & Molly (CBS)
"The toughest thing for me is, I'd never done much multicamera work before Mike & Molly. In Bridesmaids, you're playing to one camera, which I just found natural coming from the theater because there was so much improv -- like a lot of the stuff in the movie on the airplane with the air marshal played by my husband, Ben [Falcone]. There's something to that first take. Another tough thing: On Mike & Molly, everyone comes down to watch the rehearsal: the writers, associate producers, network people. I was like: 'What is happening? Why are they watching a rehearsal?' I'm kind of an on-the-day girl -- I'll get it when there's an audience and the cameras are going. It's funny to be rehearsing something that will probably be tweaked and changed, yet there's a room full of people watching it. And everyone watching moves their chairs! If you go to the kitchen scene, they drag their chairs to the kitchen; if you go the bedroom, they drag their chairs to the bedroom. It's 175 people dragging chairs. It's a very awkward practice to get used to. It makes me feel like a laser's on my forehead, like someone's aiming at me."
Raising Hope (Fox)
"The funniest things that happen on the set usually involve Cloris [Leachman] and the things she does to drive everybody crazy: licking [show creator] Greg Garcia constantly, eating shaving cream and all manner of morale-boosting insanity. That's one of the things I love about the show. It's madcap and it's weird and it's kind of off, but it comes from a very sort of decent, guileless place. There is no cynicism in it. We were in our first season, so I don't think we were at the stage yet where we're bored enough to start needing coping mechanisms like practical jokes. None of those yet! I like working in TV because I am able to work in TV -- there is a lot of different stuff for women like me to do. I've never been a regular on a half-hour comedy before, so that presents its own set of learning experiences. It's an ensemble situation, and you are working with a solid, brilliant cast week after week, and you are developing a shorthand and a performance style with them and the writers. It's very similar to working in theater. Maybe it's the best of both, but I don't like to get too precious about it. That's definitely not funny."
"[Show co-creator] Ian Brennan and I really are of one mind. He's got this inner mean girl, and he brought her into Sue Sylvester. I have taken every extreme I have ever played the past 10 years -- Best in Show, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Role Models -- and said, 'I am going to take all these people and push them to the limit in Sue Sylvester.' I have a mouthful to say, so I always have to have Matt [Morrison] look away from me so I can actually get the lines out. 'Don't even look at me!' I crack myself up all the time. Either I crack up or sometimes Matt will. I could see him really hoping that I would get it out this time, and it's like, 'I would rather act looking at the wall because I am working so hard to get this long, run-on sentence out of my mouth.' Personally, I love when Eric Stoltz directs. He did a scene between Jayma Mays and Matt, and I was supposed to enter and ruin this sweet little moment. They are both seeing other people, and there is so much unspoken, and Eric really slows that down. So it turned from a scene that was just a little uncomfortable for these two characters to a really emotionally devastating scene. It was wonderful to watch. And how am I going to handle my Emmy show-hosting roles, being nominated and maybe winning? Oh, with aplomb! If I forget my speech, I will have an excuse: I was too busy hosting."
Modern Family (ABC)
"There have been like four times that I've almost had a serious accident on the set. I have fallen down stairs. One time last season, I leaned on a column while I was talking with Ed [O'Neill], and I totally forgot where I was. I leaned on the column, and the column fell, and I fell over. Of course, we were all laughing. It wasn't when we were filming, but it helps the scene because everybody is in a good mood. I'm excited that at the Emmys, we are all going to be together. I don't think we are doing any of this individually. If anyone wins, we all win. We really are like a family. I don't know that much about awards. I never had thought about the Emmys until last year. You know, I never thought I was going to be nominated. I already feel like I won just being able to attend!"
-- Additional reporting by Tim Appelo and Sarah Ewald