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Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair are best friends on screen and off, which becomes particularly evident as you ask the writer-producer-stars about their working relationship.
Their NBC comedy, Best Friends Forever, which bowed in early April, centers on one friend, Jess, who moves back in with her best friend, Lennon, and live-in boyfriend after Jess’ marriage ends in divorce. The comedy, which premiered to a 1.2 rating in the key 18 to 49 demographic earlier this month, is based somewhat loosely on their own friendship.
The duo talked to The Hollywood Reporter about their chemistry, notes and reason the other writers are subjected to choreographed dance routines with regularity.
The Hollywood Reporter: You two have been working with each other for a long time. What did you learn about each other during this experience that you didn’t already know?
Parham: Jessica eats nuts like they are going out of style and since we write sitting nearly on top of each other, there are always nuts being chewed in my ear. I didn’t bargain for that. Jess also has an incredible strength that I don’t think she even knows she has, that I have really benefited from in times of stress or long nights in the writers’ room.
St. Clair: Lennon turned to me during one of our latest nights in the writers’ room and said: “Jessica, my personal hell would be to have the sound of you munching nuts in my ear for the rest of eternity.” It didn’t stop me from doing it, but it was good to know she felt close enough to me to share that. I always knew Lennon was a tough son of a bitch, but she exhibited a calmness and an unwavering commitment to the vision of our show that blew me away.
THR: To what extent are these characters based on who you are off-screen?
Parham: The friendship dynamic and chemistry is nearly exactly what/who we are in real life.
St. Clair: For comedy’s sake, we heighten Jess and Len’s strengths and weaknesses, although our friends and families say it’s pretty close to home.
THR: How do your improv backgrounds impact the show?
Parham: We met performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York about ten years ago. The UCB teaches a kind of fast paced improv comedy that is funny but always grounded in reality. We’ve tried to maintain that commitment to truth in comedy in our show.
St. Clair: Because we came to writing as performers first, we used improv to write our scripts and to work out ideas in the writer’s room. Our poor writing staff was subjected to a lot of choreographed dance routines and forced to watch us improv as each other’s love interests in steamy romantic scenes. It got weird.
THR: Every show is on some level a recipe of a few others (X show meets Y show); what is the recipe for Best Friends Forever?
Parham: Three’s Company…
St. Clair: Meets Gilmore Girls
Parham/St. Clair: Meets Laverne & Shirley.
THR: Week one ratings were a bit soft. Why should viewers tune in for week three?
Parham: As a midseason show up against some pretty stiff competition on other networks, we are a little hard to find on Wednesday nights. But the outpouring of support we’ve gotten about the show via twitter and facebook has been amazing.
St. Clair: We are made to cry at least once a day by the sweet things people write us about the show – they share with us how it reminds them of their BFF’s, they quote their favorite lines, they make insane GIF’s of Queenetta [the nine-year-old character on the show].
Parham: Our show has both hilarious moments and deeply emotional moments, which is unusual for a sitcom, and it’s been so nice to see that people are really responding to that.
THR: Much has been made of your unique writing process. Tell me how you finalize a script and how it helps inform the show.
St. Clair: First, we improvise the scenes over and over and record ourselves. This usually happens in a loose fitting pant in one of our living rooms. From there, we transcribe the improvisations into script form and then we take our favorite parts and build the scenes. Then we rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
Parham: Our hope is that we’re able to capture the real way people talk to each other so the show has a slice of life feeling, heightened for comedy.
THR: What’s the most frequent note you two get?
St. Clair: When we edit, we fall in love with every improv moment that we shot and if left to our own devices, we would put every one of them in.
Parham: So we’re often told to cut it down.
THR: You have your hands in every part of this show. What’s been the biggest challenge?
Parham: Being everywhere at once and balancing the performer, writer, producer roles.
St. Clair: We have opinions on everything in this show, down to the paint color of the underside of the bathtub, but we had to learn to give up some control and trust the amazing team we hired.
Here’s an exclusive clip from episode three:
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