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Interview: Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham are Ready to 'WOMP It Up!'

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

The comedy duo talks about their new spin-off podcast featuring Marissa Wompler and Charlotte Listler.

Interview: Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham are Ready to 'WOMP It Up!'

In this article…

Today, the last of four new Earwolf/Wolfpop shows premiered in the form of WOMP it Up!. Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, real-life best friends, comedians, UCB alumni and creators/stars of the USA Network series Playing House, first debuted the characters Marissa Wompler and Miss Charlotte Listler on Comedy Bang! Bang!. If you are unfamiliar with these two CBB mainstays, let me give you a brief rundown:

Marissa Wompler first appeared on Comedy Bang! Bang! back in 2010 as Aukerman's 14-year-old intern from Marina del Rey that was less interested in performing intern duties and more interested in getting on microphone and becoming famous. After a few more solo appearances, Marissa's "gifted" program teacher, Ms. Charlotte Listler appeared in 2012, and the world was never the same. 

From there, the universe of these two oddballs expanded into the strange and absurd. We learned about the weird features they possess (like Bo Derek beads and a self-installed Joey pouch for Listler), bizarre quirks (Marissa's penchant for "DiGiorno Sandwiches"), the insane relationships they have (the love triangle between Wompler, Eric "Gutterballs" Gutterman and Danielle Bartiromo) and the wacky event episodes like Marissa's birthday extravaganzas. Obviously, the inevitable occurred and the pair were given a show to keep this universe going.

A couple weeks ago, I was able to talk to both Jessica and Lennon about the origin of their characters, what to expect in the new show, how much they enjoy revisiting this strange world, and their celebrity fan Darius Rucker.

So I want to offer up a couple of congratulations. First for the podcast, second for the new season of Playing House which is awesome news, and third for that awesome Darius Rucker retweet. That was cool!

Jessica St. Clair: Ha! We had no idea that he even knew about us or anything but apparently he just started watching our show early in season one. He tweeted that he was just so happy to come home after the Opry and pop on the DVR. And Lennon and I are total country fans. Lennon’s from Atlanta, it makes more sense for her.

Lennon Parham: Yeah we were thrilled, we are big fans of his in real life.

Jessica: Yeah when he tweeted that, I did some digging and saw that yes, he did play the Opry that night and then came home and watched our show. Crazy! Cross that one off the bucket list.

So I’m a big Comedy Bang! Bang! listener. I’ve listened to probably every episode and am very familiar with Wompler and Listler and love their appearances. How were these characters initially created? Marissa Wompler appeared first, then it took a few episodes for Listler to get on the show. How did they come about?

Jessica: Marissa is a character that I played a version of in the first sketch show that I ever did at UCB back when I was writing partners with Jason Mantzoukas, AKA Eric Gutterballs. Then I reprised her. When she first appeared on stage she had a neck brace on. I don’t really know why. But I did a show that Casey Wilson and Paul Rust put on at UCB in LA that was a bunch of high school kids auditioning for a musical. So Marissa was essentially auditioning for this play. Instead of singing or acting she did a dramatic reading of that trashy book The Outlander.

After that, Scott [Aukerman] basically said maybe you want to come on Comedy Bang! Bang! you can do this character, figure out how she fits into the world. So I had an idea to play her as the 13-year-old intern at the station. I would say though, the evolution of the character is that she became a lot more unfortunately like I was at 13, so it was a pretty easy character to come up with. And honestly I just kind of picked Marina del Rey because I grew up in suburban New Jersey, so I kind of had her worldview as close to the weird New Jersey high school that I went to.

And then did you just bring Lennon in and have her pick up a character right on the spot?

Jessica: So I wanted to start expanding her world in different ways by bringing different people in with me. So I was like, “Lennon, do you want to come on and be anybody? You can be anybody from my world.” So she said yes, and she told me, “I want to be your--

Lennon: You told me you wanted me to be your teacher.

Jessica: I did?

Lennon: Your gifted teacher.

Jessica: Alright, whatever. OK, so she came on, and we were both in the writer’s room for Playing House and we were exhausted.

Lennon: The episode premiered April 16, 2012.

Jessica: What were we doing?

Lennon: That was the year before I gave birth, so…

Jessica: So it wasn’t Playing House then. I don’t know what we were doing. [Editor’s Note: Likely the two were in the writer’s room for their NBC show Best Friends Forever which aired for one season in 2012.] But anyway, she shows up, we haven’t talked about what we were doing beforehand, but the whole thing about the Stars Program [a gifted group that Marissa was a part of] that was all Lennon. I was losing my mind while it was happening because I thought, “Oh my god, this is so much weirder than I ever imagined Marissa’s life to be." So I was legitimately pissed at Lennon during this podcast just going “What is this that you’re introducing? This is insane!”

So afterwards, because Lennon and I are as close as sisters, I said, “I’m going to kill Listler off.” I think I had you arrested at the end of the episode.

Lennon: No I think in the next episode, that I was not invited to, you had me arrested. You told the story about how I had gotten put in prison. But the fans were so hungry for more of her!

Jessica: They clamored for her, so I said, “You know what? I’m gonna have her back on, but you gotta follow my lead, bitch.” And then she did the opposite.

Lennon: Yeah.

Jessica: Then things got even crazier, but that’s when I said this is having a life of its own and I just have to go with it.

Lennon: Well you know how good Scott is at asking these questions. So I would say as Listler just one weird thing, and then all of a sudden I’m sewing skin pockets on my ankles for my knives. [Laughs] I didn’t start with that in my head, I didn’t start thinking of her as a sniper in Afghanistan. But he is so investigative that it just goes there so quickly. Jessica, in that podcast because I listened to it later, you were like, “No you didn’t! That’s not true! Nu uh!”

Jessica: I was basically breaking every rule of improv by fighting all of it.

Lennon: But we’ve come to the other side of it.

Did you ever at any time think that the characters would transition to their own show ever?

Jessica: No. First of all, I thought I was going to totally bomb on CBB because I don’t do characters. My one audition for MadTV was I think when the person behind the camera said I should probably quit comedy.

Lennon: The woman putting you on tape for MadTV was giving you advice about your comedy career?

Jessica: She said this just isn’t working.

Lennon: That’s inappropriate.

Jessica: So I thought well this won’t work.

Lennon: What was your audition?

Jessica: I don’t want to talk about it. There are honestly things that I can’t hide about that audition because I was so terrible.

Lennon: Alright.

Jessica: Lennon, by the way, I just want you to know while we’re having this interview, just opened a Cadbury Cream Egg [Lennon laughs] and is eating it slowly.

Well tis the season, right?

Jessica: She’s sticking her tongue into this gooey center as I am trying to have a professional interview.

Lennon: She tried to get really mad at me earlier because I was typing. She was glaring at me because I was making her lose her concentration becaue I was typing quietly.

Jessica: I think what Listler and Wompler really capture about our true life relationship is that we drive each other insane, yet we are bound together as soul sisters for the rest of our lives. What were talking about? I don’t even remember… Oh yes, so I thought I was going to bomb and Scott would just say, “I’m so sorry I ever brought you on.”

Lennon: I thought the same thing when I was about to go on.

Jessica: And then he was so lovely to bring me back, I just had a blast. I also was surprised at about the bizarre sexual chemistry between the Choctaw [one of Aukerman's many nicknames) and Marissa, but that was undeniable.

It really radiated.

Jessica: It radiated, he still wants a piece of it.

So how did the spinoff come about? Did they approach you, did you approach them?

Jessica: So we started doing some Womptaculars, and I was never thinking it would be a podcast. I just thought it would be funny if, since she said her desire was to be in show business, I thought she would just be doing these things to see if she had any interest. Once I started doing the Womptaculars and seeing all of these weird characters in her life, like Danielle Bartiromo played by Melissa Rauch, there’s no other group of people that I could think of to have on, and all the weirdos that we’re friends with are perfect for these types of characters. So Lennon and I thought maybe it would be fun to do a podcast.

The conceit is that it’s my senior project, like my thesis. Marissa is having sort of an Eat, Pray, Love type of year. She’s single, she’s looking to jingle, and she’s trying to prove herself as the new Terry Gross. She has these people on from the high school-

Lennon: She just breaks them down, tries to get them to cry during her interview.

Jessica: She thinks of herself as radio’s Barbara Walters. So I have our shop teacher on, or our sex-ed teacher, but the whole interview is me trying to get to their darkest secrets so they will cry on my radio podcast.

Lennon: In the premier episode, we interview Seth Morris who plays our drama teacher, Dr. Lionel Drioche. [Jessica laughs] He has the saddest story about how his partner dies in a dune buggy. I swear to God, it’s the hardest I’ve ever laughed.

Jessica: He’s in a dune buggy, and his partner was riding a recumbent bicycle. [Lennon laughs] And that’s how he died. But every single man I have on cries at some point.

That’s amazing. I was actually going to ask if this was going to be a completely fictional podcast based solely in Wompler and Listler’s world.

Jessica: Yes. Well, we thought for a while that maybe she’d have on the odd celebrity and interview them. But then I was like no, it’s so much better when her world stays her world. So basically what we said, we’d invite our friends like Andy Daly. And we’d say you can be anyone you want. And so then they come in, and Andy will say, “OK, I’m the sex-ed teacher and my name is Joe Bongo, or that’s what I like to be called." That’s all we know. Then we just start interviewing him and have the spotlight on him.

Gutterballs is there. He has his own gossip roundup that’s like a Page 6 called "Gutterballin’ with Eric Gutterman". And Seth [Wompler, played by Brian Huskey], what is Seth? I have my stepdad on working the levels, and he has some sort of a rant, like an Andy Rooney type of thing.

Lennon: Pet Peeves.

Jessica: He has an outlet for his deep and unending rage. And Listler has "Listler’s Love Lockdown" where she answers real love questions from listeners.

This all sounds so great.

Lennon: It's something else. To be honest, we’re just having the most fun ever. We’re just letting loose and not even worrying if anyone else will like it, just because we like it so much.

Jessica: It kind of feels like I honestly don’t even remember anything that happens. It’s like I blacked out. It’s like you B.A. Baracus’d yourself, and then you wake up and think, “Oh my god, what did I just say on that thing?” And I’ll have no idea until I go and relisten.

What is the most exciting thing about doing this podcast for you guys? It’s only going to be a bi-weekly thing, but what are you looking forward to about returning to these characters more often?

Lennon: For me, it’s just getting the opportunity put friends in a position where they can just create whatever they want and for an hour, we just chat. It’s really just an hour of longform improv that’s recorded. I used to perform regularly with [Chris] Gethard in New York, and to sit down with him and just for an hour and a half, to set him up and have him set us up, it was so much fun. And hopefully people will have fun listening to it as well.

Jessica: Yeah, and I was saying to Lennon, it’s so weird. I have trouble remembering, literally, the name of my pet. But I can recall every piece of this bizarre dynasty that we’ve built. Who’s dating who, who’s weave got pulled out of the shower and got mistakenly peeled, you know? It’s so bizarre, I don’t know why. With this world, it feels like there is no end to the characters or storylines. Kind of like Melrose Place.

Totally, I was actually going to ask about the canon you guys have built. Splitsider ran a whole article, “The Wompler Files,” just compiling everything and trying to actually describe what these characters would look like based on physical descriptions you’ve given them. I mean how much weirder can it get with these two?

Jessica: That’s the thing! There’s just no end to it! I haven’t aged in a long time, I’m almost like the South Park characters, always a junior, well now I’m a senior but I’ll never graduate. High school is a pretty weird place anyway, and I think a lot of the characters that people are bringing in are based on real teachers they had or real people they knew in high school. So it’s always grounded in a place of reality. But then anything can happen.

It’s kind of the way UCB does comedy. You always start in a grounded place, but then you “Yes, and?” anything that anyone says. So when you you find out that Listler can B.A. Baracus herself and end up across the country, then that’s true, and we have to live with that for the rest of our goddamn lives.

You talked about how you’re bringing in a lot of your friends as guests. Are there any dream guests you would like to introduce to the Wompler/Listler universe?

Lennon: We’d love to have [Amy] Poehler on, as anyone she’d ever want to be. Let’s see, who else? We’ve been trying to get Zach Woods on.

Jessica: Oh yes, Zach. In my mind, Zach plays Robbie, and we will get him. We have to break him down. Literally any single person from the UCB could be a truly amazing guest. Brian Gallivan would be amazing, Will Hines. Ian, I’d love to have Ian Roberts on, “The Machine.” They call him “The Machine” because he’s the best improviser on planet Earth. Matt Besser.

Lennon: [Matt] Walsh.

Jessica: We’ll get all of them, we’ll force all of the UCB to get on at some point. There will be a lot of Playing House crossover, too. And this is so lame, but we bury all little Wompler references throughout all of season two of Playing House.

No way!

Jessica: Yeah, it’s like Easter Eggs for the four fans that we have! [Laughter]

What are your favorite things about the characters that you play?

Jessica: Oh, Marissa. What do I love about her… You know what I love? It’s her self-confidence. In the face of the fact that she’s shaped like an upside-down muffin, she has a nipple beard, she’s not anyone that should be wearing a tankini, it doesn’t stop her though. She should not be a celebrity, but she’s going to keep trying until she gets there, and I wish I had half of the self-confidence that Marissa has. But unfortunately she and I do share a volume control problem. So I feel like I live that in real life. Lennon what do you like about Listler?

Lennon: I think Listler is like the badass version of myself. If I had my druthers, I would be like Angelina Jolie, climbing the sides of buildings with a mohawk and bending bullets around a person’s body. I don’t know, there’s just sort of this badassery that I enjoy inhabiting.

Jessical: She’s a real feminist. She’s almost in a category of feminists you can’t even define.

Lennon: It’s a lot of like you take care of yourself first, like sexually, and not any other way. It’s interesting too because we tend to bring whatever we’re both feeling in the real world. Like we went on a whale watching cruise together.

Jessica: Lennon and Jessica went.

Lennon: And we talk about when Wompler and Listler went on a whale watching cruise together, and of course crazier things end up happening. I think Listler ends up doing Captain Dave.

Jessica: You and Captain Dave in a port-o-potty.

Lennon: A port-o-potty. It’s a crazy story.

Jessica: It’s a nice break from having to act like a normal person in society.

That seems like the best kind of release to take a break from it all. Do you guys listen to podcasts yourselves? I’m sure you’re stupid busy, but do you find any time to take some in?

Lennon: Yeah we do.

Jessica: Yeah, we love Comedy Bang! Bang! We never miss an episode of that. What else do we listen to?

Lennon: I’ve been getting obsessed as of late with Dan Savage Lovecast.

Jessica: Lennon is getting into Dan Savage years after everybody’s already in there like, “I didn’t know people were having sex, let me get in multiple company like that!”

Lennon: Jessica… [Jessica laughs] She’s really turning this upside down to make it a better story than it really is. I know who Dan Savage is because he used to write that column in the Village Voice which was always so good. And I started listening to it because my friend told me what podcast he listened to. And at first I didn’t really care for him because it seemed like he was giving everybody the wrong idea about love. And then I have really come full circle on it. But if we were in the same booth, I think we would give opposite advice.

Jessica: Paul F. Tompkins. Anything he does I love it. The Dead Authors Podcast, I just really dive into those annals.

Lennon: I really like Totally Mommy, which is a parenting podcast that Elizabeth Laime is doing.

Jessica: How Did This Get Made? I love that. June [Diane-Raphael], Paul [Scheer] and Jason [Mantzoukas] together is something else. You know, we don’t get to see our friends as much in adult life as we would like. So sometimes I have to visit them on the podcasts, how sad is that?

I feel the same way! I wish all of my friends had podcasts and then I could just listen to those.

Lennon: Me too! Then you could just check in on what they’re up to!

Final Question: Will Darius Rucker be involved in any capacity in Playing House and/or Womp It Up!?

Lennon: If I have anything to say about it, yes!

Jessica: Just today we thought, we have a little role for Mr. Hootie. And whether or not he’ll do it is a whole nother thing. And whether or not the Blowfish come with him?

Lennon: We don’t want them.

Jessica: We’re not interested in The Blowfish. We just want Hootie.

Lennon: Just Mr. Rucker.

Check out new episodes of WOMP It Up! ever other Monday at Earwolf and subscribe on iTunes. These hilarious ladies will be returning to television soon with the second season of Playing House on USA Network. From the time of the interview, they had three more weeks in the writers room. Season two starts filming May 4 and will go to maybe mid-July where editing starts. editing starts. St. Clair and Parham are very excited about this season, with Jessica noting that they were "in a Wompler/Listler F*** IT type of mood. Whatever we thought was funny, we said let’s do it. Lennon may or may not be having a dream sex sequence with the Property Brothers. So look out for that." 

With a cast that already features hilarious performers like Keegan-Michael Key, Zach Woods and Jane Kaczmarek, the two wrote parts for all of their comedy friends, too. The new season will be a who’s who of the alt-comedy universe. Catch up on Season One on USA Network's website and On Demand.

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