Fortune Feimster, a lesbian comedian hailing from the South, has devoted much time and effort to her comedy pursuits. Starting out with the Los Angeles–based improv group the Groundlings, she has appeared on the popular reality show Last Comic Standing and, most recently, earned a coveted spot at the round table on Chelsea Lately. She talks with The Advocate about her LGBT influences, the impact of gay youth, and her boss, Chelsea Handler.
The Advocate: Describe your experience attending an all-female college in the South.
Fortune Feimster: It was an amazing experience. Peace College is a small institution, so you get a lot of one-on-one attention. I never realized what a difference it can make being in an all-female class. Men tend to be a bit more aggressive; they often dominate the class discussion — at least in my high school experience — so this allowed girls to really break out of their shells and not be afraid to express their opinions. I just wish I had known I was gay then! Sure, I’m happy with my degree, but all I can think about are all those missed opportunities!
After graduation, you spent some time living and traveling throughout Europe. Do you think Americans and Europeans respond differently to comedy?
It’s hard to say. I wasn’t doing comedy when I lived in Spain. Weirdly enough, I taught English while I was there. However, my Spanish was not so great, so I learned early on that big, funny facial expressions can really break the ice when trying to communicate with someone of another language. It also made people think I was crazy!
How was your experience on Last Comic Standing?
It has proven to be a very pivotal part of my career, and I’m really glad I did it. I had been working for years in Los Angeles on my comedy and a lot of people in town knew about me, but this was the first time that millions of people got to see what I do. I felt like the show presented me in a really fair, accurate way, which doesn’t always happen with reality television. I still have people coming up to me saying they were rooting for me on that show.
Are you still friends with any of the comedians from the competition?
Definitely. I made some really good friends on the show, but it’s hard to spend time with each other because so many of them are touring comics now. Luckily, there’s Facebook and Twitter, so we can harass each other online. That’s usually how I spend my time online anyway — just stalking and harassing people. And buying vintage coffee tables.
At what point in your life did you know you wanted to pursue a career in comedy?
I became interested in performing when I was in college. I had a lot of friends in the theater department, so I signed up. I’d always get “cast” as the stagehand, and by cast, I mean that I actually was the stagehand. After I graduated, I moved to Los Angeles to be a personal assistant and it was really hard to make friends, so I started taking improv classes at the Groundlings to meet people. It soon became a huge passion for me and I knew that I had to figure out how to make a living at it. Seven years later, I started making a living at it. It takes time, people!
Is there a particular member of the LGBT community that you look up to for guidance and support?
Luckily, there have been a lot of openly gay female comics, like Ellen, Rosie, and Wanda Sykes — just to name a few — that have come before me. I think their success has allowed audiences to be more accepting of gay comics. They show people that funny is funny, no matter what one’s sexual orientation. However, two of my biggest mentors have been stand-up comedian Erin Foley and Last Comic Standing producer Page Hurwitz. I’m also constantly calling former Ellen head writer Karen Kilgariff, who is not gay, but very gay-friendly. They are all so incredibly talented and have been in this business for a while, so I trust their opinion more than anyone’s. I’m sure they’ve all wanted to block my number at some point!
Over the past few years, it seems as if the LGBT movement is gaining significant momentum. Would you consider this the civil rights movement of the current generation?
Any time there is a group of people who are not allowed the same rights as everyone else, it is certainly a civil rights issue. There are millions of gay people out there who are fighting for equal rights, so it is big enough to be considered a movement ... moving away from what is and heading toward what should be. It’s the only civil rights movement that I’ve personally been a part of in my lifetime. Many would argue that it’s nothing like the civil rights movement of the 1960s, but in my opinion, not being able to marry the one you love is not much different than having to sit at the back of the bus. We all just want to be in the same section.
It seems as if the majority of youth are liberal and accepting to the gay community, but typically the older generation appears to be the ones making change — for better or worse. Do you have any words of advice to those youth who are seeking positive change?
Today’s youth are lucky that we as a society are becoming more and more accepting of people’s differences. However, being young and gay is not easy, because kids can be really cruel. I mean, I had a head of hair that was shaped like a triangle in high school and I barely made it through, so I can only imagine what it’s like being openly gay. My only advice to the youth is to be nice to each other, and if you are gay, then be proud of who you are and know that there are millions of people just like you. I’d also hope that they would try and be a positive representation for gays everywhere. While I’m all about naked pride parades — seriously, there is nothing better than naked parades — there is so much more that we can do to be heard and seen in our communities.
Is it true that you, Chelsea Handler, and Chuy shared a passionate, three-way kiss?
I love that there is this rumor floating around. You know you’ve made it when it’s being rumored that you kissed a famous vodka-loving talk show host and a Mexican midget. Knowing Chelsea, though, it could very well happen!
How did you get the reoccurring gig on Chelsea Lately?
They were doing a big search for a new writer and I was asked to submit a package because some of the producers had seen me perform at the Groundlings. Two months went by and I heard nothing. I figured I didn’t get the job and then all of a sudden, I had a meeting with the producers. Luckily that went well and they called and told me I had a meeting with Chelsea. I went in to meet with Chelsea and I thought she hated me because she’s so hard to read. Afterwards, I basically called my manager and told her I blew it, but as I was preparing my résumé for Starbucks the next day, I got a call saying that Chelsea really liked me and I got the job. I’ve been peeing my pants, literally, every day since I was hired.
Your video shorts on Funny or Die are hilarious and very popular. Do you write your own material?
Thank you! Funny or Die and YouTube are awesome because they’ve been such a great place to for me to showcase my material, which I write myself. People who have no idea that I’m on Chelsea Lately or did Last Comic will come up to me and start reciting lines from videos that I’ve put up on the sites. Granted, I used to film a lot more videos when I didn’t have a job. That way, when people asked where they could see some of my work, I could say, “Well, I don’t want to brag or anything, but I did write, star in, direct, and produce a hilarious three-minute video on YouTube. So far it’s gotten 2,000 hits in six months. Yep, I’m kind of a big deal.”
What's your next project?
Right now, I’m working full-time at Chelsea Lately as a writer, so there isn’t a lot of free time for other projects, but I recently filmed a pilot with Bob Odenkirk, so hopefully that will get picked up. I’ll be a part of the second season of After Lately, which we start filming in the fall, and I’ve also got the Comedians of Chelsea Lately tour coming up. I’ll be in Anaheim on August 12 and Lake Tahoe on August 13. People can check out my website for more info on that or if they are just really bored and want to stare at pictures of me in a vest and tie. You’re welcome, America.