Best Friends Forever Interview With Jessica St. Clair And Lennon Parham

NBC‘s new comedy, Best Friends Forever, is coming your way April 4th (but you can watch the full pilot episode below), and stars/writers Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham were recently available to talk about the show.

It’s an interesting show that looks at what happens when two best friends are thrown back together when one of them faces divorce. Jessica finds it easy to move right back into the comfort zone when she returns to the apartment the two girls used to share, but Lennon’s live-in boyfriend, Joe might have something to say about the living situation.

It’s a fun, and somewhat frantic show, clearly developed and written by two people with a background in improv, and it tackles its comedy with an aim at reality. I’m not one to put forward an opinion on whether or not people really talk like this, but that’s what St. Clair and Parham were hoping to deliver.

They talk about these, and many more aspects of the show, but first check out a bit more info, and if you’ve got time, the pilot episode.

“Best Friends Forever,” from executive producer Scot Armstrong (“Old School,” “Hangover 2”), is a new comedy about old friends, new beginnings and awkward situations.

Jessica St. Clair (“Bridesmaids”) and Lennon Parham (“Accidentally on Purpose”) star as Jessica and Lennon, best friends who live on opposite sides of the country with the men in their lives. When Jessica is overnighted divorce papers, Lennon convinces her to return home to Brooklyn and back into the apartment they used to share.

It doesn’t take long for the girls to fall into old habits: movie marathons and late night girl talk sessions — none of which is good news for Lennon’s live-in boyfriend, Joe (Luka Jones, Upright Citizens Brigade).

Best Friends Forever NBC
BEST FRIENDS FOREVER — Season:1 — Pictured: (l-r) Stephen Schneider as Rav, Jessica St. Clair as Jessica, Lennon Parham as Lennon, Luka Jones as Joe, Daija Owens as Quenetta — Photo by: Brian Bowen Smith/NBC

Joe tries to be understanding, but begins to feel like a stranger in his own home. Meanwhile, Jessica is trying to get used to her new single life. Will she have to start buying matching sets of underwear again? Also, reconnecting with old friends like Rav (Stephen Schneider, “Happy Endings”), who may or may not have feelings for her, is more complicated than she thought. All of Jessica’s new efforts are met with the critique of the friends’ precocious nine-year-old neighbor, Queenetta (Daija Owens), who is not shy about doling out advice on their life choices.

 


 

So let me ask the 2 of you, how did you initially get involved with this show?

 

Jessica St. Clair: Well, Lennon and I met about 10 years ago at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York.

Lennon Parham: We were doing improv comedy back in the day. We were on separate teams. And then we both came out to LA for various and sundry acting gigs. And we sat down one lunch and it was love at first sight essentially, and came up with our first television idea.

Jessica St. Clair: And we wrote – before this, we wrote a pilot for HBO that was similar scene. It was about best friends who were so in love with each other that perhaps they are having trouble making other friends. And then we – when that didn’t go to pilot, we ended up pitching to NBC a version of the show in which we – one of us was moving back in with the other one. And finding that they have a live-in boyfriend now that we have to deal with, so that’s how sort of that came about.

But Lennon and I have been performing together for about 10 years now.

 

What were some of the biggest challenges for the 2 of you in bringing your characters to live on screen for the show?

 

Lennon Parham: Actually, the process for us has been pretty seamless because we are drawing from our real experiences as best friends and sort of getting inspiration from our relationships with our other best friends.

Jessica St. Clair: I think the problem will be when it airs and all of our best friends call us and say why did you use that story in your show? That will come later. But for now it’s been great.

Lennon Parham: There will be some tense Christmas dinners.

Jessica St. Clair: The other thing that’s really nice is the way Lennon and I… since we began as improvisers.

The way we write our scripts is we improvise. And then we tape record ourselves and then we transcribe it. And then we write – that becomes our first draft.

Lennon Parham: So essentially we have the idea for the scene and we act it out in our tiny writer’s office.

Jessica St. Clair: Or in our living room.

Lennon Parham: Or in our living room when we didn’t have a writer’s office and record ourselves.

Jessica St. Clair: So we play all the parts. And Lennon actually plays most of the male parts. And I’ve got to say, she can get – she can say some really romantic things.

Lennon Parham: It can get really pretty heated. Our husbands are very disturbed sometimes when they get home from work. They were like, “you wrote that. That lives in your mind.” I’m like, “yeah, say these things to me.”

Jessica St. Clair: Yes. Why don’t you say these things to me?

 

Best Friends Forever NBC
BEST FRIENDS FOREVER – Pictured: (l-r) Lennon Parham as Lennon, Jessica St. Clair as Jessica — Photo by: Neil Jacobs/NBC

 

What’s been your favorite scene of what you taped so far in the show? And why it is your favorite?

 

Lennon Parham: That’s a great question.

Jessica St. Claire: My favorite scene is in Episode 2, I butt dial my ex-husband. And he hears me talking about, among other things, an ass rash I’ve gotten from wearing my yoga pants for too long because I’m so sad. And it sends me into the bathtub to soak for like 5 hours. And Lennon’s boyfriend, Joe needs to get in to use the bathroom because I’m living with them. And I refuse to get out of the tub. I just ask Lennon to tell him he can come in. I won’t look at him.

And so she says that’s not going to work. And she tries to pull me out of the tub. And I end up pulling her into the tub on top of me. And it is one of the weirdest things I ever shot. And it is hilarious to watch 2 grown women flailing around. I also think Lennon almost drowned me. But she says that’s not true.

Lennon Parham: She is propagating a lie. And I will not stand for it.

My favorite scene I think is in the pilot. And it’s where – it’s when you first get a real glimpse at how these girls are together, like real authentic girlfriends. We’re watching Steel Magnolias. And Jessica uses the movie sort of a talk about a tough situation with me.

Jessica St. Clair: That she shouldn’t get married to soon because that would be called “pulling a Shelby”. You know when Shelby ends up getting pregnant even though she knows her kidneys can’t handle it.

Lennon Parham: And there are like funny friend moments where we act out different things. And then Joe, because he’s been pushed out comes and sits down on his inflatable chair which always makes a farting noise when he sits in it and tries to get in on the girl time. And it’s very exciting to Lennon. And it’s very disturbing to Jessica.

Jessica St. Clair: Because all he’s done is Wikipedia research on the movie. And the only comment he shares is, “Is that Darryl Hanna from Splash?”

Lennon Parham: And also that – he takes offense at the use of diabetes because he says you shouldn’t give juice to a diabetic because his roommate Barney had full bloom “betes” in college. And you don’t give them juice. That’s not how you handle it anyway.

Jessica St. Clair: So just – I think what we love about those scenes is that it’s very specific to how real girls act with each other which I don’t know how much we’ve seen on that on television thus far.

Lennon Parham: Yes. One of our male comedy friends was – during a table read – after a table read, is this how you guys actually behave behind closed doors because it’s like Jane Goodall and the Gorillas, like you never get to see it. We act differently when they’re not around.

 

Best Friends Forever
BEST FRIENDS FOREVER — Pictured: (l-r) Lennon Parham as Lennon, Jessica St. Clair as Jessica — Photo by: Neil Jacobs/NBC

 

I was doing some research yesterday. And I had seen that you we’re inspired in part by various Laverne & Shirley clips. And of course, we haven’t seen, as you we’re saying, a good dynamic 2-woman team on TV for a while. What do you make of those comparisons. I mean, do you hope to get those comparisons. And, to what extent, if any, was your show inspired by Laverne & Shirley?

 

Jessica St. Clair: Well, I mean any female comedian is obsessed with Laverne & Shirley as well as Lucy and Ethel. So it would – if someone compared us to them, we would just be over the moon.

Lennon Parham: Yes.

Jessica St. Clair: But I think what we love – it’s certainly something that we’ve been inspired by from Laverne & Shirley is that the 2 of them ended up getting in some situations like…

Lennon Parham: Yes.

Jessica St. Clair: And that was really all their show as about is the 2 of them have to you know go into – what’s the one we watched where they…

Lennon Parham: Well they needed money to go to…

Jessica St. Clair: To a single’s night.

Lennon Parham: To a single’s night where there were going to be eligible bachelors who had a lot of money and so – but they didn’t – they couldn’t afford the ticket. So they submitted themselves for scientific research. And Shirley couldn’t eat for 24 hours. And Laverne wasn’t able to sleep for 24 hours. So when they finally get to the party, Laverne keeps falling down. And Shirley keeps trying to…

Jessica St. Clair: Stuffing her face full of baby quiches.

Lennon Parham: Yes.

Jessica St. Clair: So anyway, I kind of feel like Lennon and I do have a bit of a – Lennon’s definitely a Laverne.

Lennon Parham: Yes.

Jessica St. Clair: And I’m Shirley cause Laverne is…I’m a fabulous physical comedian.

Lennon Parham: And I’m a little, I guess a little wilder.

Jessica St. Clair: She’s a little off.

Lennon Parham: And Jessica’s

Jessica St. Clair: I’m a little more intense.

Lennon Parham: Character is much more uptight, tightly wound.

Jessica St. Clair: But we – I don’t know, I mean. We – when we we’re writing, we would take lunch breaks and just watch all those clips. They still make you laugh.

Lennon Parham: The other thing I appreciate is the trust in – trust in the scenario sort of, like they give it the time that they need to really build the comedy. And so you’re there with them you know in the same scene for like 7 minutes which would never happen nowadays. But it doesn’t lose any of it’s charm.

Jessica St. Clair: I think also something that’s nice and I put like Kate & Allie in this category too is that at the end of the day, no matter what happened to them, they always loved each other.

Lennon Parham: Yes.

Jessica St. Clair: You never felt like it was the end of their relationship. It’s like even if Laverne messed up or Shirley messed up or whatever, they always – you knew at the end of the day, they were still going to be family. And that sort of – that’s what we – what we’re trying to do with our show as well. Because real girlfriends, you can really push it. And I have.

Lennon Parham: Yes.

Jessica St. Clair: And they’ll take you back.

Lennon Parham: That’s the nice. I’ve taken Jessica back 12 times already this morning. That’s the truth.

 

Daija Owens as Queenetta is fantastic. She’s quite a find. What’s it been like working with her?

 

Jessica St. Clair: Okay, Daija never was on television before she did our pilot. She had never shot anything in her life.

Lennon Parham: Yes. When we were auditioning for this role, we knew we needed something really raw, like really Brooklyn.

Jessica St. Clair: Somebody real like –  because when you grew up in New York, you see these little girls on the subway. And if you’re wearing a bad outfit, they will tell.

Lennon Parham: Right.

Jessica St. Clair: And you’re just like, “you’re right. I shouldn’t have put these pants on.”

Lennon Parham: So we auditioned a bunch of girls. But they we’re all too polished. So we went back to the drawing board. Did our own breakdown essentially and picked girls from their sassy like terrible head shots. She came in. She acted shy at first which was hilarious.

Jessica St. Clair: Yes. That was a put on.

Lennon Parham: And then all of sudden she breaks into…

Jessica St. Clair: She unleashes

Lennon Parham: Look’s who back.

Jessica St. Clair: and I literally fell onto the carpet and started punching the ground, it was so funny.

Lennon Parham: She’s got better timing any other comedic actor on our show.

Jessica St. Clair: And she improvises. So all of those scenes you see where she butts in something by telling me I need to get real with myself. That – she’s just come up with that on her own. She’s only 8 years old.

Lennon Parham: She’s phenomenal.

Jessica St. Clair: And she’s a very sweet little girl.

Lennon Parham: She’s such a heart.

Jessica St. Clair: Yes.

 

To what extent are you hoping that guys give it a chance as well?

 

Jessica St. Clair: Well, I think what’s really nice is having Joe’s perspective on the girls I think is something that if you are a man that has a woman that they – that you love in your life, I’m guaranteed you have a best friend that’s driving you insane. That your wife or girlfriend has a best friend that you just have to accept as your sister wife.

So a couple of our guy friends have said you know, “God this reminds me of you know when I was told that our Christmas card had already been designed by my wife and her best friend. And I was just supposed to sign off on it.” You know what I mean.

Lennon Parham: Well also, I think a lot of times woman will sit down to watch the night of television with their husband or boyfriend or whoever and maybe they don’t start off like interested. But, one of our makeup artists was watching with her husband before we started shooting. And he was laughing out loud at multiple moments and saying, “yes, that’s just how it is.” And was hooked by like minute 5.

And all of our writing staff with the exception of one woman was male. So we’re really – we were really trying to get the Joe and Rob, the male voice really accurate.

Jessica St. Clair: And where we come from, where we learned to be comedians at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, you really don’t think about male or female comedy. You just think about what’s funny. So for us, it’s like this show may star 2 women. But to us, it’s just – it’s a comedy. So hopefully it will appeal if it’s funny to everybody.

 

I wanted to ask you, the pilot kind of sets up like a very specific situation.

 

Jessica St. Clair: Yes.

Lennon Parham: Yes.

 

And, I’m not sure that it’s absolutely clear for a person watching the pilot, you know  – where do we go from here? Can you talk about how the dynamic plays out as we go along a little bit?

 

Jessica St. Clair: Sure. Well basically you know the pilot we kind of thought of as like a mini movie. You know it’s like she arrives. Jessica’s character has just recently gotten divorce papers FedExed to her and she’s moved back in with Lennon and Joe. Lennon, her best friend who’s she lived with for years and years and years before she got married. And so the pilot is all about whether or not she’s going to accept – Jessica can accept Joe in her life basically with Lennon.

Lennon Parham: Yes and how Lennon will balance Jessica with Joe now. And then also what Joe’s going to do with Jessica.

Jessica St. Clair: Right. And the pilot ends with essentially Jessica realizing that Joe is really the perfect person for Lennon. So she’s accepted Joe into her life. Now for the rest of the 6, there’s still going to be problems with having your best friend live with you, i.e. they can’t have sex because I keep barging into their bedroom. Because I’m used to living there, so like we never had – we never had to knock before. It doesn’t occur to me that I might need to knock now.

Lennon Parham: Right. I think for me in my mind, the pilot sets up kind of what the new normal is going to be. And we’ll certainly be figuring it out as we move forward, situations that are complicated by Jessica being there, things that Lennon and Joe would have been going through in their life anyway. And now Jessica’s there, so she can give perspective or help – help out with things.

Jessica will be beginning her new life. And because of – because Lennon has sort of been her only number 1 for the longest time and now she has Joe, she’s going to have to sort of figure out how to let Jessica go a little bit.

Jessica St. Clair: Yes.

Lennon Parham: Even though Jessica is right up in her – up in her business.

Jessica St. Clair: And make her own mistakes. So I kind of fell like the six episodes if you – we kind of thought of it as a mini-series in a way in that it’s watching these 3 people learn to become a family. And I think at the end of the sixth, you really feel like their – Joe realizes that actually life is better with Jessica here.

Jessica St. Clair: You know the 3 of them make the perfect person. So that’s what we’re hoping to do. And I mean there’s all these weird situations they get in. Jessica goes on her first date and then realizes that it’s a cougar ball which you’ll – episode 4. It’s not something you want to be invited to. Just so you know, Marc.

Jessica St. Clair: Not if you’re a young woman.

 

Are there any guest stars that you can clue us in on coming up?

 

Lennon Parham: Yes, definitely. In episode – episode 1 and 2 stay pretty close to our core cast. Episode 3 we meet Joe’s parents who are played by the incomparable Mimi Kennedy and J.K Simmons.

Jessica St. Clair: They were just perfect. They arrived and J.K. plays Joe’s dad who doesn’t say anything in the first three quarters of the show accept where’s the can? That’s all he ever wants to know where the bathroom is.

Lennon Parham: Yes.

Jessica St. Clair: And literally it’s like he was doing a mono – a silent monolog. It was the most amazing thing to watch.

Lennon Parham: Just a phenomenal actor.

Jessica St. Clair: And then in episode 4, we have – I go on a series of dates. One is with Ryan Hanson from Party Down who’s hilarious. And then I’m invited to the Cougar ball by a young actor who’s on Desperate Housewives.

Lennon Parham: Max Carver.

Jessica St. Clair: Max Carver. And then in episode 5, we actually wrote this episode for this actor because we were so obsessed with him. His name is Adam Campbell. And he’s…he’s British.

Lennon Parham: He plays an old choreographer friend that I knew when I studied abroad. And he comes back and sort of takes over the open house that we’re throwing for the dance study that I try to open.

Jessica St. Clair: He tries to steal Lennon’s heart.

He actually auditions for Joe. And he was so fabulous. But he was British. And so we couldn’t’ use him for Joe. But we said we have to write this guy a part. He made us laugh so far. So a lot of our – a lot of our guest stars, we’ve written for people in mind are friends from the Upright Citizens Brigade. And they just and Paul Rust in Episode 6 and he just killed us. It’s so funny. It was nice to have people who could improvise, come on the set because they made our words even funnier.

 

So, I want to ask you guys about UCB.

 

Jessica St. Clair: Yes.

Lennon Parham: Yes.

 

How did you guys initially get involved? And how do you think the experience and training has helped you?

 

Jessica St. Clair: Yes, well, it’s given us our careers. I mean we would have – we would literally not be here today without the UCB.

Lennon Parham: No.

Jessica St. Clair: And that’s the truth. I came – I came to the UCB a year after I graduated college because a friend of mine that I did improve comedy with in school was taking classes there. And that was when they – when they had just opened their first theater on 22nd Street. And so there was only like 60 people in the theater. Now there are – how many people in level 1?

Lennon Parham: It’s the largest long form training center in the world now.

Jessica St. Clair: So at this point, there was 60 of us. And we used to have to go out on the corner in Washington Square Park in the freezing cold and pass out flyers hoping that homeless people would come see us perform. So…

Lennon Parham: If they wanted to use their $5 for a show versus dinner.

Jessica St. Clair: Yes, versus dinner. We talked and they did. But – and it was also in an old porn theater, so people used to come in looking for other things other than comedy.

So at any rate, that’s – and I – it was basically like going to grad school for comedy. You just – you learned everything you needed to know about being a performer but also about how to be writer. And so I started doing improve. And then I would write sketch show. And from writing sketch shows is how I got the courage to write my first pilot.

Lennon Parham: I moved to New York to be an actor. And I started talking class at Second City because I had gone to college with a Mr. Jack McBrayer who you might know from – as Kenneth from 30 Rock.

And he went to Chicago and did Improve Olympic in Second City and I lived in Chicago one summer and saw him do that. And he was like, “Lennon, you need to do this.” So when I moved to New York, I sought out Second City. While I was at Second City, I met 2 amazing ladies who are still my friends today, (Leslie Midel) and (Molly Praser) who were on a Harold team at UCB.

And essentially they said if you want to perform regularly, you need to take classes at UCB. So it was through them I heard about it. And then I started taking classes. And by level 2, I was hooked. There’s a real like sort of respect for comedy culture that – that grows there and that – and intelligence that I had not seen in a lot of sketch comedy that I really appreciated.

And it was pushing me and it became a community. And then it became a family.

Jessica St. Clair: They also have a real interesting thing where you at the beginning especially, you interned so that you could get your classes for free. And so you were cleaning the bathroom and doing all these other horrible tasks. But you were there at the theater at least 4 night a week.

Lennon Parham: Seeing the shows.

Jessica St. Clair: Seeing the shows. So like when I interned, I remember the night that I – Tuesday nights was when (Tina Fey) and (Rachel Dratch) had their sketch show. And I was like blown away. I memorized every line in the show. And I was like this is what I want to do. So we had real mentors there, (Amy Polar) and all of these UCB ( Matt Walsh) and (Matt Betser) and (Ian Roberts). They gave us our first jobs.

Lennon Parham: Yes. And it was sort of while we were there that everybody started to breakout on the Daily show and the Office. And now NBC Thursday night’s covered with UCB people. And every other commercial has UCB people in it.

Jessica St. Clair: Yes. It’s exciting. But it really is like a family. We love each other in a way that I think like a lot of actors feel very – it can be a very lonely experience because it’s just you going to auditions. We never had the feeling because we always had each other. And even if you don’t have a job, you know you can go perform on Friday nights and – to a packed house and…

Lennon Parham: Yes.

Jessica St. Clair: It’s a really great feeling.

Lennon Parham: And it give you your chops. It develops your work ethic. And – and so that you don’t ever want to settle for anything less than the funniest thing you have.

 

RU?

Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

Must Read

The InBetween Review – Supernatural Crime Drama Hopes To Bridge Genres

Network television has occasionally tried their hand at series with a supernatural element to them, but have rarely managed to find the...

Non-Fiction Review – Spinning Your Wheels And Talking Endlessly About It

Olivier Assayas is probably the greatest living writer of conversations for the screen, but his latest effort, Non-Fiction, doesn't quite manage to...

FOX New Series Trailers And First Impressions – 2019

It's time to start gearing up for a mad, mad world of new series that aren't likely to live long, and as...

Trending

The InBetween Review – Supernatural Crime Drama Hopes To Bridge Genres

Network television has occasionally tried their hand at series with a supernatural element to them, but have rarely managed to find the...

The Rain Review – Netflix Delivers Another Foreign Must Watch

The Rain kicks off with a series of events that is by now so commonplace that it makes it difficult for the post-apocalyptic...

Whiskey Cavalier Review – Spy Hijinx Takes A Shot At Mainstream

Whiskey Cavalier is a show that has to be a lot of fun to make, and a lot of viewers could easily...

Podcast