Writer, comic and actress, Tess Rafferty, is the only female writer on E! Entertainment's The Soup (she's currently in her 7th season there). When she is not working 50 weeks a year writing jokes about Charlie Sheen and hookers, she works on her original web series "Grace Church: FBI/CIA/SAG/AFTRA," performs stand-up comedy around Los Angeles, including her recent show at the Comedy Central Stage "Why I'm not Married." We recently had the chance to catch up with Tess and chat about her start in writing, her desire to create strong female characters and her affinity for good wine.
Q: How did you get your start in writing?
A: I would have to say that hating church made me a writer. From as early as I can remember, I knew I had to find some way to check out and kill an hour while sitting their each week, and so I would make up stories in my head. Sometimes I would return to the same story each week and edit it or add new details.
When I went to college I majored in acting. Only I hated most of the roles that were available to women. It was always someone’s mother, whore, maid or wife. Women were rarely main characters. This didn’t make sense to me because I was the main character of my own story. By sophomore year I realized that if I wanted parts for women that spoke to me and my experiences, where they had more than a supporting role, I was going to have to write them myself.
Stand-up was a natural progression from this, too, and when I moved out to LA I kept writing and doing stand-up. I was fortunate enough to meet another comic who really liked my writing and always said that when he got the chance to bring me on to a show, he would. I was also fortunate that he was a man of his word. KP Anderson became the head writer of the Soup and hired me 6 years ago.
Q: Who is the most interesting celebrity/reality television personality you’ve written about?
A: I’m often fascinated by the ones I don’t have to write about, for that reason. Like take Amanda Bynes, for instance. What is the difference between Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes? They’re both child actors who came up around the same time. And yet the only cause I’ve ever had to write a joke about Amanda Bynes was when she retired from acting and then un-retired 3 weeks later.
I was fascinated by K-Fed for awhile. I think because every time I saw him interviewed he seemed stable and not at all like a train wreck. I think that really alarmed my office mate (Nic DeLeo aka Mankini) but he has no room to talk because he got really into “The Hills. ”
For strictly interesting interesting, I don’t know if it gets any better than Charlie Sheen. He’s not interesting in a “he speaks 3 languages and wrote a book on Etruscan art” way, but a middle aged man with 5 kids who smokes crack on Christmas and pays escorts to go to dinner with his ex-wife is by definition pretty interesting.
Q: You’ve also done some acting on The Soup. What were your favorite roles to play and why?
A: I loved doing the “Kim Catrall Double Entendre-Bot” because I am such a huge “Sex and the City” fan, and I just loved embodying some small part of the show. I also really loved the Coque Hors perfume ad because it was so ethereal with this great physical comedy pay off at the end. Doing “Gina Marie” my Jersey Shore girl is great because it’s so big and over the top; it’s a very freeing way to exorcise all of those summers spent on the Jersey Shore as a kid.
I’m lucky because we get to have so much fun so often. I love when I get to be the Singing Telegram girl because it’s happy and silly. I once did Posh and even though I said nothing in the actual sketch, it was such a blast to get into the wig and the makeup. I walked around E! all morning with the big sunglasses on and the wig and could see people I knew not recognizing me. Likewise, when I did the Succubus for a “Ghost Adventures” bit. The part was really funny and sarcastic to play, but also the make up was just fantastic. I looked like Helena Bonham Carter in a Tim Burton movie and I didn’t want to take it off.
Q: When you’re not working on The Soup, you still perform stand-up comedy around Los Angeles . How does your writing process vary when it comes to writing for television vs. live performance?
A: This is totally girly, but I compare ideas to shoes. You know which shoes dress up a pair of jeans and that wedges are the only choice for that sundress. I have ideas all the time but I almost always know which ones are a bit for the show, what’s a joke for my act and what feels like it’s part of a longer piece. My stand up is more personal. I’ve had jokes that I’ve written for the show that didn’t make it, but that I really liked. Only when I try to use them on stage, it just doesn’t seem right. No matter how in my voice the joke is or how much I love it, I don’t talk about pop culture in my act so it feels jarring for me to try and tell the joke.
Q: Who are your favorite comics, and who influences you?
A: I like anybody who’s got something to say and can say it in a way that makes people laugh. It’s so hard to make a point and still be funny. Lewis Black, Marc Maron, Chris Rock, Greg Giraldo, George Carlin. Although when I was a kid, I watched “Eddie Murphy’s Delirious”over and over again and it got me thinking as to why I could watch it and always laugh even though I knew all of the jokes. It made me realize how important performance is on top of content.
As for influences I would have to say that Mary Tyler Moore and Valerie Harper are at the top of the list. I still watch old Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda episodes and am so impressed by how honest they are able to be and still be so funny. They were female characters who had so much independence, like the aunts of “Sex and the City.” Also, Tina Fey and Jane Austen. They both write about smart women and make their audience laugh… Oh, god and Murphy Brown! We should start a campaign to bring back Murphy Brown! She’s almost like a super hero and these are dark times.
Q: Which entertainer gave you the best advice, and what was it?
A: No one ever gave me advice. Why is that? Now that’s just going to make me paranoid that no one ever saw any raw talent in me that deserved to be nurtured.
I take my advice from tea bags. Right now I have a Yogi Tea stomach ease tag taped to my computer. It says, “One of the best actions we can take, with courage, is to relax.”
Also, my boyfriend and I frequently quote Bill Bixby from his E! True Hollywood Story. Right before he died he told a friend, “Get the good wine.” We use it to justify our wine habit, but also, it makes us smile whenever we say it. It’s good to remember how fleeting it all is and to appreciate the moment.
Q: What’s next for you? What can fans expect from you in the future?
A: I’d like to move into scripted television, creating smart and funny female characters who resemble the smart and funny women I know in real life. And I want to keep working on my shorts, too: both Grace Church and a few other fun ideas I have gestating in the Lady Gaga- like egg-womb that lives in my brain.
Kate Brindle is a stand-up comedian from Ann Arbor, MI. For more information and for tour dates, visit her at http://www.katebrindle.com/ Email Kate at firstname.lastname@example.org.