Nicole Sullivan Interview: Former 'MADtv' Comedian Stars in New CBS Comedy '$#*! My Dad Says'
On the sketch comedy series MADtv, Nicole Sullivan created numerous characters; the mean-spirited Vancome Lady, dimwitted Antonia, Eracists leader Debbie, racist country singer Darlene McBride, and Latina bimbo Lida.
The comedian’s impersonations included Britney Spears, Drew Barrymore, Justin Timberlake, Hillary Clinton, Celine Dion, Kathie Lee Gifford, Edie Falco (as Carmela Soprano from The Sopranos), Lucille Ball (as Lucy Ricardo in a trio of I Love Lucy parodies), and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
“Absolutely. The bottom line is there’s a curse word involved and if a parent doesn’t want their child to watch it because there’s a curse word involved in the name, I guess that’s their choice. But, when you see the show there are obviously no other curse words.”
Sullivan has had many voice acting projects in her career, such as Marlene the Otter on The Penguins of Madagascar, Sheg on Kim Possible, Joan of Arc on Clone High, and Mira Nova on Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. Her many television appearances include Rita Rocks, Numb3rs, Leverage, Boston Legal, Monk, Less Than Perfect, The King of Queens, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Party of Five.
The actress is married to actor Jason Packham and the Californians have two sons, four dogs, and three cats.
This fall Sullivan plays the daughter-in-law of Ed Goodson (William Shatner) in the new CBS sitcom $#*! My Dad Says (pronounced as “Bleep My Dad Says”). The show, premiering on September 23, will be airing on Thursdays (8:30 Eastern) and also stars Jonathan Sadowski as Henry and Will Sasso as Vince.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Nicole, I assume $#*! My Dad Says revolves around William Shatner who plays Ed Goodson, the opinionated dad.
Nicole Sullivan: Yes, very much so (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is he an old curmudgeon?
Nicole Sullivan: Yeah exactly. He’s a guy who’s been in two wars, a surgeon who’s used to putting people’s hearts back together on a dirty table. He’s sort of seen it all and done it all. Ed doesn’t really suffer any nuances in life. He doesn’t like sweet talking people because he doesn’t see the need in it and he doesn’t see a need to coddle his kids. He’s a little harsh at times, so it’s a lot of taking that in stride and knowing just how Henry’s dad is.
We see, in the episodes we’ve already done, that this guy has a real big heart underneath all that gruffness and that he really cares about his kids. When I read the book ($#*! My Dad Says) that’s how I felt. The dad was harsh with his son, but he really loved him and stood up for him, too. I think William Shatner will do a great job of combining those two character traits.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You play the daughter-in-law. Describe your character.
Nicole Sullivan: She is as crazy as their family is but in a different way. She’s a little narcissistic, a little into her appearance; nails, heels, that kind of stuff. But she has married this big oaf, not too bright kind of guy, and she has to tell him what to do and when to do it. She runs his life, but she really loves him.
She loves the whole family, makes sure Ed takes his heart medicine, buys him groceries, and picks up his dry cleaning … but bitches every time she’s doing those things (laughs). She complains and rolls her eyes at everyone, but underneath that she really cares.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did it feel to reunite with Will Sasso, a compadre from MADtv?
Nicole Sullivan: Oh, it’s been awesome. We auditioned together, and said, “Oh yeah this makes sense.” It works really well between the two of us. We have a great history and it’s great when you know how someone works.
MADtv was a tough show with a tough schedule. Those kinds of shows are kind of tough emotionally because there’s a lot of bickering about this and that. When you’ve been through those kinds of experiences with someone and come out of it … we both sort of grew up on the show. I started before him, but when you’ve done that together, you’re amazed at how well you know each other’s emotional ins and outs. You can play with them on the set and know that everyone’s going to be having a good time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You also worked with William Shatner on Boston Legal.
Nicole Sullivan: I did. My scenes were actually with James Spader, but I met him in the makeup chair. I don’t think he remembers (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What do you think about the uproar over the name of the show?
Nicole Sullivan: I’m a mom of two and I don’t want my kids cursing either. I get it. Parents say kids shouldn’t curse. That’s the bottom line. But, you know what, we aren’t kids and no one involved with the show are either. By the time the kids understand what the asterisk means, they know what the word “shit” means. They’ve heard it and said it.
I applaud the parents who have a no cursing rule at home. But, at the same time, to pretend that kids aren’t exposed to it in any fashion is sort of naïve. The bottom line is we’re basing this on a book and the book is based on a real life experience and a real life guy who curses. The real dad in the book curses all of the time. It’s just a character trait of his. Obviously we can’t curse on CBS, but this is the kind of guy he is and we wanted to put this in the title.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): My first thought was if I had young children and they saw the name of the show, they’d probably ask, “What is with the symbols in the title?”
Nicole Sullivan: Right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It seems like that would defeat the purpose of hiding the word because you’d still have to explain it to the little ones.
Nicole Sullivan: Absolutely. The bottom line is there’s a curse word involved and if a parent doesn’t want their child to watch it because there’s a curse word involved in the name, I guess that’s their choice. But, when you see the show there are obviously no other curse words. It’s a little saucy for CBS but I like that they are daring to try it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will the show have a PG warning for language or adult situations?
Nicole Sullivan: No, we’re not allowed to use any language. People in charge of standards and practices wouldn’t let us get away with that. But, that being said, is it saucier than a Disney daytime show? Absolutely. If I had a six-year old, would I let them watch it? I don’t know, maybe not, but I don’t think the six-year old would watch it anyway. They have better things to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So basically we’re just talking about adult situations.
Nicole Sullivan: Exactly. I don’t know what the protocol is for the warnings but, yeah, there are certainly adult situations involved in the show.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews magazine): Did MADtv prepare you for work on situation comedies?
Nicole Sullivan: When you embarrass yourself on a day-to-day basis like putting on ridiculous outfits, ridiculous wigs, singing with an accent, you’re so numb that you’ll do anything. I think that’s the beauty of sitcoms. You can’t be afraid to look silly.
The minute you’re self aware or embarrassed, you’ve lost the comedy and I think that’s what’s fun about Will and me. They can write us anything and we’ll do it. We had a bit a couple of weeks ago where I pretend I’m a mummy. Many actors would be embarrassed to do that because you sort of look like a dope, but I was excited about it and I think it’s funny.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Nicole, I do have to say that Vancome lady was one of my favorite characters (laughs).
Nicole Sullivan: God Bless her. That was based on real women at the Skokie mall in Skokie, Illinois.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It wasn’t a particular woman at the mall, just a combination of personalities?
Nicole Sullivan: It was a combo over the years I spent shopping at the Skokie mall. I was like, “Ah, get off my case, ladies (laughs).”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Have you gotten any comments from people you’ve impersonated?
Nicole Sullivan: I haven’t directly. I will say that literally a week after I had done a somewhat scathing Britney Spears imitation, I was at the Billboard awards. I was standing in the aisle waiting to cross into my seat and Britney and her security guard were as well. I saw her noticing me.
Britney looked at the security guard, whispered something to him, and he very quickly blocked my view of her (laughs). Like, “You don’t get to look at Britney after you did that stuff (laughs).” What’s so funny is that I’m actually a Britney Spears fan. I wanted to say, “Listen, I don’t write this stuff and I’m making fun of you because you’re famous.” I literally went to her concert when I was eight months pregnant. My husband bought me tickets. I love her.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you meet your husband on King of Queens?
Nicole Sullivan: I did. He was Kevin James’ assistant.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is Jerry Stiller a funny guy?
Nicole Sullivan: He is the nicest human being I’ve ever met in my life and such a well of talent. He’s so loving and complimentary, such a dream.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You began your career in the theater.
Nicole Sullivan: Yes and I grew up in New York City. I was actually in a theater group with Ben Stiller (Jerry’s son) when we were children. Yeah, it was funny. He was kind of dorky back then, but so was I. We were in a really tough theater group. It was really harsh. They wouldn’t get away with that now if they tried to do what they did then.
The hours were ridiculous, the way they talked to us was borderline child abuse … it was really harsh. It was a very cold, harsh environment. That being said, it taught me to be professional, to never be late. If you were late you were out for at least two performances. It was really very military like, but the experience taught me to value professionalism, that you show up for your job, do it well, and don’t complain.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who were your comedic influences?
Nicole Sullivan: Obviously Lucille Ball would be the biggest one. Betty White from The Mary Tyler Moore Show was another one of my favorites. I remember Bob Newhart’s timing even when I was a kid. I value people who have amazing comedic timing. To me, those three people have the best timing of anyone who has ever been on television.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of comedic geniuses, I was fortunate to have interviewed Tim Conway a few months ago.
Nicole Sullivan: Oh my God, what a genius! When he would do the butcher who moved real slowly, that’s all timing. If you mess up the timing, it’s the most irritating character in the world. But he did it so perfectly you just couldn’t stop laughing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You are so right. Nicole, tell me about your charity called Alley Cat Allies.
Nicole Sullivan: Alley Cat Allies is great. The problem is that the cat population is out of control. We need to lower the numbers. There are people with huge hearts out there that go out and work with feral cats. There are doctors who donate their time for free, but the organization needs funding. The financial support of people is vital in helping Alley Cat Allies protect cats everywhere.
Do you want to hear a nice story? A few nights ago my husband and I were outside and I heard coyotes. We have three cats and two of them were feral when we found them. I trapped them in the parking lot. We keep them in at night and they go out during the day.
I was scared when I heard the coyotes; I hadn’t seen my kitty cat for a couple of days. I was panicking because I thought she was gone. I had put up signs in the neighborhood and everything. I was just in tears. Then seven days after she went missing I was outside and heard a “mew” underneath my house and there she was.
I had called down there over and over again, but I guess she was just so scared and trapped. Can you imagine, after seven days, to find my kitty? I was just so happy!
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