June Raphael & Casey Wilson, Rode Hard and Put Away Wet

Originally published in 2004

Before appearing on SNL, sitcoms, and in feature films, June Raphael & Casey Wilson were honing their comedy skills doing improv and sketch comedy at Upright Citizen’s Brigade in Manhattan.

Originally published in 2004, this interview takes a look at their beginnings, and the show that got them noticed: Rode Hard and Put Away Wet.

 

Was there a definitive moment when you knew you wanted to act?
Casey- I remember my dad took me to New York to see Cats and I saw it and I said to my father, “Wow… this is what I want to do!” So I went back home to Virginia and staged Cats: The Sequel with the neighborhood kids. I was sort of a tyrannical director type. I just knew that’s what I wanted to do when the Cats were coming out into the audience… I thought it was so neat!

June- Yeah, I was also turned on by musical theater.

Casey- Turned on sexually?

June- Sexually, yeah. [laughs] Musicals are what I was first exposed to and I loved the spectacle of it all and thought it was amazing. I saw Les Mis fifteen times… maybe more. I was a real musical theater hag.

You begin your show with video clips of you both as kids lip synching and dancing to musical theater numbers. How much of your on-stage energy and style comes from watching and imitating performers when you were kids?
Casey- I think a lot of it, especially with the comedy. I saw Clue so many times growing up and I sometimes find mannerisms that come up that I really think are more Madeline Kahn’s than my own. You watch so much of this growing up and you want so badly to be a part of it that it just “takes”. You begin to shape an idea of what’s funny based on what you’ve seen and enjoyed.

June- But, also, a lot of the characters and the circumstances that are in our show are drawn from our own life experience… things we’ve seen and lived through, experiences that we thought was funny about our lives. All the awkward moments that we’ve encountered, a lot of them are in the show. The little girl scene, the audition scene… these are things we’ve been on both sides of, things we know.

Who are your influences?
June- I remember watching “I Love Lucy”… all of us crowding around the tv. I thought she was just an amazing comedian and clown. She was beautiful and wonderful, someone who never sacrificed her own femininity in an effort to be funny. And she was hysterical. Plus, she had her own show… the whole show was all about her! She was a big influence.

Casey- I was always into Catherine O’Hara, even just from Beetlejuice. I would see her in things and seek her out and I’ve always thought she was amazing. Also, when Cheri Oteri was on “Saturday Night Live”, I always related to what she was doing. And, of course, Madeline Kahn, Deborah Winger, Shirley MacLain… all these strong women who are just hilarious.

Do you think, in general, that men are intimidated by funny women?
Casey- I think that you develop a sense of humor based on how people are treating you. I think if you’re not fitting in, then humor can become a weapon for women. You may not have certain qualities, but you’re funny and that holds cachet. I heard Tina Fey saying that when you’re funny in high school, that’s actually intimidating to a lot of guys. So there may be a tendency for women to blunt that part of themselves.

June- I’ve noticed with improv scenes that the women often play, if not the “straight man”, then they’ll play the normal girlfriend or the wife, but the men play the wild, kooky, strange characters. And unless you’re a woman who’s already “out there” in some way, I think it’s a little harder for women to be accepted in the crazy side kick roles.

Casey- Yeah, I think being funny can be a turn off for some people. Maybe it’s easier for guys to accept a funny woman who is unattractive. But whereas guys… I mean, they can look darn near freakish and if they’re funny, it’s almost cute. A guy with a sense of humor is attractive. I think that’s true of women, too, but I’m not sure everyone sees it that way.

How did you guys meet?
June- We were both training in the same studio at NYU, the Stella Adler studio. So we sort of met through that, but we really became friends in a clown class we took together.

Casey- And, along these same lines, I will throw out that when we did our project for that class, the teacher, who was a woman, was showcasing all the men. And I remember that one of the first conversations June and I had was about the fact that all the guys were being featured and it’s like, “what’s wrong with this picture?”

June- We rallied together over that. [laughs]

What did you learn in your clowning class that you apply to your comedy or your acting in general?
June- I think for me the clown class was all about finding something truthful about yourself that’s funny. It’s hard, you have to stand up there and almost find who you were as a child.

Casey- You have to find very genuine emotions. We had this one exercise where you get up and you can’t leave the stage until you’ve made everyone in the room simultaneously laugh heartily. And we thought it was going to be easy, but… the point you have to go to to get people to laugh… laughter is such a difficult thing to create. It was so hard!

June- Laughter is something you just can’t fake. They’re either laughing or they’re not.

Do you feel your training at NYU prepared you for show business?
June- Yes and no.

Casey- Yeah… yes and no. It was pretty hard core at Stella Adler. It was a lot of, “Look everyone in the eyes and say… I like myself !” or something absurd and you’ve got certain people sobbing, like… wracking, heaving, sobs for two hours as they shake everyone’s hand and say they like themselves. You sometimes wonder, “Is this class, or is this therapy?” You’re definitely torn down in a real way that was kind of unnatural. But also built back up.

June- I think the training has certainly helped when you get out into the real world and you’re doing these auditions. It helps to have a process and know what you’re doing, certainly. But, really, there’s nothing that can prepare you for being thrown out there and trying to make something happen for yourself. One thing I’ll say about Stella Adler is that they really encourage you to do your own work. They give you space to work on your own stuff, and you learn that the community has to be supportive. You go see everyone’s shows, and they come see yours. I mean, we’ve had friends who’ve come seen the show ten, eleven times, and have really helped develop the show.

In terms of the business side of things, getting an agent and dealing with money and those kinds of things, not so much. But I feel like the money spent going to NYU is best used actually training and learning your craft.

Okay, tell me about your show, Rode Hard and Put Away Wet. First of all, where does that title come from?
Casey- The title is an old equestrian term when a horse was ridden hard and put away without being properly groomed or cared for. In the South it refers to a woman who has been around the block in this life and has a ton of miles on her but is still going for it. I guess a metaphor for the show. . .knocked down, still trying. My mom said it growing up and when we were tossing around titles it seemed perversely appropriate.

You’re currently performing the show at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater here in Manhattan. How did you become performers there, did you have to work your way up through the classes?
Casey- We were actually very, very lucky because we did the show at the Stella Adler Studio and on the last night, Owen Burke [UCB Artistic Director] came to see it and he offered us a spot. We were very lucky. Because normally you do a “spank” [audition] night and you wait for a spot to open up if it goes well. Or, they may tell you to take it back to the drawing board, or help you develop it.

June- Yeah, we’ve had a lot of the teachers at UCB give notes and work with us on specific scenes. They help us play around with it. We both feel their philosophy about comedy is right on. It’s a real nice community of people.

Tell me about the process of creating the material for the show. Did you set out to do a full-length show?
June- Not at all. A friend of ours, Alison Mayer was hosting a show down at Rafifi in the East Village. It was kind of a variety show called “A Little This, A Little That” that she’d run on Sunday nights and she’d have different people come on… singers, people would show short films, things like that. And she asked us to do a sketch and so we were just kind of messing around and put together what is now the last sketch in our show, “Gloria”.

Casey- That was the kernel of “Rode Hard”, that weird song was the basis of our whole show. We tried to think of what sketch we could create that would lead into that song.

And I guess it went well.
June- It went well and she asked us to do another sketch, which ended up being “White Girls”, which is now the opening of our show. Eventually our friend Rachel Fleit said we should put a bunch of these sketches together into a show, which we did.

Casey- Simultaneously, my dad had gotten this nice video camera so we figured we’d shoot a bunch of video to cover the transitions. We actually have a lot more video than we use in the show. We got really into the video.

Do you start by writing out your ideas into scripts, or do you improvise around ideas to develop them?
June- We work with improv a lot… we’ll start with an idea and just play around with it. We’d also use the performances at Rafifi and open mic nights to develop ideas. If something was working in performance we’d keep it, if it wasn’t, we’d lose it.

Casey- Yeah, we never wrote anything down until we were at the UCB, which was about six months into it.

June- We’ll still occasionally throw something in there, but for the most part it’s pretty tight now.

Even though you’re doing the show at UCB, you’re still responsible for bringing in the audiences. How do you drag an audience in to see the show?
Casey- We flyer, we do open mic’s and pass out cards, we harass our dear dear friends into “pledging people”, we say “If you’ve seen the show once, you really haven’t seen it.” So the best part has been the people who come and then bring friends back who in turn bring friends. . . that has been such a blessing and so cool. The UCB took out ads for us and we have hustled, often at the slight expense of the creative process. It’s a toss up for us usually: do we hit the streets, or run that number again?! People have been so kind to us with their support, though. We have our “touched” faces on all the time after shows when we see which friends are back with more friends. Laura and Kevin, I’m talking about YOU!

Even now that the show is pretty much set, what keeps you guys motivated to work on it?
Casey- Our major motivation, as shallow as it may seem, was to get better representation. Our first idea was that the show would be a vehicle that we could just show people and get ourselves out there. And while it is, of course, a huge vanity project, which we kind of try to make fun of… eventually it became this thing that people actually enjoy and are coming to see.

June- Yeah, our goal initially was to get better representation, and then once the show was on its feet and the runs kept getting extended and we got to the UCB…

Casey- …that was really beyond our wildest dreams! Because I had taken classes there and just loved it and always felt like I was on the outside looking in on that community and really wanting to know more about it. Then to actually have our show up there… every step forward along the way has really been a shock, just a shock to my system. Our expectations were low, but we kept plugging way. [laughs]

June- Once we realized that people enjoyed the show and were having a good time, that it was something other than just a little showcase for us, that was a turning point for us.

How do you cope with the rejection of showbiz?
Casey- I was just in a series of callbacks for a new Mike Nichols musical, Spamalot with the Monty Python crew. And… you always want something, but I try not to assume that I’ll get it. I mean, you want to go in with the belief that it’s possible, but in this case, I was just hoping that I wouldn’t embarrass myself in front of Mike Nichols. He was very sweet, very nice about it, but June and I talk all the time when we’re feeling bad, when we’re “in a very dark place”. It definitely helps to have someone to talk about it with.

Sometimes at the end of the day when we’ve gotten our “feedback”, we’re sitting there asking “why are we doing this to ourselves?!” But we laugh about it… you have to laugh about it when you go in and do something ridiculous, or the casting director is charging her phone while you’re singing. We try to laugh about it, and our method has been doing it together. It’s great that we’re out there together, and our careers have been rising at about the same level, we both have really great representation, but when it doesn’t go well, it doesn’t go well.

June- It’s tough. You just try to move on. That’s what has been so great about our show… we have an outlet to perform every week. I think if I were only auditioning and not getting anything, I would get really, really down about it. It’s a really nice outlet to be in front of an audience. That’s what all this is about anyway, getting up there and doing it. But it’s not easy, and we’ve only been out there for a little while, relatively speaking.

What are your goals?
Casey- I just want to do good work. Stuff that’s funny, also stuff that’s not funny. I’d like to work on Saturday Night Live, or something that’s creative and funny… something like Curb Your Enthusiasm. There are a lot of new shows coming out that are structured, but not necessarily scripted… I think that would be a lot of fun. We’ve been approached about writing a pilot like that, something that’s structured, but there’s room to play around and have fun.

June- We really want to continue working on the show and making it better. Getting into the US Comedy Arts Festival is a huge goal for us. If it happens, great… if it doesn’t, we’ll move on. We want to do some new writing together, creating a pilot in the near future. I think we just want to continue running the show for as long as possible and continue bringing in audiences. I mean, every week there’s someone there who is interested in some aspect of it. I do think the show can translate to television and we certainly want to capitalize on that, take a real shot at it and see how far we can get. Keep on keepin’ on, really.

What do you love about acting?
Casey- This may sound cheesy, but I love making people laugh. It’s beautiful in a weird way. When you’re able to make people laugh, you’re giving them something. They see something reflected in what you’re doing, something that rings true.

June- I love the relationship you develop with an audience. And I love the fact that every time you do it, it’s different. Week to week, something is a hit with one audience but doesn’t quite work another time… you never know. Establishing that kind of rapport with an audience is really exciting. It’s a thrill!

Why should people go see live theater?
Casey- You can’t check out in a live show. You can try, but you just can’t hide from it. Watching tv, it’s so easy to glaze over, but in theater you’re seeing someone go through something, you’re touched in a way that is so immediate. In a live show, you’re a part of something that only happens once. Everyone who is there that night, they’re all having that experience together.

June- Also, with comedy, too… it’s so different when you’re watching it live. It’s very much a communal experience in a way that watching a straight drama isn’t. People feed off each other’s laughter… if there’s one big laugher in the audience who starts it off, we can tell it’s going to be a good show. That’s huge!

What did you think of this interview? Leave a comment!

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