Where it all began: Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair at the UCB Theatre
Comediennes Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham met more than a decade ago at New York’s famed improvisational comedy theater the Upright Citizens Brigade, and as St. Clair recalls, came together over a mutual appreciation of sweater sets. Today, their friendship has morphed into a new comedy, BFF, which debuts on NBC this spring.
In the show, newly divorced Jessica returns to Brooklyn to live with Lennon and Lennon’s boyfriend, Joe. St. Clair and Parham recruited other UCB alumni to round out the cast, including Adam Pally, who shot the pilot in second position to his role on Happy Endings (he was later replaced by a member of the Los Angeles UCB, Luka Jones). “When we started in New York, nobody had an agent, nobody was doing this for a living,” says St. Clair of the community at UCB. “Two or three years in, people started to take notice that this was a really good place to find comedic talent that no one knew about.”
To write each episode, Parham and St. Clair record themselves doing improv, transcribe the routine, and write a script from there. During the pilot’s table read, the men in the room found the experience to be almost an anthropological view of the lives of women—bad date nicknames and all. “Our male comedian friends said this was the weirdest thing to watch, because they don’t get to see what girls act like behind closed doors,” says St. Clair. “The script is almost like peeking behind that curtain.”
Several scenes of the pilot were filmed guerilla style around Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. “Any time you see a show that’s set in New York but not shot there, it takes me out of the scene,” says St. Clair. “That’s what makes 30 Rock and Sex and the City so great—the city is a character.”
Both actresses cite New York as the location of their most poignant memories, particularly Parham, who said her “I do’s” under the Brooklyn Bridge at Empire Fulton Ferry. “After I got married in 2006, I could see the place every time I went in and out of the city on the Q train,” she says. “There’s a moment of perspective where you realize how little you are in the whole grand scheme of things. That was always a nice reminder when you had a bad audition or a homeless woman told you that you had murdered a bunch of people.”
Now with the debut of BFF, Parham and St. Clair are hoping to continue the legacy of other talented UCB women, like Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Says Parham, “We’re hoping to follow in the footsteps of The Office, Seinfeld and Parks & Recreation, which started with a small, six-episode order, came later in the season when everything else was kind of petering out, and just stormed in and took everyone by surprise.”