"I'm not a dark person or comedian. I try to always see the light at the end of every tunnel so my comedy comes from a happy place because I don't get bogged down with the sad stuff."
– Fortune Feimster
Guy MacPherson: Hello, Fortune. Are you expecting me?
Fortune Feimster: I sure am. Thank you for calling.
GM: Thank you for being there for me. Where are you?
FF: Yeah, of course. I am currently in Los Angeles.
GM: Is that where you live?
FF: Yeah, I live here.
GM: So you're close to Vancouver. Have you ever been?
FF: You know, I have never been to Vancouver. That was one of the reasons I wanted to do this festival in the first place, because I've been dying to get up there.
GM: Well finally.
FF: I know. I mean, I could have picked a warmer time of year (laughs).
GM: So could they.
FF: I know. I was about to say. I was like, Why do they gotta pick February?! But I get plenty of sunshine here in LA so it'll be a nice change.
GM: Just For Laughs has the summer. And I think JFL42 is in the summer, too.
FF: Montreal, I've done that quite a bit.
GM: You know we have comedy year-round, though. You could book yourself in a club here.
FF: I know, I know. Hopefully this will open me up to the Vancouver audience and it'll be easier to get up there again and do a comedy club.
GM: I know Fortune's your middle name. Did you always go by it?
FF: No, I actually grew up going by my first name, Emily. My middle name is my great-grandmother's maiden name and my grandmother always wanted me to go by Fortune. And my mom just loved the name Emily.
GM: I love the name Emily, too.
FF: Yeah, it's a beautiful name. I'm named after my mom's cousin. Lots of family names. But it was after my grandmother died when I was 18, I just thought if I ever pursue my dream of performing, I'm going to go by Fortune as kind of a way to pay homage to my grandmother.
GM: It puts a lot of pressure on you, though, with Fortune.
FF: It does but I feel like my grandmother was the person who really instilled confidence in me and believed in me. She wanted me to be Fortune and a performer needs confidence and needs to be fearless so it just felt like a good fit.
GM: Did you grow up living with her or was she just nearby?
FF: She lived about two minutes from me so she was practically my second home. My mom was a single mom and a teacher so my grandmother very much played a big role in my upbringing.
GM: Is your last name pronounced Fee-mster or Fie-mster?
FF: It's Fee-mster. But it looks like Fie-mster.
GM: I saw you on Last Comic Standing. I watched that season. I really liked you.
FF: Oh cool.
GM: But it's so long ago, I forgot how they pronounced your name.
FF: Yeah, that was 2010.
GM: How long had you been doing standup to that point?
FF: I had only been doing standup two-and-a-half years when I did Last Comic Standing. So I was considered quite the novice.
GM: Yeah, that's ridiculous.
FF: People were like, Oh, you got robbed! I was like, Actually I didn't. I got an amazing opportunity very early on in standup to show people that I could tell jokes and could be funny, but I did not have the material to go any further than that. So they gave me such a platform and the perfect amount of time. Anything more than that would have been a disservice to me.
GM: You'd be like, 'I'm out of material, sorry!'
FF: Yeah, 'Guys, I got nothing!'
GM: 'Remember this one I did last week?'
FF: (laughs) Yeah.
GM: That's a good perspective. Did you realize that at the time? Or did that take some time to come to?
FF: I mean, you're always bummed in the moment when you want something and the goal is to continue to move forward. You're always bummed initially that that's the end of the journey but I realized very soon after that going any further would not have been good for me.
GM: It's a tough format for a comic because you don't get a lot of time and I guess it's heavily edited. It's hard to come across well even though everyone on there is funny. So it was impressive what you did, especially at such an early stage.
FF: It was nice, too, because they did a home visit on that show. They showed me being silly and showed me doing some of my characters. Because I came from sketch comedy, before standup. So they showed me doing some of those characters. So I think that helped people see my funny side as well, not just the standup.
GM: You did Groundlings before that, right?
FF: I had been in sketch comedy for about five years before I started standup. The comedy wasn't new to me; just the standup part.
GM: But some sketch and improv people can't make that transition.
FF: Yeah, it's not easy. I've seen a lot of people try to go from sketch comedy to standup and it's a whole different ball game when you're on a stage by yourself and you don't have props or wigs or other people to lean on or fall back on. It's just you and a microphone and a bunch of people staring at you wanting to make them laugh. It's not as easy as some people think it might be.
GM: Do you have a preference of the three: standup, sketch or improv?
FF: I mean, I love sketch and improv. It's something I don't get to do as much of anymore. I don't think I'd be as successful in standup had I not had that as a foundation but standup I definitely love the most just because you get to tell stories and really connect with an audience and just have a much more personal one-on-one connection. And with standup I get to travel all over the world. Sketch and improv was something I did very locally to LA.
GM: In your standup when you travel around, are you getting a large gay audience? I think you appeal across the board but I know that within communities, people want to support a fellow member, be it ethnically or sexually. And also because they relate.
FF: Oh yeah, for sure. I would say my audiences are about 60 percent straight people and about 40 percent gay people. So I definitely get support from both sides, which is nice. I never wanted to be a comedian that only appealed to one type of person, one group of people; I always wanted my comedy to be relatable to everybody. I get plenty of love from the gay community, which is really awesome, but thanks to Chelsea Handler and Mindy Kaling, I get a lot of straight audiences coming to my show as well. My shows talk about a lot of diverse things. Being gay is like a small part of my show. I certainly talk about it and I don't shy away from it, but the majority of my stories are, like, my family, about growing up in the south, about life, about stories that have happened to me. I find that straight girls, for instance, will come to the show and you can tell they kinda dragged their boyfriend along and the boyfriends are like, Who is this? and sitting there with their arms crossed. And most of the time, it's those guys who are the ones coming up to me after the show wanting to take a picture and talk about how much they loved the show. That's such a huge compliment to get.
GM: It's like the subject matter of being gay is more incidental in your act rather than the whole point of it. Is that accurate?
FF: Yeah, for sure. It's a part of who I am so I talk about it. But I'm a big girl so I talk about being a chubby comedian; I talk about being a woman but I also talk about, My mom does this thing that drives me crazy. And we all go through that, you know? Or, This is something my siblings and I used to get into as kids. I just tell stories that I think are funny and hope that people find them funny as well.
GM: And totally self-deprecating, too.
FF: Oh yeah. It's definitely a big part of my comedy because I just feel like I'm going to make the jokes about myself before you can, then we can get on an even playing field and go from there.
GM: You parents, you say, were Christian. Are they totally supportive or was it a rough transition?
FF: Oh yeah, I think from day one my family was very loving and very supportive and never questioned me. I never felt like they didn't support me. My mom, actually, is the president of PFLAG now in my hometown. It stands for Parents & Friends of Lesbian And Gay. She's actually a huge gay advocate. I get tweets all the time from people who've met my mom at rallies or gay prides or all that stuff. I'm super lucky.
GM: So they're not Trump supporters?
FF: (laughs) No, no, even though I'm from the south – North Carolina – my family has been Democrats for many, many generations. My great-grandmother – Minnie Fortune was her name – was the first person in Rutherford County in North Carolina elected to office. She ran as a Democrat. She had a cart that she went around in Rutherford County campaigning with her three kids. She was a widow. And she won and kept office for 23 years. So I come from a long line of Democrats.
GM: There are a lot of great women comics coming to the festival. You've only been at it for about ten years, but have you noticed a change for women in comedy at all?
FF: I definitely think there's more of them right now. There's a bigger platform. I think it's a good time to be a woman comic. It seems like more people are appreciating their comedy. I think they're getting more of a platform, getting a little more respect. So I think we're coming to a much better point.
GM: Did you have female role models in comedy or just any comic?
FF: I grew up watching reruns of The Carol Burnett Show so I never was under the impression that comedy was just for men or women. I just thought everyone did it. Then I started watching Saturday Night Live and some of the funniest people on the show to me were the Molly Shannons and Cheri Oteris, so I've always found women comedians to be hilarious. I didn't really notice a divide until I first got into comedy and then I was like, Oh, alright, it's a little bit tougher for a woman.
GM: How did you notice that?
FF: You could do a show and there'd be either no women on the show or maybe one. I mean, which still happens. You know, I'd like it to be a little more even but we're getting closer. It's not quite there yet but as long as we're getting closer, that's all that matters.
GM: Do you still have your SNL dreams or are they over?
FF: I definitely think that ship has sailed. I tested for them in 2009 and 2010. They flew me out both summers. I thought I had really good auditions. At the time, that was the dream and hoped that it would work out. They didn't pick me both summers and then six months after that second audition, Chelsea hired me and then I never submitted again. So I haven't thought much about it since.
GM: Well sorry to bring it up then!
FF: No, I mean, it's not a sore subject at all. I feel like there's only so many comedians who've gotten to even try that I was happy just to get the chance to go out there.
GM: I would think you'd be perfect on the show.
FF: I thought so, too! (laughs) But sometimes that stuff works out; sometimes it doesn't. But you never quite know why. But I feel like it's worked out because I love living in Los Angeles and I've gotten to do some really cool things since that I wouldn't have gotten to do otherwise.
GM: There you go. Positive outlook.
FF: I think also that's what people are drawn to my comedy for. I'm not a dark person or comedian. I try to always see the light at the end of every tunnel so my comedy comes from a happy place because I don't get bogged down with the sad stuff.
GM: I'll let you take your other interview now. If it's with a Vancouver paper, don't give them anything good, okay?
FF: (laughs) I won't! I just appreciate you spreading the word. Hopefully people will enjoy my stuff up there.
GM: Well, I will, I know. Okay, just give them yes or no answers.
FF: (laughs) I will.
GM: Alright, thanks.
FF: Thank you. Have a good day.