The Tess Rafferty Interview

November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving is just hours away, so I thought today would be an excellent day for a cooking-related interview. Fans of The Soup may recognize Tess Rafferty from her occasional appearances on the show, most famously as the dancing maxi pad. But recently the comedian and writer published her first book, Recipes for Disaster, a memoir described as "what’d you’d read if Bridget Jones wrote a culinary memoir." You can learn much more about her here.  

Working at The Soup seems like the ultimate dream job to some. But what were some of the less-fun aspects of watching lots of TV and writing jokes about it for a living?
Have you ever heard the parenting tip that if you catch your kid smoking a cigarette you make them smoke a whole pack so they never want to smoke again? That’s what watching reality TV for a living is like. When I started on the show I offered to cover a lot of shows because I was already watching them anyway. By the end of it, I was yelling at my husband to turn off the TV if I caught him watching The Real World on one of my weeks off.

Also, reality TV has changed a lot in the time I was on the show. It started out as something that resembled reality and then became, “Oh no. Kim Kardashian wants help picking out the color of her Bentley and her sisters don’t care. What’s going to happen?” Also, too much of it became The Real Bad Girl Wives Club of the Who Cares? — just a bunch of women yelling at each other with a bad soundtrack and constant bleeps. It’s seizure inducing. I had to put a wallet in my mouth just to watch it.

Who were some of your favorite guest stars to appear on The Soup?
Wendi McLendon-Covey and Rob Corddry blew me away. They both so talented, and they hung out with the writers afterwards and told us how great the show was, which was such a huge compliment. Seth Green was a frequent guest and always up for anything. And Yvette Nicole Brown always knocked whatever we gave her out of the park, always asked who wrote it and sent us Lollicakes afterwards. So basically anyone talented who kissed our asses and fed us. Writers are insecure people and we like sweets.

What kinds of memorable responses did the show receive from the people it made fun of?
We featured a clip of someone who had that adult baby fetish and they later wrote someone on the show and told them to check out their blog, which detailed their experiences trying to potty train themselves.

How did writing for TV and standup help you write the book?
The Soup was like boot camp: One of the best joke writers I know described it as throwing a hundred pitches in a row. Writing jokes every day, 49 weeks a year, then thinking of jokes on the fly, really helps you be quick about what you’re writing and not overthink things or second guess yourself. I don’t get scared about sitting down and starting something anymore. And when I wrote Recipes for Disaster, I couldn’t afford to. I was still at The Soup full time and had to write the book at night and on the weekend. Also, being stand up gave me what I think is a very conversational tone when I write.

Recipes for Disaster is a culinary memoir. What’s the biggest dinner party challenge you've ever set up for yourself?
I served a three-course dinner, of which two courses were fresh, homemade pasta. I wanted to make ravioli and serve it in a brodo but decided we needed a protein course, too. So I made boeuf bourguignon and thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to serve it over homemade fettuccine?” I have different definitions of fun from everyone else, I guess. I spent much of the day before covered in flour, rolling out pasta and making frantic calls to a chef friend, trying to figure out the best way to store the pasta without having it dry out or get too gooey.

What’s your go-to dish when you want to impress your guests without trying very hard?
Lately I’ve been making a Coq au Vin, which always tastes great, but is also easy enough that I make it on week nights for just me and my husband. But when guests come over I cook it with pancetta.

What’s the key to a good roast joke? 
Writing about the same targets day after day, I always looked for a detail about someone’s life that hadn’t been talked about yet and tried to find the funny or unexpected in that. Roasts are fun because you can be inappropriate and hard hitting, but you have to back that up with something just as funny and shocking — otherwise you’re just writing mean, stupid things about people. 

Here are three of my faves that aren’t also too filthy to print, from my first roast of Roseanne. I was really honored to be part of it, having been such a fan of roasts for years:

“Roseanne, of course you were attracted to Tom Arnold. You thought with all of that powder on his upper lip, there must be a donut somewhere.”

“Roseanne you’ve butted heads with writers, producers and executives. You’ve given more Jews upset stomachs than lactose.”

“Roseanne, you old hippie broad, I can’t believe you’re still on Twitter now that you know hashtags don’t tell you how much the hash costs.”

How does it feel to be the 331st person interviewed for Zulkey.com/WBEZ?
I feel like that’s a very lucky number because it’s one less than the amount of electoral college votes Obama got in the election. So it’s like an Obama landslide minus Delaware or Rhode Island. [Editor's Note: Due to the timing of publication, Rafferty was actually Interview no. 332  or, the Obama landslide with Delaware or Rhode Island.]

Read an extended version of my interview with Rafferty here

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