Comedians Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome fell in love in Africa. Professionally, at least.
The popular stand-ups and actresses had known each other for years—both performed with the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles and have run in the same comedy circles—when they found themselves sort-of stranded together for four days in Senegal.
They were supposed to be met there by Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, and Ed Helms, and the group would make comedy videos and perform together as part of the organization Malaria No More. But the men’s flight got diverted and Leggero and Lindhome were left to sweat it out—literally, it was well over 100 degrees—alone.
They began bonding about their careers. “We both noticed we had like 90 credits each on iMDB, and then Riki was like, ‘How many of those have you been in the that you really think are funny?’” Leggero tells The Daily Beast. “I was like, ‘Uh…maybe one or two?’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, me too.’”
Rudely awakened, the two made a pledge to write their own project together. Leggero had two pitches at the ready: one titled Dumb, a faux reality show about the stupidest girls in the world, and another about the richest people in America at the turn of the 20th century. It was Lindhome’s idea to combine the two, and Another Period was born.
Now in its second season on Comedy Central, Another Period is, in shorthand, Downton Abbey meets the Kardashians: a reality show satire of fame-obsessed sisters Lillian (played by Leggero) and Beatrice (Lindhome) in Newport, Rhode Island, at the height of the Gilded Age.
At an age when bustles and corsets were the original waist-trainers and a fleet of “downstairs” servants predated stylists and personal assistants, Lillian and Beatrice’s insatiable upward mobility proves that everything old is new again—fame-whoring in America long predated Instagram likes and Us Weekly photo ops.
“The idea of people trying to get famous at the turn of the century in the same way that they try to get famous now is just funny to us,” Leggero says. In the show’s first episode, Lillian Abigail Hitler Bellacourt introduces herself as the “pretty, smart, funny, ambitious, nice body, soon-to-be-famous one.” Beatrice Tiffani Amber Thiessen Bellacourt: “I’m the pretty one.”
Lillian and Beatrice learn that their best friends have died, meaning there are two slots available in the Newport 400, the Who’s Who list of 400 of the most important white people in all of America, and they want in. But when Helen Keller crashes their luncheon, the girls become jealous of the blind-deaf-mute icon’s attention-stealing and get in a catfight with her.
The tagline for season two, which launched in June with an episode titled “Tubman” and airs Wednesdays, is “Turnt of the Century.”
“Everything is just sort of turned up,” Leggero says. “In our premiere last year we got into a fight with Helen Keller. This year Harriet Tubman comes and is a branding expert. She’s sort of like Oprah and is all about the brand. She teaches us how to brand ourselves.”
And so Lillian, upon meeting the Underground Railroad trailblazer, tells Tubman, “We’d like to become famous like you are but still young and pretty like we are.”
Leggero, as she’s honed doing 15 years of stand-up and performing, is a master at playing entitled delusion, a comedic delivery that cuts the more egregious un-P.C. elements of Another Period’s satire. (“She oughtta free herself from that burlap sack around her head,” is another of Lillian’s choice impressions of Tubman.)
“I think I’ve always just had a natural disdain for things I didn’t find to be at a high level,” Legerro says, pegging her predilection for playing that mindset to a childhood performance as a mean and heartless young Estella in Great Expectations. “It’s not like I truly believe I’m better than everybody. I just like to set a high standard.”
The joke behind Lillian: she thinks she has that standard, that taste, but she really doesn’t.
Setting the show in 1902 Newport turned out to be a fountain of comedy as well, which Leggero and Lindhome learned during their research trips to the area. The 1920s is so often portrayed in American pop culture, and the decade between 1902 and 1912 has been explored in British shows like Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey. But the duo found that decade in American history to be surprisingly fascinating.
Whereas the richest of the rich in the Gilded Age descended from royalty or family money in the U.K., “in America they were like fur trappers,” Leggero says. “They’d get all this money and they were, like, living like rappers.”
But really. On one visit to a Newport mansion, Leggero discovered a massive ballroom meant to seat 400 people and the entire ceiling was tortoise shell, made from rare tortoise. “They had to kill all these little tiny turtles for it,” she says. “Then the only way to glue it to the ceiling is this glue that’s made from killing rabbits.”
It’s not just art that’s getting its inspiration from trips to Newport, though. On a recent writing trip to the town with her husband of six months, comedian Moshe Kasher, they heard about a couple who got married in their twenties and went on a 10-year honeymoon. When they came back, they had three kids.
“So I was thinking why can’t our honeymoon last?” Leggero says. Following suit, she and Kasher have been on the road on their Honeymoon Tour, which will continue in the Midwest in early spring.
It’s a familiar place for Leggero, though this time, in the spirit of honeymoons, she and Kasher are only doing their favorite destination cities.
Her longevity in the business—she might be best known for her time on Chelsea Handler’s Chelsea Lately panel, her role in the Bachelor-spoof web series Burning Love, and her sets at Comedy Central roasts for the likes of James Franco and Justin Bieber—has given her added perspective to Another Period’s success. Particularly its role in the conversation about Comedy Central’s recent embrace of female-driven comedy and perspective, alongside Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City.
“When I started stand-up, I remember the manager I had at the time was like, ‘No stand-up has gotten their own show since the ‘80s,’ like since Brett Butler,” Leggero says. “So the fact that we’re in this era where not only are comedians are getting shows but female comedians are getting shows, I feel very lucky to be 15 years in when that happens.”
If Another Period was born out of her and Lindhome’s frustration over the quality of the on-screen gigs they’ve had that are actually funny, it makes the existence of Another Period all the sweeter for them, too.
“When I’ve pitched shows before it was like, ‘People are looking for this! People are looking for that!’” she remembers. “‘They want workplace comedies! Friends hanging out!’ Everyone’s got a different idea each year of what the networks want. So it’s exciting to do something that’s just a collaboration of your own comedic ideas that isn’t necessarily what people thought they wanted.”
Proof of that is also in the spate of comedic performers who have clamored to be a part of Another Period, from regular characters played by Christina Hendricks, Michael Ian Black, Jason Ritter, David Wain, David Koechner, and Paget Brewster to recurring and guest spots by Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Missi Pyle, Thomas Lennon, and, this season, Andrew Rannells and Joss Whedon.
“It’s a chance to do a period comedy on TV, which you don’t get a lot of chances to do,” Leggero says. “How many times do you get to play the friend on a network show? That gets boring.”
And the first thing every rising star knows, whether in the Gilded Age or the Age of Kardashian: one should never be boring.