Amid the ruckus of zany characters in Orange Is the New Black, all with personalities turned up to 11 and enough neuroses to fill an entire season of Dr. Phil, it’s no wonder that the ferociously passionate viewers of the Netflix series have a soft spot for the calming presence of inmate Yoga Jones.
The feisty and Zen yoga instructor, endearingly inhabited by veteran actress Constance Shulman, is quickly becoming a fan favorite as Netflix subscribers discover and binge on the quirky prison drama’s 13 episodes. Comedian Patton Oswalt recently tweeted, “Yoga Jones is my spirit animal.” But as viewers delight in Shulman’s high-pitched, Dolly Parton drawl—like a glass of sweet tea for the ears—many are left with a nagging sense of familiarity after her scenes: Where have I heard her before?
The answer, all you kids of the ’90s, may blow your mind. Long before she brought Yoga Jones to life, Shulman was the voice of Patti Mayonnaise on Nickelodeon’s Doug.
Crazy, right? Shulman, 22 years after the first episode of Doug aired, knows you’re excited, too.
“I’m realizing it’s the 23-, 24-year-olds who grew up watching that show,” Shulman, now 55, tells The Daily Beast about getting recognized by young adults all the time as soon as she starts speaking (meanwhile this writer stifles an epic geek out that he’s TALKING TO PATTI MAYONNAISE ON THE PHONE). “Because it’s a show about—I’m not even sure how old we were—maybe 12-year-old kids. So I always think it’s 12-year-olds who are still watching, but I’ll have 25-year-olds come up and go, ‘Oh my God!’”
For almost an entire decade, Shulman voiced Patti Mayonnaise on different iterations of Doug—first on Nickelodeon, then on the Disney Channel and in a feature-length movie. She even spent four years as a spokesperson for Kraft mayonnaise. Recently, the series has been in reruns on Nick at Nite, introducing the show and its indelible characters to a brand-new audience.
Anyone who tuned into the show in the ’90s was instantly hooked, from the moment the theme song started playing. You see, we were all Doug Funnie and Patti Mayonnaise was our girl. She was the ultimate catch, for both guys and girls. She not only understood Doug and all his oddities and frantic goofiness, but actually embraced it. And with her unruly golden bob, girlie polka-dot shirt, and vague tomboyishness, she was the chick most girls would, if not want to be, at least want to be best friends with.
“Doug was somebody you just rooted for, and Patti Mayonnaise was this great tomboy girl,” Shulman says. “She was like a little mentor for young girls.”
A character actress for decades, Shulman broke out in the original off-Broadway cast of Steel Magnolias playing Annelle, the wallflower of a hairdresser made famous by Daryl Hannah in the 1989 film. More theater work followed, as did small parts in films like Fried Green Tomatoes. She co-starred in the short-lived drama The Faculty in 1996, but it was Patti Mayonnaise who dominated her life, until she took a break in 1999 to spend time raising her children, now 13 and 16. How, then, did Orange Is the New Black, her first major role in over a decade, come about?
“I was a really lucky person,” she says. Shulman had just contacted an agent friend to say she was ready to dip her toe back in the acting waters when a casting notice came across his desk for Yoga Jones, a role that, as anyone who’s seen Shulman’s performance on the series can tell you, fit her like a pair of Lululemons.
It’s not that Shulman is a compulsive yogi herself—though, she says, “if you live in New York, you’ve taken a yoga class or two, or you know someone that has.” It’s that she brings to Yoga Jones that signature cocktail—palpable big-heartedness with a dash of soothing zaniness—that made Patti Mayonnaise an icon.
That her delightfully colorful character is just one of the dozens popping out from beneath those boxy, beige prison uniforms on Orange Is the New Black, she thinks, is a huge testament to why the show is so popular.
“It’s unusual in the sense that it’s about women that are all different ages, different sizes, different colors,” she says. “They’re all trying to learn by the mistakes that they made. They have demons and dreams and vulnerable places. They’re trying to cope in an environment that’s very challenging. I think we’re all watching because we’re those people, too. Maybe we didn’t make the mistakes that they did, but we’re all walking on that line.”
Especially for the nostalgia-happy kids of the ’90s, it’s refreshing and comforting to know that the woman behind the voice of Patti Mayonnaise has landed on her feet after all these years. If Doug was still on today, would Miss Mayonnaise be doing the same?
Shulman would like to think so. “I hope that she and Doug would be together,” she says, “and they’d have lots of little salad-dressing kids.”