In the dingy parking lot of a small Los Angeles strip mall, Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael approach the red-brick wall of Jumbo’s Clown Room, a legendary exotic dance club that once employed Courtney Love as a stripper.
It’s 5 p.m. on a Monday and the bar is nearly empty, save for a few customers drinking in the crimson glow of the small room. Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” is blasting on the speakers. Jumbo’s Clown Room, it turns out, is the perfect place to meet the actresses; they first met years ago in a clown class while attending NYU, and they have a choreographed strip scene in the new buddy comedy they wrote and starred in, Ass Backwards, out Nov. 8.
“I just want to tell our listeners that a girl with a Halloween bodysuit just came out, which I appreciate for the holidays,” Wilson tells The Daily Beast.
Just moments earlier, she stepped out of a limo in a sleek black one-piece pantsuit, fresh from an interview on E!’s Chelsea Lately. The dive bar is a definite change, but one that suits her new role after a three-season stint as serial dater Penny on ABC’s Happy Endings wrapped in May. Raphael, now blond after her dramatic jet-black tresses in Ass Backwards, has appeared on a number of shows, including Burning Love, Parks and Recreation, and NTSF: SD: SUV, and the two penned 2009’s Bride Wars script together.
But the women were once struggling actresses, back when they lived in New York. Ass Backwards, one part Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and one part Dumb and Dumber, is loosely based on their shared history, though in real life they’re much more ambitious and intelligent. The film follows two best friends, Kate (Raphael) and Chloe (Wilson), who embark on a road trip from New York to their hometown for a chance to relive their child beauty pageant years—à la Toddlers & Tiaras—at a reunion. They’re clueless, directionless, and penniless, lost in what Wilson refers to as their “misguided early 20s.”
“We had no money, and all of the credit card stuff [in Ass Backwards] was absolutely how we were living,” says Raphael. “We knew our creditors by name…I would just turn on my phone in the morning and there would be a million messages from creditors, and I would be like, ‘Delete, delete, delete.’”
She recalls how the two once quit their jobs to clear their schedules for their “impending fame” when they were called in for a second audition, which later amounted to nothing. They were always overly supportive of each other, Raphael says, to the point where they became a little delusional, a feeling Kate and Chloe replicate in the movie. “The two of us were writing the movie when we were heavy deep into psychoanalysis and therapy,” Raphael says. “We love that idea of ‘even if it’s bad, you have to experience it.’”
Still, as serious as the underlying tones in the film appear, Ass Backwards is mostly a comedy. In the opening scene, Kate and Chloe are squatting by the side of the road, urinating, and their backsides are exposed. For Raphael and Wilson, it was one of the most memorable and embarrassing moments during shooting. Because the film was was produced on an indie budget, the actresses didn’t have a makeup trailer, but they still wanted to get their behinds touched up by the makeup department.
“We have some dignity,” Wilson says. “We’re not going to go out without having our asses made up.”
To get some privacy while they were being powdered, they put up towels over the windows of the 12-passenger crew van the team had been using. They were hunched over the chairs in the van and were “spread-eagle,” Wilson recalls, as a a bikini-clad Jumbo’s dancer writhes to “Bad to the Bone.” The towels kept falling down, so they were holding them up as people were driving by.
Raphael talks about their feminist approach to the film, noting how it combats the pretty girl syndrome of beauty pageants—and how ironic it is to describe when, in the background, a stripper on stage is sliding down the pole backward with her lucite stilettos in the air. The dancer gingerly waves her fingers at Wilson and Raphael. They scramble for a few dollars, and Raphael hands them over.
As women, Wilson and Raphael are the minority in the male-dominated comedy industry. Ass Backwards has been pegged as a “female buddy comedy,” while Raphael points out that people have never referred to The Hangover as a “male comedy”—it’s just a comedy. But the actresses aren’t fazed or offended in the least, though they get the occasional “What do you think about women being funny?” questions during interviews.
“I don’t mind whatever they call it, as long as they call it something,” Wilson says. “Let’s say it’s a ‘human comedy.’”
Perhaps it’s easier to take such things in stride when their careers in comedy are blossoming. Two comedy pilots they wrote were recently picked up by NBC and ABC, and Raphael will have a role in upcoming Anchorman 2 and costar with Vince Vaughn in Business Trip. Wilson, meanwhile, has been cast in the upcoming Gone Girl adaptation alongside Ben Affleck. These girls are moving on up.