April 5 (UPI) — The Mindy Project veteran Fortune Feimster, now starring in NBC’s Champions, said she is happy for the opportunity to show audiences “a normal gay person.”
The actress, writer and stand-up comedian said she didn’t see many gay and lesbian characters on TV when she was growing up in North Carolina, and the lack of representation contributed to her not coming out until the age of 25.
Feimster, born Emily Fortune Feimster, told UPI she hopes her work on The Mindy Project and Champions helps the LGBT community “to be more visible.”
“We live in a world now where there are gay people everywhere, and I think just showing people a normal gay person does all the good in the world,” she said. “Because a lot of the people who have fears about gay people, I’m pretty confident that they don’t know many gay people personally, or they haven’t been exposed to a lot of gay people on television or wherever.”
The comedian said being able to play characters that resemble her in real life feels less like a “responsibility” than a positive side effect of pursuing her interests.
“Hopefully by me being out and being comfortable with who I am, that can help somebody else and can serve as a good example,” she said.
Feimster’s NBC sitcom, Champions, airs its fourth episode Thursday night. Feimster plays Ruby, a feisty employee at the gym run by Vince Cooke, played by Workaholics veteran Anders Holm. She had about a month left of filming The Mindy Project’s final season when Champions creators Mindy Kaling and Charlie Grandy approached her about the new show.
“They showed me the pilot of Champions that they had shot and just told me that they were interested in creating a character to be part of the gym family and asked if I would be interested,” Feimster said. “And having worked with them on The Mindy Project and knowing what a great experience that was, and how they’re such amazing writers, I knew I would be in good hands, so it was kind of an easy transition for me.”
Feimster said it’s easy to draw parallels between Ruby and her Mindy Project character, Colette.
“I guess Ruby’s a little bit more aggressive, since she works at a gym, and so it’s kind of fun to be that wild character that just has a short fuse,” Feimster said. “But at the end of the day really loves the people she works with.”
Playing Ruby has offered her some fresh challenges. Episode 3 is Feimster’s favorite because her character goes undercover to a women’s gym called “Lumps.” The episode called for the actress to impersonate a stereotypical heterosexual housewife.
“That was really fun for me because as an actor I got to look different — they straightened my hair, put me in like mom blazers and button-ups, and my tone was a lot more demure and it was just kinda nice to step into a whole different character,” she said.
Feimster said she gets to connect with her audience in a more intimate way utilizing her other art form, stand-up comedy, which was recently featured in an episode of Netflix’s The Standups.
“We’re certainly not curing cancer over here, but the point is to make people feel good and to laugh and sort of give them some sort of break from the craziness of life and whatever hardship is happening at the time,” she said.
The cast of Champions are still awaiting confirmation of a second season, so Feimster said she is taking her stand-up act on the road during the break from filming.
“I never want to lose the live aspect of my career, because it’s super important to me to keep that muscle going,” she said. “I feel like once you walk away from it it’s hard to get the courage to come back, so I always want it to be a part of what I do.”
Feimster said her early comedy influences were shows like Saturday Night Live and The Carol Burnett Show, which sparked her interest in improv and sketch comedy.
“I always had an itch to do stand-up, but it seemed really hard and intimidating and I didn’t know if I had what it took to get up on stage and just be me and a microphone,” she said. “Eventually, a friend came to a sketch comedy show of mine and she said, ‘You really have a specific voice, I’m surprised you’re not doing stand-up.’”
Feimster said she ended up taking a stand-up comedy class, and by the end of the course she knew it was something she wanted to pursue.
“From then on I was doing like six shows a week, every single night I was dedicated to comedy. I just wanted to get as good as I could as fast as I could, so I just really threw myself into it,” she said.
She said stand-up comedy creates a unique bond between the performer and her audience.
“That’s something that actors don’t get to do as much, they don’t get to meet in-person the people that watch their shows,” she said. “And it’s so cool, ’cause like I meet so many nice people and people will tell you first-hand what your comedy means to them or if it’s helped them through some sort of hard time.”
Feimster said she learned a lot about the world of stand-up, as well as TV comedy, when she spent seven years working as as an entertainment writer during the day while cultivating her comedy skills at night.
“I would get to ask everybody questions and learn about how they got to be where they are, what it took to get there, and see the behind-the-scenes of what they were currently doing … and now there are people who I interviewed back in the day who I’ve worked with now … it’s very trippy,” she said.
The 37-year-old comedian is juggling several projects, including rewrites on a film she sold to Stephen Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, beginning work on another movie idea and “trying to get a book together.”
Feimster announced her engagement in February to Jacquelyn Smith, her partner of about two years. She said she met Smith through some friends at Chicago Pride Fest and they quickly made a connection that blossomed into a relationship.
“It just felt very comfortable right away, and, as lesbians do, we’ve pretty much been together ever since,” she said.
She said her fiancee’s profession as a kindergarten teacher comes in unexpectedly handy at home.
“What’s funny is that I think I remind her sometimes of her kindergarten students,” Feimster laughed. “I have a very silly nature, and I’m the baby of my family, so sometimes she has to tell me to clean up after myself or wash my hands or not talk with a mouthful of food — as you would a kindergartner. So it hasn’t been much of a stretch for her.”
Feimster has been cultivating her presence on social media, where she has become infamous for the many variations of her “ice cream dance.” She said the dance originated during a trip to Walt Disney World with fellow comedy actor and close friend Jillian Bell.
“We got some ice cream and the parade started and there was all this music playing, so I just started dancing and eating ice cream,” she said. “I guess Jillian and her sister thought it was just such a naturally joyous thing to be watching a parade, listening to music and eating ice cream that they filmed it.”
Feimster posted the video to Instagram, where she was shocked at the reception it received from fans who asked her to do more videos in the same vein.
“It’s taken on a life of its own, I never danced to promote an ice cream or a store, I was just getting a little ice cream and dancing, and now ice cream companies are sending me ice cream! It’s pretty crazy,” she said.
Champions airs Thursday nights on NBC and streams the following day on Hulu. For comedy tour dates, visit FortuneFeimster.com