By Irene Neuwirth, photography by Ramona Rosales/AUGUST By Irene Neuwirth, photography by Ramona Rosales/AUGUST | June 20, 2019 | People Feature
Whether on TV or in her epic Instagram stories, Oak Park-born actress, author, talk show host and social media powerhouse Busy Philipps is on a mission to make the world a better place—and we can’t stop watching.
Busy Philipps has been stealing scenes for 20 years, playing memorable characters on everything from Freaks and Geeks and Dawson's Creek to Cougar Town, Vice Principals and I Feel Pretty. But with her recent emergences as a bestselling author, talk show host and Instagrammer extraordinaire, Philipps' most impactful role is turning out to be Busy Philipps herself. Outspoken, hilarious and unabashedly vulnerable, she speaks her truth at every turn, laughs and cries, and takes her devoted audience along for the ride. As Philipps reflects on the experience of her talk show Busy Tonight, she recently caught up with bestie and star jewelry designer Irene Neuwirth to dish on favorite guests, killer cheeseburgers and the flight attendant story that just won't go away.
Irene Neuwirth: Hi, Biz! I haven’t seen you in so long.
Busy Philipps: I do miss you—it’s sad to me that you live so far away, aka Venice.
IN: I know. Twenty-five minutes. It’s really far, though.
BP: No, it’s like an hour. Too far.
IN: So let’s talk about fun stuff.
BP: Let’s talk about work. Do you sell at Barneys in Chicago?
IN: I do. I sell to Barneys and to Neapolitan in Winnetka. Here’s the most important question about Chicago, though: Have you been to Au Cheval for a cheeseburger?
BP: I don’t think I have. That’s the place they opened in New York, right?
IN: Yes. That’s one of the main reasons to go to Chicago, for the cheeseburger at Au Cheval.
BP: Wait, will you come with me to my cover party and we’ll get cheeseburgers?
IN: Yes. Should we make this entire interview about cheeseburgers in Chicago?
BP: The best thing about Irene is that you make the most beautiful high-end jewelry and you’re one of the classiest women around and people aspire to be like you, but you really just get down for a cheeseburger.
IN: A cheeseburger and riding horses—that’s my whole life. Anyway, we’re going to talk a little bit about your show. Who have been your favorite guests?
BP: In the 104 episodes that I did in six months—I know, it’s crazy—we had so many incredible people. The Lizzo episode was amazing because it was right before her album came out, and I just felt that energy you get from someone when it’s literally about to all happen for them. So sitting down with her two days before the album came out—and then of course it went to number one and it was such a big moment in her career—it was just really, really fun.
IN: After that you called me and were like, ‘You have to listen to the new album.’
BP: I’m obsessed with it. She’s a game changer. Also, I had most of the women from the movie Wine Country: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Paula Pell, Ana Gasteyer and Maya Rudolph. For me, as a woman who has been in comedy, growing up I was watching all of those women performing on SNL and writing for SNL, so it was a surreal moment to be able to sit on a couch with them and chat.
IN: I saw that it’s on Netflix. I had been out of town, so I sat and watched Netflix last night. I watched all of The Ted Bundy Tapes and then called my neighbors in the middle of the night and was like, ‘Do you hear someone knocking on the door?’ Don’t watch The Ted Bundy Tapes while you’re home alone.
BP: First of all, I wouldn’t anyway because I don’t like to be scared. But you have to watch Dead to Me with Linda Cardellini. It’s so good.
IN: I heard it’s great. All right, let’s keep going. So you’re a mom, you’re an actress, you’re a bestselling author—I loved your book so much—a talk show host... How would you define yourself as an artist?
BP: The word ‘creator’ gets thrown around a lot in terms of a content creator, but I do consider myself someone who wants to create things—all different types of things in different ways. I definitely want to create human beings in my daughters that add value and put good into the world. Artistically speaking, I think my mission is the same: to figure out a way to put good into the world through art and stories, but also things that follow my ideology of the best and most compassionate way that the world can be. I think that’s what storytelling does. It doesn’t have to hit you over the head or be in your face—messaging can be subversive and you can put ideas into the world that need to be in the mainstream. The only reason I wanted to do a talk show was that I clearly saw a disparity in that women weren’t given a voice in late-night television. I think it’s important for all types of voices to be heard in as many different ways as possible.
IN: Absolutely. At the beginning when you started becoming a big presence on Instagram, we were all like, ‘Busy...,’ but [in my work travel] I would meet all these different women who were so connected to your message. It very quickly became noticeable that it was an amazing outlet to spread the word, and then when you did your talk show it was just the next dimension of that.
BP: It was an extension of what I first tapped into in the Instagram stories—that it’s a way to connect to an audience that was being underserved or overlooked and who weren’t feeling seen or heard in the media that was being given to them. I think that’s why people have looked to online content. At its best, the internet and social media provide a real space for connection, for all different women from literally around the world to feel connected to me, because I share my struggles with anxiety or more traumatic experiences that happened to me...
IN: Or something silly like being locked out of your house.
BP: Exactly. Or my kids not eating anything except for pasta and bread.
IN: It’s been an amazing thing to watch, your star rising. I’ll never forget when we were on our way to Mexico.
BP: The flight attendant? You love the flight attendant story.
IN: I’m just going to have to tell it. Busy and I were flying to Mexico with her husband, Mark, and we both went to the back of the plane to go to the bathroom at the same time, and the flight attendant was like, ‘Oh, Busy, I’m such a fan.’ And the gentleman flight attendant says, ‘What are you talking about?’ And she goes, ‘She’s an actress.’ And he goes, ‘No, she’s not.’ And she says, ‘No, she’s famous.’ And he’s like, ‘No, she’s not.’ We laughed so hard about it for hours—about how he was willing to go to bat to prove that Busy was not an actress and not famous.
BP: And he was like angry about it. ‘Oh, right. She’s famous.’ in: ‘Sure. She’s famous. I believe it zero.’ And then cut to however many years later—that was 12 or 13 years ago—and even before your talk show, you created this amazing social media presence and you couldn’t walk anywhere without 20 people recognizing you and so many people being moved by what you say. It’s been a complete joy to watch from the sidelines, I have to say. So happy for you.
BP: That is super nice. We should find that flight attendant. How do we track him down? Now he’s like my number-one fan. I took the girls to Disneyland yesterday for Mother’s Day, and Birdie, my daughter, got freaked out because the difference even since the last time we were there [was so dramatic]. People were taking pictures of us and [calling out] at me, and it was weirdly overwhelming and not truly a thing that I feel like I want or even signed up for.
IN: The coolest thing is that people feel a real connection to you as a person—it’s not a character that you play. That’s the unusual thing that you have. It’s your superpower.
BP: That’s what I said to Birdie yesterday. I was like, ‘I know it’s tough for you to have to share your mom with everybody, and that people think they know you and your sister and your dad—but at some point I think you’ll understand better that it’s a positive thing that people feel towards me. It’s not negative and it shouldn’t be scary.’ If it does feel scary for her I get it, because it’s weird. But it’s also nice that people feel connected to me, because I’m a person who’s also always wanted to feel connected to everyone else.
IN: Absolutely. What have you enjoyed most about hosting your show?
BP: The creative control—building the show with Caissie St. Onge, my showrunner, and Tina Fey and [her production company] Little Stranger, and figuring out what we wanted it to be. Talk shows can be a drag for actors and performers to do, because they have to do it as part of their job. And especially on the big talk shows, you’re given four minutes, you have to tell two stories, you want to shine, make sure you get a laugh, and it’s a lot of pressure for performers who are already on huge press tours and are sick of talking about [their projects]. So my goal was to have it be less of that and more just a real conversation and a connection with the person. Sometimes I would get people coming in, like Isla Fisher—I’ve known her for a long time, and she came in to do the show and was like, ‘Honey, I’ve been doing press all day, and I don’t even know if I have anything for you.’ And I was like, ‘Don’t worry, no pressure. Go into the green room, chill out, we’ll get you whatever you want.’ And she came out and we sat and chatted and when she left, she was like, ‘Can I just thank you? I’m in such a good mood now. That changed everything.’ The amount of talent that has had that feedback for me or our producers or the network, it’s been wild. People genuinely have a good time and feel seen and heard on my show. I’m not changing the world, but I [put] some good stuff into it, you know what I mean?
IN: That’s amazing. So what’s your connection to Chicago?
BP: I was born there—both my parents and their families have been in the Chicago area for generations. When my dad was in the Navy, my mom and dad lived in Hawaii for the early part of their marriage and then moved back to the [mainland] outside of Chicago, where I was born at Oak Park Hospital. I lived in Oak Park until I was going into first grade; then my dad’s job transferred him to Arizona, so I went to Scottsdale at 5 or 6. But my grandparents all live in the Oak Park and River Forest area, my aunts and uncles live all around Chicago, my cousins, great aunts and uncles—all my family is still there. We would go back to Chicago every summer growing up for at least a month or two.
IN: So what you’re telling me is there’s absolutely no excuse that you haven’t been to Au Cheval.
BP: Truthfully since my girls were born and my grandparents passed away, it’s been harder for me to get back. I went on my book tour and I saw my great aunt [before she passed away], which was really special. I love Chicago so much. It’s such a part of who I am because it’s my entire family. And can I say this one thing that I think is funny? When people do impressions of me, it annoys me because they do this straight Valley Girl vocal fry and they don’t get the hard A’s that I have, which is my Chicago accent. My voice is very specific and I know it’s not for everyone, but the truth is I have the Valley Girl vocal fry thing, obviously, but I also have a slight Chicago/Midwestern accent, which is what makes it different.
IN: You do not.
BP: Yes, I do! I say hard A’s. I say ‘my mom.’ Mom. Mom. Mom.
IN: [laughing] OK, I hear it now. So, last question: What are you going to be doing in 10 years?
BP: I’m probably going to be running some kind of streaming service—a content-creator thing. I’m not kidding. I’m going to take over and just start running shit, because I can’t deal with the way Hollywood runs.
IN: I get it. I think that’s a great plan.
Photography by: PHOTOGRAPHY BY RAMONA ROSALES/AUGUST