Ali Wentworth knows a thing or two about life on a late-night talk show.
The In Living Color veteran was practically a regular on The Tonight Show during the Jay Leno era, appearing more than 100 times. She also has served as guest co-host on The View and has been a guest on practically every other TV talker at least once over the years.
“To me, the humor on these shows isn’t what happens when the celebrities are onstage being interviewed and sticking to their talking points,” Wentworth says. “The real comedy is the stuff that viewers never get to see, everything that goes on backstage. It’s a fascinating world.”
The insanity she witnessed — much of it courtesy of over-the-top celebrity behavior — led to the creation of her new TV series, Nightcap.
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The star-studded scripted comedy, which opens with back-to-back episodes at 7 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on Pop, goes behind the scenes of a fictional fifth-rated talk show called Nightcap With Jimmy.
Wentworth, who is co-creator and co-executive producer of Nightcap, also stars as the show’s stressed-to-the-max talent booker. Every hour of every day, Staci races about in a dozen directions at the same time, trying to extinguish grease fires with gasoline.
We chatted with the funny lady last week about the show, which already has snagged a Season 2 commitment from the fledgling cable channel.
Before we talk about your make-believe talk show, can you give us a taste of the crazy things you’ve seen happen on real talk shows?
I saw some pretty crazy stuff. I saw a male movie star who had about 100 pairs of the exact same jeans and 100 of the exact same T-shirt trying to decide which to wear for the one show.
I remember the rock star and the publicist who were clearly having relations in the dressing room and the door was locked and nobody could get them out when he was supposed to go onstage.
I’ve seen crazy wardrobe malfunctions, people throwing hairbrushes at their hair and makeup people. And all the while, everybody surrounding these celebrities are fawning all over them.
Your impressive lineup of celebs includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Rudd, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kelly Ripa and Whoopi Goldberg. Was it hard to get them, especially when they’re asked to play not-so-lovable versions of themselves? Or was self-parody part of the appeal?
Oh, it’s definitely appealing to them. Every celebrity that came on, they loved becoming crazy versions of themselves. Our show is a place for everybody to come and play.
Gwyneth Paltrow, for example, comes on Nightcap With Jimmy and turns out to be a thief and just an all-around filthy person. We rewrote her script as she was flying to New York to shoot, because we thought, “She should just make fun of all the stuff that she gets flak for.” She had a ball doing it.
We hear that one guest in particular, George Stephanopoulos, was a complete nightmare on the set. A total diva. Very demanding. Condescending to everyone. True?
You wouldn’t believe it! I’m going to write an episode called “Nightmare Guest” and it will be loosely based on him. The demands for white orchids and white candles. The fact that nobody was allowed to look at him. It was brutal!
(Note: Stephanopoulos is Wentworth’s husband.)
Are talent bookers like Staci the unsung heroes on these shows?
That’s giving them way too much credit. More often they tend to be very high-strung and incredibly stressed-out. And the pressure they’re feeling comes from both sides.
They get it not only from the celebrity and the publicist and everybody surrounding the celebrity, but also from the talk show host who believes the show will go on only if they get the very best guests.
What do you most hope viewers will get out of the show? Is Nightcap strictly about delivering a half-hour of laughs or is there an additional takeaway?
First of all, I want people to laugh really hard. But there’s also something I’m fascinated with: the celebrity obsession that we have in our culture. I think it’s fun to take that down a notch.
What I mean by that is, listen, I have two girls who, for better of worse, want to be the Kardashians. So I kind of like the idea of saying, “Yes, we worship these people, but let’s really look at them. They’re all flawed. They’re just like us.”
So the show isn’t just poking fun at the celebrities. It’s also making fun of why we worship them.
- 7 p.m. Wednesday