The Comedians Star Megan Ferguson On The Women Who Make Her Laugh

Photo: Victoria Will.
On The Comedians, which premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on FX, Billy Crystal and Josh Gad play fairly horrible versions of themselves who are forced to band together for a new variety show on FX — the joke here being that the venerable Billy Crystal is sadly not enough of a draw in this day and age, and up-and-comer Josh Gad (here doing his most slovenly combination of Seth Rogen and the guys who aren't Vince on Entourage) will help Crystal pull in the eyeballs of us fickle young folks.

The half-hour meta-comedy is supposed to be a documentary of what happened when Crystal and Gad were forced together by the network, so it has 30 Rock's show-within-a-show element. It also takes cues from The Office, with talking-head confessionals and the usual workplace foibles. Many of the writers and other staff members become unwitting participants in the drama, which is where we meet Megan Ferguson's character Esme. 

Esme hates her job and isn't impressed with the razzle-dazzle showbusiness going on around her. On a show that's so much about two male egos, she's our chill and refreshing entry point. We spoke to Ferguson about her path to The Comedians, working with Billy Crystal, and the Southern gals who inspire her the most.

You live in L.A. now, but where were you before that?
"I was in New York doing just, like, great off-Broadway plays and terrible off-off Broadway ones. Acting and just being a drunk, early-20s human. Just really pushing all sorts of emotional and physical boundaries in New York, but I loved it."

Did you do any comedy there?
"The plays I did in New York were dark comedies, which I would say is my fave. The film and TV stuff I did is not necessarily comedy. I did Boardwalk Empire, playing a period prostitute, which I always play. I ended up more on a drama course, definitely out in the TV and film world from New York to L.A. I’m just coming back to comedy now, which is exciting."

What was it like meeting Billy Crystal?
"The first time [I] met him was in an audition room. There’s no audition room that’s not supremely awkward and unnatural experience. Even just where the chairs are facing. This one, I walk in, but everyone’s facing not where the door is, so everyone turns around just slightly to look at you. Then, you have to walk to the other side of the room...It’s like an obstacle course.

"So, it was just super quick. I basically blacked out. You walk in, and you’re like, ‘Oh hey, Billy Crystal, I’m gonna read a scene with you. What? Goodbye.’ Then, you go have an iced coffee. Then, we shot the pilot. We just did a screening for the cast last week, and I’m still shocked when Billy comes up and says hello. I’m like, ‘Billy Crystal knows who I am. Okay great, this is going well.’"

How would you describe The Comedians?
"It’s one of these meta shows that’s hard to describe. Billy and Josh play versions of themselves, so versions of two movie stars in a TV world that maybe isn’t ideal for their own egos. It’s like a very funny blend of Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Office, I’d say. It has that long, rolling, awkward style of Curb, and then we have the behind-the-scenes of an actual office world that The Office did so beautifully. If you like uncomfortable things on television, you’ll love it."
Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FX.
How would you describe your character?
"Esme is not the most dedicated to her job. She definitely wasn’t ever a cheerleader. Esme acts on the outside like I feel like most people feel on the inside at work, which is like, you don’t want to be there, and you have to talk to people you don’t really want to talk to. She doesn’t really have any respect for anyone working there, and she doesn’t hide that. It’s a fun one to play."

Where would she rather be?
"She doesn’t like comedy. I don’t think she likes working. I think Esme is interested in a world that doesn’t involve her working."

Steven Weber plays a transgender character on the show.
"Steven Weber is a magical human being, and, as it turns out, a beautiful woman. Which made me think a lot about how much testosterone comes into play in our aging process...It’s a surprise to everyone that [his character] has become a woman and then there’s a splash of jokes about now having to deal with a female [director]."

What message, if any, does The Comedians send about showbiz?
"I don’t think we’re a message show at all, but I do think it’s a peek behind the curtains that the business is ridiculous, especially for grown men in the sense of how seriously everyone takes themselves. They’re very funny about the ego of the business, and Billy and Josh do allow themselves to be lambasted. They allow themselves to be shown in a fictional unpleasant light that is also probably ringing true."

What are some of your favorite shows?
"I love Getting On. HBO does amazing ladies. I once told Niecy Nash's husband at the airport when she went to the bathroom that I loved her, and he was like, 'Um, yeah, me too.'"

Who are some of your favorite female characters?
"Amy Sedaris in everything. Goldie Hawn. I’m from Georgia. Delta Burke and Rue McClanahan probably shaped more of my vision of myself than they probably should have in Designing Women and Golden Girls. I definitely identified with those ladies at a young age. I love a strong, sassy, slightly-a-mess character on a woman."

The Comedians airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on FX.
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