Chelsea Peretti plays a first-time director in her directorial debut: “First Time Female Director.”
The film premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival takes an acutely meta premise in lampooning the tumultuous experience of an inexperienced woman brought in to a direct a play at a small, local theater in Glendale, California, after its original male director is accused of misconduct.
In one scene, while Peretti's character bangs a trash can lid and shouts “Learn your blocking,” a cast member grumbles, “We replaced a predator with a female disaster.”
Things went far smoother for Peretti, the 45-year-old comedian and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star, during her first time behind the camera. “First Time Female Director," which is up for sale at Tribeca, brings together a cast of funny people, including Megan Mullally, Kate Berlant, Andy Richter and Megan Stalter, along with cameos from Amy Poehler (a producer) and Peretti's husband, Jordan Peele.
“It was like a crazy summer camp as an adult,” Peretti says.
“First Time Female Director” takes a satire of small-town theater and puts it in the context of a post-#MeToo entertainment world. For Peretti, it was a way to make something unabashedly silly with a little commentary on some of the shifts she's experienced in recent years in Hollywood, she told The Associated Press in an interview.
AP: Where did the idea for this begin?
PERETTI: Weirdly, it started from me as sort of challenging myself to come up with something by booking a UCB slot years ago, and just forcing myself. I wanted to do a fake excerpt from a play. And I thought it would be funny to then have like a pretentious Q&A about it with the cast, and act like we’re a theater group and this is part of a real play. I went to so much theater as a young person. I was very intimately a lover of theater. But also, anything I love is also fair game to make fun of.
AP: In the upheaval of the entertainment industry in the wake of #MeToo, were there things in how Hollywood responded that struck you as funny?
PERETTI: Well, 100%. I think some things have felt like they moved so fast. Most of my career there was an absolute misogynistic tone in the response to what I was doing. And then one day all of a sudden there was shock and pearl clutching that these things are happening. And I’m like: “Where were you for the last 20 years? Where were you for all my YouTube comments that I’ve endured?” It's been such a whirlwind that I was trying to process it in this project.
AP: A few years ago on “Conan,” you joked about noticing an uptick in the audience for your stand-up special because viewers were looking for comedy from “people who aren’t rapists.”
PERETTI: I do remember saying that. There were so many comedians that were outed for varying levels of horrific misogyny that I started really contemplating the last 20 years of my life, going: “Wow, I was trying to get a pat on the head from a lot of these people. I was being told to emulate half these people.” It was a revelation and it’s been so inspiring, people like Megan Stalter who are this younger generation. I was told never dress sexy when you’re doing stand-up. I’m watching all these younger women break all these rules and having the time of their lives. That's the way to do it, you know? So it’s been such a period of reflection. And obviously the pandemic was this pause button in which you could really reflect on, “Wow, I was on a sitcom! That's cool.” And: “Whoa, my stand-up life was tumultuous in many ways.”
AP: You kind of hold a funhouse mirror up that tumult in “First Time Film Director." Even what the audiences in the film cheer for is kind of a joke.
PERETTI: When I started stand-up, I was told the audience is never wrong. And I have to say I disagree. I think the audience is wrong sometimes. I remember going to Carolines on Broadway and having a joke that I was really excited to work on and going up and just absolutely bombing. Now, probably that was my fault. But then I remember a guy going up after me and doing a bit about double-sided dildos and just destroying. I was going: “I don’t know if they are right.” Andy Warhol was right that everyone’s famous now. All these comedians have podcast empires. Everyone is preaching to their own choir in a way.
AP: Yet instead of skewering some of the male comedians you were thinking about, you mostly make fun of yourself in the film.
PERETTI: (Laughs) Well, this is a recurring theme for me. Like, it’s not fun satirizing Trump. It's more fun satirizing people that you know intimately and love. I would have a really hard time like writing about a businessman. Speaking of another adage, write what you know. I know self-doubt. I know failure. I know feeling like people don’t like me.
AP: But I gather your experience directing went better than your character's?
PERETTI: I really loved it. I often feel that, when you’re being directed as a comedy actor, that directors try to keep you in line a little bit. Like, if you have a big idea, they almost want you to rein it in. When some of these actors on this movie had ideas, I was like: “Let’s do it!” And so many of them were brilliant. As a rule, every comedian I know holds these strange obsessions. Heather Lawless was like: “Can I have Band-aids on my finger when I’m driving?” And Jermaine Fowler was like, “Can I roll around in a pile of cords?” And I’m like, “Yeah!” I just love saying yes to people.
AP: You seem quite game to try new things, like film directing, or making a coffee-themed concept album.
PERETTI: Sometimes before doing standup, I get really anxious a lot of times, especially in new venues. And I would be backstage and I just go, “F—- it.” I feel like you just have to have this part of you that says, “F—- it.” I always want to be like trying new things and I always want to be growing. That’s the fun of being creative to me. And that doesn’t mean that all these ideas work. But I love spontaneity and following inspiration and seeing what happens.