Retta: Tweet Yo' Self Retta reflects on trading her career in chemistry for comedy, her "crazy" audition for Parks And Recreation, and what she loves about portraying a fully-realized character on Good Girls.
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Retta: Tweet Yo' Self

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Retta: Tweet Yo' Self

Retta: Tweet Yo' Self

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JONATHAN COULTON: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Jonathan Coulton. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.

(CHEERING)

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Thank you, Jonathan. It's time to welcome our special guest. You know her as Donna from the sitcom "Parks And Recreation," and she currently stars as Ruby on NBC's "Good Girls." Please welcome Retta.

(CHEERING)

EISENBERG: Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER, Retta.

RETTA: Thank you.

EISENBERG: Now, Retta, you were on "Parks And Recreation"...

RETTA: I was.

EISENBERG: ...Which was...

(CHEERING)

RETTA: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Yes. yes. "Parks And Recreation" was a sitcom set in a fictional town in Indiana and follows local government municipal workers. You played Donna Meagle, the office manager. Now, you auditioned for this show.

RETTA: I did.

EISENBERG: But the creator, Mike Schur, said that he really got into you because of a off-the-cuff story you told about your watch?

RETTA: Yes. Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: So I hate auditioning. So there was an audition. I did, you know, read from sides or whatever. And then afterwards, he just started chatting. He's like, I like your watch. And I had just gotten the watch, was super geeked on the new watch.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

RETTA: I'd gotten it from this website Gilt Groupe. But it was brand-new at the time, so you had to be invited. So I immediately was like, oh, my God. So I got it from Gilt Groupe. It's this new thing. You have to be invited. I can invite you. You give me your email. I can send it to you, and then you can order some. These are very - they're toy watches. They're very - and I was like a crazy person. And I think he was like, she's insane. I love her.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: If my audition wasn't great, I redeemed myself with my crazy.

EISENBERG: But that's interesting you say that because it is that thing. At least you can - you walk away and you're like, I was myself.

RETTA: Right.

EISENBERG: And that's...

RETTA: Right.

EISENBERG: ...What matters.

RETTA: 'Cause that's the hardest thing - is to be yourself at an audition. It's really hard. You usually come in. You're so scared, and then they're like, I don't want to work with this freak...

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: ...You know, this person who's not comfortable in their own skin. So you had to kind of learn to be yourself.

EISENBERG: It's impossible.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Now, the cast and creator of "Parks And Rec" recently gathered for a 10th anniversary celebration at PaleyFest, which is this big television festival. And you wore a dress, a pink custom dress, with treat yourself, your catchphrase, written all over it.

RETTA: Yes.

EISENBERG: Was this your idea?

RETTA: Yes.

(LAUGHTER, CHEERING)

EISENBERG: So - and treat yourself, obviously, has become a huge Instagram hashtag, right?

RETTA: Yeah, it's everywhere.

EISENBERG: Four-point-three-million people use that hashtag.

RETTA: Oh, yeah. It's pretty pervasive. I mean, it's pretty cool to, you know, be a part of the zeitgeist. When it first started getting really, really popular, I would go to lunch with friends, and I'd be like, if we check the hashtag #treatyourself on Twitter, if it hasn't been said in seven minutes, I buy lunch.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

RETTA: If it has, then you buy lunch. And I've never bought lunch.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: Never. I moved it up to 14 minutes because it's been, like, five years...

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: ...But probably in the last 15 minutes, somebody has tweeted it.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: That's right. Right. Exactly. So you didn't start in acting school. You started - well, you worked as a chemist.

RETTA: It's a...

EISENBERG: And then you did stand-up. So first of all, I just want to know about that turn. Were you the funniest person in the lab? Were they all like, you have to...

RETTA: One hundred percent.

EISENBERG: ...Go do stand-up?

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: Yes, I was the funniest person. I'd have been pissed if I wasn't.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: So I was pre-med. I did not go to medical school. My mother would be very excited that people think I did.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: I was taking a year off before medical school, but I was afraid to leave science. So I got a job doing chemistry, and it was the first time that I'd lived alone. And so I already watched a lot of TV. And then when there's no one else to talk to, then that's all you do.

EISENBERG: Sure.

RETTA: And I was single. I was still in North Carolina. And I was like, you know what? I could do this. And if there's a time to do it, do it now. And so that's when I decided that I wanted to get into television. And then, you know, my research, i.e. more TV watching...

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: I knew I wanted to get into sitcoms, so I went to an acting class at the Raleigh Little Theatre. It was like out of a bad movie...

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: ...But I knew that all these sitcoms were headed by stand-up comedians. So that's why I started doing stand-up comedy. And so I did it for about a year in North Carolina, and then I drove cross-country with a friend to, you know, try to make that Hollywood thing happen...

EISENBERG: Amazing.

RETTA: ...You know?

EISENBERG: Tell me about this Comedy Central stand-up contest that you won.

RETTA: I - so Comedy Central has a stand-up - well, I don't think they do it anymore. But they had a stand-up competition every year. And this was their very first one.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

RETTA: And I did it, and I got into the semifinals and then to the finals, and then I won. And I won a car. I won a year's supply of Taco Bell.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: That was the best part...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: ...Because I was broke and hungry.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: And then I won a spot on the New Faces showcase at Just For Laughs in Montreal.

EISENBERG: OK, so - I mean, can you ever look at a chalupa again?

RETTA: Oh, I'm about their tacos.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: Yeah.

EISENBERG: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

RETTA: I like the tacos.

EISENBERG: Did you bring friends in on that prize?

RETTA: Every once in a while.

RETTA: No, I was broke.

EISENBERG: Yeah, so it was...

RETTA: So I needed those tacos.

EISENBERG: That's pretty exciting that you got a car, year of food...

RETTA: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: ...And a prestigious spot.

RETTA: Yeah. Well, the year of food was 365 combo coupons.

EISENBERG: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: So I just got one coupon per day for free.

EISENBERG: Right.

RETTA: Yeah, but I used them all.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Nice.

RETTA: I did use them all (laughter).

EISENBERG: And then in 2018, very recently, you wrote a book called "So Close to Being the [Expletive], Y'all Don't Even Know."

RETTA: Yep.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: So close. So close.

EISENBERG: It's a collection of essays about basically living your destiny, realizing your potential - which is obviously a huge part of your story making bold decisions in your career and in your life to get you where you want to go. So from where you sit right now, what is your dream gig?

RETTA: Well, I'm really happy right now working on "Good Girls." I love playing a whole human being.

EISENBERG: (Laughter) Yes.

RETTA: And I get to do drama and be funny, as well. So that makes me really happy. I know that I, you know - I think most actors do this whether they knew they wanted to do it or not. I know I want to produce. I would love to, you know, have my own production company. And so I can kind of mold the things that I get to do and bring things for other people to do. I have a lot of friends who are actors who need work. So (laughter)...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

RETTA: ...I'd love to be able to give them work.

EISENBERG: That's very nice. Giving back. Giving back.

RETTA: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: So, yes, you currently play Ruby Hill on "Good Girls." So in this show, you and two other moms who are financially pushed to their limits rob a grocery store for the betterment of your families. I got to say I love the show. I love female antiheroes who are relatable, and I find it great that these kind of stories are prevalent right now on television. I find them empowering. I mean, am I drawn to this for the same reason you are?

RETTA: No, I mean, I thought it was interesting that they - you know, they're committing crimes and I - because I was a little bit nervous about that part of it.

EISENBERG: Oh, interesting.

RETTA: I loved that she was a whole being, that it was a woman who loved her husband. It was a black woman who loved her husband, loved her family, was going to do whatever she could. And they were just normal human beings. I wasn't playing a trope. I wasn't - you know, I wasn't stereotypical. It wasn't - I didn't have to have sass. If you see me with sass, it's because I added it. You know what I mean?

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: It's that kind of thing, and it was such a breath of fresh air for me to see a part that was written for me or, you know, written with me in mind where I wasn't playing, you know, a meter maid who had attitude, and all she did was roll her neck.

EISENBERG: Right.

RETTA: That kind of thing.

EISENBERG: Right. I mean, people are comparing, you know, the characters in this show to popular characters...

RETTA: Right.

EISENBERG: ...Antiheroes, like, from "Breaking Bad" or "Thelma And Louise." Do you compare it to anything?

RETTA: I don't mind being compared to "Breaking Bad." I...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

RETTA: That was a good show.

EISENBERG: It was great.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: I liked it.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

RETTA: So I'm willing to accept that accolade.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: I - what I like - one of my favorite shows is "Sex And The City" because I loved the friendships, the love that the women had for each other. And I loved that they showed them fighting and getting over it. And I like that they show us fighting and getting - you know, like, Ruby and Annie butt heads a lot.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

RETTA: And then they come back. They know that they love each other. They've been friends since they were kids. There's nothing that's going to break that bond. We hope.

EISENBERG: Oh.

RETTA: If you're caught up, we don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: OK, Retta, we love your Twitter feed and specifically when you tweet about the television shows that you are obsessed with. By the way, what is your current television obsession?

RETTA: Everybody keeps asking me about "Game Of Thrones."

EISENBERG: Sure.

RETTA: And screw "Game Of Thrones."

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

RETTA: Well, because the Red Wedding broke me as a human being.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: And then what really made me stop was when Joffrey - I hope y'all are caught up.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: When Joffrey was killed, I jumped off my couch and said (cheering). Like, I've never cheered for the death of a child...

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: ...The way I cheered for Joffrey's death. And I was like, you know what? This show is changing me as a person, and I don't like it.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: And so I stopped watching it. I just - I couldn't do - it was just making me bad. No, I didn't like me (laughter).

EISENBERG: I understand.

RETTA: I didn't like me with "Game Of Thrones."

EISENBERG: I understand. OK, so we wrote a game for you called Tweet Yourself.

RETTA: Right.

EISENBERG: It's simple.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I'm going to read you one of your own tweets.

RETTA: OK.

EISENBERG: You just have to guess what show you were tweeting about.

RETTA: Oh, OK. Oh, boy.

EISENBERG: And if you do well enough, listener Tabitha Parchman (ph) from Nashville, Tenn., is going to win an ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube.

RETTA: Oh, OK.

EISENBERG: OK, so here we go.

RETTA: Oh, boy.

EISENBERG: Here's your first one. What's swooning? What's fainting? Take it they haven't gotten #CrazyStupidLove north of the wall yet.

RETTA: (Laughter).

EISENBERG: Gosling will make you weak, honey.

RETTA: GOT.

EISENBERG: It is GOT.

RETTA: OK, yeah.

EISENBERG: Yeah, "Game Of Thrones." That's right.

RETTA: (Laughter).

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Perfect lead-in. I love that you were just talking about it. I'm like you are going to talk about it again.

RETTA: (Laughter) yeah.

EISENBERG: OK, How about this one? Whoa. So many hair standouts (laughter) - de Rossi's channeling Hillary '08, while Cyrus looks like he is in a hair transplant commercial.

RETTA: Oh, I remember this episode. "Scandal."

EISENBERG: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: It's so funny (laughter).

EISENBERG: OK, here's your next one. How is it these high school students drink bourbon like it's Sprite? Their palates aren't mature enough for that kind of firewater.

(LAUGHTER)

RETTA: Oh, boy. I want to say "Vampire Diaries."

EISENBERG: Yeah...

RETTA: Oh.

EISENBERG: ...That's what you want to say, indeed.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: But what were you going say? Why did you doubt that?

RETTA: Only because there was a period where I was tweeting - I didn't watch "Buffy" when it was on. And that was - I was always talking about these high schoolers.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

RETTA: Those freaking high schoolers, yeah (laughter).

EISENBERG: Right.

EISENBERG: OK, how about this? Wow. The miniskirt and knee-high boot budget must have been through the roof, to say nothing about the barrette collection.

RETTA: Oh, that's "Buffy."

EISENBERG: Yeah.

RETTA: That's for sure "Buffy."

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: OK, here's your last one.

RETTA: OK.

EISENBERG: Oh, my God. @rejectedjokes looks like a hipster Waldo.

RETTA: I mean, is it "Parks" or is it...

EISENBERG: Yeah. It's "Parks And Recreation."

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: @rejectedjokes is...

RETTA: Ben Schwartz.

EISENBERG: ...The Twitter handle for Ben Schwartz. That's right. All right. Guess what? Congratulations, Retta. You and Tabitha Parchman both won ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cubes. Well done.

(CHEERING)

EISENBERG: Retta will be back later in the show to play another game. Give it up for Retta, everybody.

(CHEERING)

EISENBERG: Want our next special guest to play for you? Follow ASK ME ANOTHER on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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