Diving Into the Completely Insane World of ‘Womp It Up!’ with Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham
Break out your DiGiornos and prolapse your anuses, folks! Much like the rising of good ol’ Christ himself, Marissa Wompler is back and more disproportionately shaped than ever before. As we previously reported, a new bi-weekly podcast called WOMP It Up! launched on Earwolf.com today, and I had the good fortune to talk with the punk, billionaire, geniuses behind it: Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham, both UCB vets and the co-creators and co-stars of USA’s Playing House.
For the unenlightened, Marissa (played by St. Clair) is the perpetually 17-year-old intern we have gotten to know and love through her appearances on Scott Aukerman’s podcast Comedy Bang Bang. Marissa first appeared on the podcast back in 2010 and, since then, we’ve met many members of her f-ed up world, including her “gifted” class teacher, Miss Charlotte Lister (played by Parham).
A few months ago, in The Wompler Files, we dove head first into the annals of the Wompler-verse and explored the rich tapestry that is Marina Del Rey’s favorite student-teacher duo. We learned that Marissa and Miss Listler may well start their own S.T.A.R.S. college; that Miss Listler’s wedding is probably going to be pretty aquatic if the two previous Womptaculars are any indication; and that Miss Listler is most likely the real inspiration behind American Sniper.
This time around, however, you should whip out your man-chanical pencil and just really take some notes, because we’re about to explore uncharted territory and sit down with Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham to talk about all things Womp & List.
Let’s talk about where Marissa first came from. Jessica, was that first Comedy Bang! Bang! appearance as Marissa the first time you performed as her?
JSC: The way Marissa happened, I think, was that Scott Aukerman saw me in the character in this show that Casey Wilson had with Paul Rust. We played a bunch of kids in a high school auditioning for a musical. It was amazing. Casey took her top off for it, I think, and Seth Morris was the director and drama teacher. Anyway, I played this version of Marissa and for reasons I don’t understand she was in a neck brace at the time and wearing a Christmas vest. But, anyway, Scott came to me afterwards and said, would you want to come on Comedy Bang! Bang! as that character — you could just figure out how she exists in that world. I said fine and then I came up with the idea that the character had applied to be an intern at the radio station.
Did you think that you were on to something, or where you just humoring Scott?
JSC: The horrible thing is that Marissa is not that far from my real personality — I hate to say this, because she is insane. But I don’t do characters. I mostly play myself.
LP: She’s kind of like you at 13.
JSC: Yes. I really didn’t think people would become interested in her. Like the volume control problem she has is a problem I’ve had all my life. Jason Mantzoukas has always been telling me that. Honestly, I don’t think people really became obsessed with Wompler until Charlotte Listler came on the scene.
LP: That’s not true.
The extended universe of Marissa certainly started to solidify around the time Charlotte Listler came on the scene.
JSC: That’s absolutely true.
Lennon, is Charlotte Listler part of your personality or is there a particular person you were basing her on?
LP: I literally had nothing in my head. Jess said I think it would be funny if you played my teacher and I said no, I’ll be your gifted teacher. And I didn’t tell her anything I would do and it immediately got super weird. Jess was mad at me because she thought it got too weird, and…
JSC: …I was like, what is this crazy shit that is being introduced? There is no way we can keep this going!
LP: When you listen to that podcast, Jess was like, “Shut up, this isn’t real!” and then, afterwards, with the fans clamoring for the new relationship, she had to give it up.
JSC: Yeah, after the first time Listler came on I said to Lennon, “I’m gonna kill you off. This was the weirdest experience.”
LP: She didn’t want it.
JSC: You know, Lennon and I are as close as sisters, so I was like, how dare you come into Marina del Rey and steal my thunder and blow this thing up with this insane maniac who was a former sniper in the first Iraq War!
LP: It all comes from a very grounded place.
JSC: But yeah, once I gave into Listler’s insanity it all became something better than I ever could have imagined.
LP: I don’t think I had any preconceived notion of who Listler was.
JSC: I think we were also very tired that day… I think we were at the end of season one of Playing House and I remember we were both exhausted and we had no time to think about what we would do and it was in that zone of improv when you’re not censoring yourself…
My favorite part has to be how those details snowball and how each time you have to come up with something even greater than the last. It’s a lot of fun.
JSC: You know what the scary thing is? The Dynasty aspect of Marissa’s life is so complicated, but I don’t forget any of it. I forget to pay my rent. But I do not forget that, like, the first time that Listler came in she was making us do trash can runs. All those details are so easy for me to recall. I don’t know why. I feel like I might be schizophrenic but no one’s noticing it…
Will Womp It Up! follow a similar format to the Womptaculars and Earwolf Presents?
JSC: We decided that we wanted to do something that was like this is Marissa’s senior thesis. Marissa will be doing her own podcast. The conceit is that we’ll be broadcasting from the Marina del Rey High School Library. We’re in between the stacks. We have not gotten permission, of course, to tape any of this or to use the library. So we’ve built a sort of lean-to in the “Self Help” section and Gutterballs is working the levels and then he gets a case of the shingles that renders him out of it for a while. But we wanted to do almost our own NPR show — Wompler’s version of Terry Gross. So instead of having on, like, Wes Anderson, she has on Joe Bongo, the shop teacher.
LP: No, he’s the health ed teacher.
JSC: Oh, right. And Andy Daly plays our sex-ed teacher. I have on a lot of teachers and some students, and you just really get a sense of Marissa’s wider world.
LP: It expands her world. And there are segments that recur on each episode and whoever’s guest co-hosting, sometimes it’s Huskey or Mantzoukas, they get their own little segment.
JSC: Gutterman has a segment called “Gutterballing with Eric Gutterman” where he does a roundup of the gossip in school. And the first time he did it…
LP: …it killed us. It literally killed us.
JSC: I think he used all real names from his childhood.
You’re joining the leagues of Andy Daly, Lauren Lapkus, and Seth Morris who have gotten podcasts based on characters honed on Comedy Bang! Bang! and other podcasts. Do you think there’s a growing movement of using appearances as backdoor pilots?
JSC: You know, it’s so funny because I don’t think anybody thinks of it that way. I guess what’s so great about Comedy Bang! Bang! is that Scott is so gifted as a host; he really allows the characters to come to life. He asks exactly the right questions so that maybe a one-off character suddenly has this real life. And the way Comedy Bang! Bang! is serialized, you’re able to build this whole backstory for a character that makes it so that in the end you wake up and go, oh, this could be its own podcast. But I don’t think that anybody has that idea going into it.
A lot of things came to head during the last Womptacular. Can you give us any idea of what’s ahead for Wompler and Listler?
LP: These episodes all follow that Womptacular, so you’re going to be tracking…
JSC: You’re getting married.
LP: Listler’s getting married.
JSC: Listler has a bachelorette party or two.
LP: We kind of loosely base it on the holiday that was occurring when we were recording it — but then they’re gonna air the episodes all out of order (laughing)… so it’s gonna be a real mess. I think listeners will enjoy trying to figure out what order we really recorded them in! But Marissa is figuring out what the next step is for her, because this is her senior project.
JSC: And Gutterballs and I are trying to be friends. She gets what she thinks is a foreign-exchange student but ends up being somebody from South Jersey. So that’s something… I feel that Marissa is having a very Eat, Pray, Love senior year. And by “eat” I mean only DiGiorno’s and cream cheese and by “love” I mean trying to climb into the bed of her foreign-exchange student and find out what she can get started.
LP: We did a very special live episode…
JSC: …where we meet someone everyone has been clamoring to meet.
On that topic, I assume we’re going to learn more about some of the peripheral characters we’ve met previously. But do you think you’re going to introduce new characters like Rodney or August Wilson Listler or Marissa’s mother — all of whom we’ve only heard about previously?
JSC: Well, I don’t want to spoil it, but yes. One of those three people will make an appearance. And it’s really shocking when it does happen. The best part about doing the podcast is that I have an idea in my mind about what a character is like but I don’t communicate what I want the new characters to be like, mostly because I’m a disorganized person, so when the improvisers come in and bring something completely different to it…
LP: …and given that they may or may not have listened to the previous episodes, it’s really good!
You definitely give just the right amount of detail to leave some room for the imagination of the improvisers.
JSC: That’s exactly right. So it’s truly improvised.
So you mentioned that Mantzoukas will be back in an audio engineer sort of role. Do you think he’ll take a more hands-on position in this series?
SCJ: We love to have Zouks whenever we can, so whenever he is around we force him to come. In this new series of eight episodes, I’m not sure how many…
LP: …yeah, he was in New York for the majority of the episodes.
JSC: But going forward, we’ll try to have him as much as we can. When we don’t have him we have Huskey who plays my stepfather, Seth, and giving him more of a center stage revealed a depth of rage in that character which we were not aware of (laughing)… and it’s been very therapeutic, I think, for Huskey to get into some things.
Speaking of that, how did Jason end up getting involved in the Wompler-verse? I know that you, Jessica, and he went to college together and have known each other for a long time.
JSC: What’s really interesting to nobody but me is that Mantzoukas and I did our first sketch show that either of us ever did — a show called “I Will Not Apologize” — and actually the character that I did in Casey’s show was loosely based on the character I did [in the sketch show]. It was based on this girl in our high school who we called Robo Cop because she has a scoliosis brace situation. And Jason in the sketch show played a character a little bit similar to Gutterballs, so we did kind or reprise that dynamic. They were two outcasts. So it’s kind of like a dynamic that Jason and I have played really since college but we’ve just given different details to it.
Will you give us any previews as to any guest appearances that will come up in the first few episodes?
JSC: Well, I really called in some of the heavy hitters of the Comedy Bang! Bang! world. Andy Daly, as we said, will be playing our health teacher. Seth Morris actually kind of reprised his role as the drama teacher I was telling you about and things got really dark in the best way. He will be on the first episode. Paul F. Tompkins makes an appearance as our school janitor, who has been a witness to some secret stuff that happens to Listler. Who else?
LP: Mantzoukas, Huskey and Seth in the first one…
JSC: Neil Casey. And Chris Gethard is playing a foreign-exchange student. He goes by the name of Lil’ Nicky. And by the way, Gethard brought in a six-pack of Mexican cola.
LP: It was a specialty—black cherry cola. Because he’s a connoisseur of special colas. He had a four-pack that we drank…
JSC: …throughout the taping. And after, we didn’t remember anything that happened in that taping (laughing). But it was sublime. And we’re gonna give credit to the Mexican cola on that.
Marissa has been pretty damn vocal about getting her own podcast. Now that five years has passed and it’s finally happening, does she have anything to say to her now-rival podcaster, Scott?
JSC: You know, I threw him a bone and had him on our live show. And you could tell he was seething with jealousy the entire time. And it really inhibited him, right Len?
LP: Oh, one hundred percent.
JSC: He felt the new generation was here and what is he gonna do? So I wouldn’t be surprised if you start to see Scott wearing skinny jeans and trying to appeal to a younger demographic now that Marissa is on the scene. He’ll probably get an earring, dye his hair. You know that kind of thing.
LP: It’s sad. You’re stealing all his audience.
JSC: I’m stealing all his audience and it’s sad to watch somebody who had such confidence be reduced to the rubble of the man he used to be.