Going Back to ‘Another Period’ with Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome
Another Period returns to Comedy Central for its third season tomorrow night. The early 20th century comedy created by and starring Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome follows sisters Lillian (Leggero) and Beatrice (Lindhome) Bellacourt in their quest for Edwardian-era fame. The hilarious period comedy sends up both Kardashian-style reality shows and British period dramas like Downton Abbey, but underneath the jokes, there’s a pointed satire of human nature — fame and selfishness aren’t exactly new trends. I spoke with Leggero and Lindhome over the phone about the Bellacourt sisters’ entrance into politics, how their show responded to Trump’s ascension to the presidency, and how writing about the past makes it easier to satirize our ridiculous present.
This season, Beatrice and Lillian get more involved in the women’s movement, even though they’re doing it to get more attention. What interested you in putting them in the center of something they’re actually opposed to?
Natasha Leggero: It’s funny, because the women’s movement has progressed so much since we wrote the show.
Riki Lindhome: We wrote it the fall before last, in 2016. We filmed in 2017 and Comedy Central decided to pair us with Drunk History, so the release is a little later. But we were actually writing episodes during the Clinton-Trump campaign.
NL: We’d already written half the season [before the 2016 election], and we were like, “Okay, when this airs, we’re gonna have a woman president.” So we thought, “How’s that gonna affect society?” We figured there’d be a lot of backlash against women because we’d have a woman president. Then Trump won about three-quarters of the way through writing our season. So Comedy Central gave us more time and we reworked a lot of stuff.
I wondered! The first few season 3 episodes are such perfect parallels to what’s going on right now, I was curious how much you’d had to adjust.
NL: I think we were just lucky in a lot of ways. [This season] we have a prince who comes and only wants a girl who’s under 14, and we have all this stuff that’s been coming up in the news now. So we’ve just been lucky with how relevant it feels. When you go to Newport and see these houses and do the research, you think, “Oh wow, it was a hundred years ago and they were still trying to figure out how to not pay taxes and how to keep white people in charge of everything.” So it’s like: Things are still the same.
It always strikes me when you see anything from that time period how little things have changed. They were still afraid of immigrants then.
RL: Right! We have an episode this season where an Italian family moves in next door.
NL: I think people forget that Italians used to be the nationality that people didn’t want moving in next door. And now we just think of Italians as…. I don’t know what.
I get what you mean. My family’s Italian and I’ve definitely never suffered because of that. We’re just considered assimilated now.
RL: Things are stupid now and they’ve always been stupid.
How do you approach satirizing current issues through the lens of the past?
RL: We sort of take a Colbert Report tactic, where we take the wrong side. Like we lobby Congress for women not to have the right to vote. We take a hardline point of view just to show the absurdity of it. There was an episode last season where Beatrice was against hatchet control, even though her husband had a problem where he had this phantom hand syndrome and he’d just grab hatchets and throw them at people. But she was still like, “We still need hatchets everywhere, it doesn’t matter how many people die!”
I really love how the show messes with historical figures from the past and makes them all terrible. Are there any that you’ve really want to write into the show but had trouble working in?
NL: Well he had an idea for Hitler, which is early in the season, but we really wanted him to be a baby and have him get switched at birth. We had this whole storyline, but then we realized that he was a preteen at the time, so we rewrote the storyline. We really try to make everything as accurate as possible.
RL: These are just flawed people. Even if they did amazing things later, they’re still just people. Ghandi was a lawyer before he was Ghandi, so we had him be our lawyer.
What are you most excited about in season 3?
NL: I’m trying to think of what we did. This is our first interview, so… [laughs]
RL: I’m really excited for the Olympics episode, which is sort of satirizing the Ghostbusters thing where people got upset there were female Ghostbusters.
I wondered! I watched it thinking, “This argument sounds familiar.”
NL: It’s about a lot of things. Because at that time, people really were upset about women competing in anything and we’re still dealing with that.
RL: And that was the first time women could compete and it was only in archery. And there were only six competitors in the Olympics. So we definitely weren’t taking liberties. That was real.
Do you guys find sometimes that you don’t even have to heighten things that much because some things that we take for granted now were so much more regressive then, so the details are already pretty ridiculous?
RL: Completely. If we just do research, we can find storylines. We were just looking into it, like, “Okay, what was it like the first time women were in the Olympics? Probably the same as now or the first time women were in anything.” There’s that famous photograph of the first woman to run a marathon in the ‘80s and someone tackling her.
NL: I’m also excited about Jason Ritter, who plays probably our stupidest character, Frederick, who becomes president. So we’re able to satirize it in a way that’s unique and not an exact parody of Trump, because Jason’s really charming and cute. So that sort of makes it more palatable.
RL: There’s an episode this season where he goes to a dodo bird hunter’s union and tells them he’s gonna un-extinct the birds and get their jobs back. So there’s some striking parallels this season.
NL: Yeah. We go there.
What’s the process like in your writers room? Especially since — as you mentioned — you thought history was gonna go in one direction and then it went in another.
NL: There was definitely five days or so of crying in the writers room [after the election]. We had to take a lot of breaks from writing.
RL: We did have to reframe and go, “What’s funny now?” It was a trauma in a way. We had to rethink how we were gonna formulate the rest of the season. And we basically just did it through Jason’s character.
NL: He’s so amazing in the show. He’s just endlessly funny. When we edit it, it’s like, we could just watch him. He’s so funny.
RL: And there’s definitely light episodes where Beatrice and Lillian find out they’re mortal. We still have silly storylines woven in with the political.
Trump is so hard to satirize because he’s so out there in terms of ridiculousness. Do you find that since the show takes place in the past, it’s easier to make fun of those things?
RL: Completely. And also because we wrote it over a year ago. I mean, we don’t know what this guy’s gonna do next week, let alone how to satirize a year in advance. So I think setting it in 1902 does make it easier to be relevant now, because he is so ever-changing.
Right. Every day it’s like, what’d he say now?
NL: That’s why we didn’t want to get too specific with things, either, because it’s like — remember when Trump tweeted something where Hillary Clinton got hit in the head with a golf ball? You can’t really make fun of that because he’s done like five thousand things since then. Every day is a fresh thing. If you had a whole story about how he calls other countries shitholes, we’re gonna forget about that in three days when he does something else. So it’s almost better that [the show] takes place in the past because it’s not so literal.
I love Lillian and Beatrice’s relationship, because they don’t care about anyone but themselves, but they do care about each other in a way that’s actually pretty sweet. What keeps them from throwing the other one under the bus, even though they’d do that to anyone else?
RL: I think it’s because if they did, they’d have no one to talk to. [laughs]
NL: Right. They’re not that popular.
RL: They don’t love their husbands. They’re not loved by their parents. They don’t have any viable love interests. They have no friends.
NL: They’re not interested in their children.
RL: Maybe they’re just afraid of the boredom.
NL: And really in the aristocracy — or those trying to be aristocracy — it really is all about family. You can see it in the Kardashians. The people who love to watch the Kardashians, that’s what keeps people coming back. They do seem to love each other. So [Lillian and Beatrice] have one redeeming quality.
RL: The Kardashians actually seem to enjoy each other’s company and you buy that, even if the cameras weren’t on, they’d still be hanging out with each other.
And Lillian and Beatrice definitely read that way.
NL: Yeah. They grew up together. It’s like, we find the same things funny. We both like to mistreat servants.
You guys also really go for some great dumb bits on the show. How do you balance those with moving your storyline forward?
RL: What we do is make sure the storyline is in place first. So we have those scenes, those lines, and then we have room to play. And a lot of it gets decided in the editing room, like which bits are the funniest and what’s working. But we definitely try to lay that foundation first and then we have room for the idiocy.
NL: And some of the most classic Another Period storylines are already pretty dumb. We have a dinner party for my dog, or my husband and I fight over the butternut room to the point where we want to kill each other over who gets this room in the divorce. That stuff is all from going to Newport and hearing real stories. Eccentric rich people are definitely the gift that keeps on giving.
Erica Lies is a writer and comedian. Her work has appeared in Bitch, The Hairpin, and Paste Magazine, and her humor writing has run in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and National Lampoon.