Casey Wilson's Comedy of Eras: On endings, beginnings, and why her new memoir will wreck you
In the opening line of Casey Wilson's new book, the author brazenly declares, "I am a bed person," which is, for the uninitiated, someone who seeks to conduct any and all business while horizontal, preferably under the covers (although any flat surface, including a bathtub, will do). Being a bed person is not about laziness; rather, it's a celebration of excess. Wilson, 40, will be the first to tell you she has no interest in moderation: Her extravagance provides nearly all her comedic material. "There's a joyless aspect to self-restraint," she says. "And I'm not willing to give up that joy."
Her penchant for excess extends well beyond the confines of her bedroom. She is conducting this interview during downtime from the 1990s-set Paul Rudd and Will Ferrell series The Shrink Next Door — she has the period-appropriate glam to prove it — which she is juggling with hosting duties for her cult favorite Real Housewives podcast Bitch Sesh and the far less glam duties of mothering during a pandemic. She took a long-held dream of writing an essay collection — "I've admired authors like Nora Ephron and David Sedaris, who I'm sure I've shamelessly ripped off, since I was 15," she jokes — and used her time in quarantine to make it a reality.
Wilson studied theater at New York University, where she met and began collaborating with her best friend, June Diane Raphael (Grace and Frankie). After graduation they foisted themselves onto the entertainment scene with a two-woman sketch show (Wilson puts "sketch show" in air quotes), which earned them the chance to pitch the script that became 2009's Bride Wars, lack of screenwriting experience be damned. Wilson recalls the studio asking for more "set pieces," the industry term for pivotal scenes; the pair looked for places to write an armoire into the film. "We unfortunately never questioned the other's judgment," Raphael says of their early projects. "I hope readers know Casey and I were fueled by unchecked ambition, confidence, and credit card debt."
Her career eventually took her to Saturday Night Live, where, due to budget cuts from the 2008 writers' strike, she was the lone new hire. Instead of trauma bonding with the usual cohort of cast newbies, she "roamed the halls knocking on strangers' doors" in search of someone (anyone!) to collaborate with. "I'd rather sell out my family and their secrets 10 times over in this book than go back to SNL," she deadpans. In 2011, Wilson landed a starring role on the short-lived but beloved Happy Endings, which introduced her to intense fandom and her husband, series creator David Caspe. Throughout the years she wrote occasional essays but in 2017 began the first round of drafts for what is now The Wreckage of My Presence.
At her core, Wilson is a comedian, and while Wreckage is predictably funny, the heart of the book comes from grief. When she was 25 she lost her mother, Kathy Wilson, suddenly — it was the ensuing despondency that led her to discover reality television, which she details in the essay "Send in the Clowns" — and has been grappling with her absence ever since. The book is meant to be a love letter to her mother, and many of the essays recall her quirky — yet quite comfortable — upbringing. There's a camping trip in the Sierra Nevada mountains where Kathy insisted on packing in a case of Coca-Cola and wore a purple Speedo instead of pajamas; the family dogs who ran away to the local Holiday Inn; the time her brother purchased a secondhand mattress a man had passed away on, proudly naming it "dead man's bed."
She also writes about her young sons, Max and Henry Bear: There's a delightfully morbid story about securing an executor of the email accounts she keeps as digital scrapbooks for the boys in the event of her untimely passing. "I'm sure whoever my assistant is when I die will be cool to stay on," she writes to her friends. "Just don't let too much time pass [after] my death so she or he is still on payroll and my death is fresh enough that they will feel badly and want to help." While many celebrities wall their children off from the public, Wilson indulges her desire to share Max and Henry, tearfully explaining her reasoning: Without her mother, you offer that pride to the world instead. "I've decided to go with that as the reason I compromise their privacy," she says with a laugh.
In a pandemic, tales of excess (Wilson recounts astrological retreats, an addiction to boutique spin classes, the hiring of a "kitchen whisperer") can backfire — or, at least, overshadow a well-intentioned narrative. Wilson takes pains to acknowledge her privilege: It's a gift to choose to be a bed person and absurd how many healers she's had on her payroll. She hopes readers will clock this self-awareness and see that her excess is also couched in a generosity of spirit. "Since we were 18 years old I've watched her lift up all the women around her," says Raphael. "I'm not sure I would have had the guts to pursue a career as an actress without my more tenacious friend pushing me along."
But even if the self-deprecation is lost on some, the healing process of writing—and all the expensive psychics — has put Wilson at peace with both the book's content and its reception. "I turned 40 right when I finished the book, and I feel like I can close the chapter of my life that was marked by grieving and longing and terrible decisions, but also hopefulness and fun," she says. "I used to be riddled with insecurity. I'm sure there are things people won't like about me, but I'm really okay with that." An acceptance, if you will, of the wreckage.
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