Heather McDonald: Jumps in the Deep End

Interview by David Helton | Styling/Photos by David T. Burgoyne

Heather McDonald has chickens in her back yard.

Seriously. That’s not a metaphor. She has like six chickens in a coop in the backyard laying eggs by her pool. “Jesus,” she said while we had her in the hair and makeup chair, “Please don’t ask me about the chickens. My husband talked to some guy at a party and the next thing you know I was on board with getting some chickens. And you know what, I still have to buy eggs. I still have to buy eggs! We spent $2,000 on chickens and I still have to buy eggs at the grocery store. Eggs are like $3. I have no idea what we were thinking.” She also has three kids, a husband, a cat and a summer comedy tour.  She returns to San Francisco on May 15th and 16th at Cobb’s Comedy Club.

Heather McDonald doesn’t hold back on anything, especially when it comes to demonstrating her many talents. She continuously proves to master her craft as a comedian, actress, story producer, and best-selling author. McDonald is best known for her roundtable appearances on E!’s top-rated show Chelsea Lately (she recently finished the sixth and final season), and she became a breakout star on the E! comedic mockumentary series, After Lately, which chronicled the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of the Chelsea Lately cast and crew.

McDonald is also a best-selling author: her debut book (released June 2010), You’ll Never Blue Ball in This Town Again, spent seven weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, and climbed to the #1 position on Amazon’s “Bestsellers in Entertainment” list. McDonald released her follow-up to Blue Balls in February 2013, titled My Inappropriate Life: Some Material Not Suitable for Small Children, Nuns, or Mature Adults, which also became a national bestseller. My Inappropriate Life is an irreverent account of McDonald’s attempts to balance fame with family time, all while doing it her way. McDonald also contributed a chapter to the NY Times #1 bestselling book Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me. Heather’s writing has also been featured in Redbook Magazine, Reader’s Digest, The Hollywood Reporter and she has contributed to New York Magazine’s Vulture.

On top of being a full-time writer and story producer for Chelsea Lately, McDonald is a regular collaborator with the Wayans Brothers, serving as a writer on their features White Chicks and Dance Flick. Heather is also a featured performer on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and has been a guest star on the hit television series Frasier, Malcolm in the Middle, Reno 911 and Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh.

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As a stand-up comedian, McDonald wrapped her My Inappropriate Life Tour where she performed to sold-out crowds in San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and more. She opened for Chelsea Handler’s ‘Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me’ tour in sold-out performances around the country. These 2,000 – 4,000 seat theaters included Carnegie Hall, The Borgata in Atlantic City, The Pearl in the Palms Casino, Treasure Island, Route 66 Casino and the Wiltern in Los Angeles, to name just a few.

McDonald was a member of The Groundlings Theater where she performed in the Sunday Company for two years. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California. Heather has been married to her husband Peter for 10 years and they have 3 children. They reside in the San Fernando Valley next door to her parents just in case they run out of milk, Chardonnay or need one of her dad’s Vicodin.

A few weeks ago I got an email that Heather McDonald was coming to San Francisco in May. I reached out to her people (yes, she has people) and tried to see if we could chat with her for a few minutes. There was an immediate ‘yes’ from her camp (I don’t know if she has a camp, that might be pushing it.) Nonetheless, I then asked if we could do the interview face-to-face instead of by phone and perhaps shoot some photos of her relaxing on her ranch (It’s not really a ranch, it’s a lovely home in the hills – but when you say someone has chickens, you think ‘ranch’.) There was a bit of a delay, but then we were given a Saturday afternoon to drop by her home in Los Angeles.

Heather McDonald is so fucking fun. She was both charming and kind, warmly inviting us in to raid her closet and set up an impromptu photo shoot in her backyard pool (where we almost killed her.) She’s fearless, energetic and entertaining – but mostly, she’s that silly girl next door who giggles at all the jokes. Most importantly, she knows how to poke fun at herself and find the humor in everyday life.

First of all, you were so much fun to watch on RuRaul’s Drag Race. Did you like judging the Snatch Game? That show is much fun. Can I just tell you that RuPaul’s show is genius? It’s absolutely genius. Some of the best improv happens on that show. Those guys on that show are so good at what they do. Especially BenDeLeCreme playing Maggie Smith! <laughs> It’s so incredibly funny.

You’ve also been on Wendy Williams. I fucking love her. I fucking love her wigs. <laughs> It’s not fair. Black women can wear all these cool wigs and just change up their look all the time. I want to wear a wig. You know? I would love to just throw on a wig and rock a whole new look. Can you imagine if I threw on a wig and went to a party? People would think I was either a fucking cancer patient or that I was just crazy. They would 5150 my ass so fast. I couldn’t get away with it. Not even for a minute.

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Is this a typical day for you? What was your day like today? I am actually having a weird day. I mean, it started off normal. I slept in. Made breakfast. Went to a baseball game with the kids. Now I am doing a photo shoot in my pool for Left Magazine and then I am off to Joe Simpson’s house for a party this afternoon at his home in Malibu.

Shut up. Wait. Joe Simpson? As in Jessica and Ashley Simpson’s Dad? Yes! Thank God you know who he is. It’s so funny because my husband was like ‘I love Britney’ – I was like ‘Don’t you dare walk in there and tell Jessica Simpson’s father how much you love Britney Spears.’ <laughs>

You are on the road a lot this month. Where else are you going on this tour? I’m in Dallas. Then Jacksonville. And finally San Francisco. You know, a girl has gotta work.

But you get to come home between your gigs, right? Oh yeah! Thank God. I am only on the road for a few days at a time and then I get back home to my life here. My summer is actually pretty easy since people don’t really do comedy clubs in the summer for some reason.

Summer is not a funny season? It isn’t. Summer is unfunny. Unless you are outdoors, I guess, then you can be as funny as you want. I’m excited, though, because this is the first summer that I haven’t been shooting Chelsea Lately. I can go to waterparks with the kids and do Mom crap. You have three kids? I do. I have my 15-year-old stepdaughter. And the boys are 12 and 9.

What are you doing for Mother’s Day? I will be in Jacksonville, Florida doing a show.

What?! That sucks! Jacksonville is a shithole. I lived there. <laughs> You know, when that opportunity popped up in January I had a commitment with another thing and I had to cancel – so I gave them another date. And I know it sounds crazy but I am totally involved in the kids’ school stuff. <laughs> I know, I know. It sounds crazy but I love doing that stuff with them. We had this thing called the ‘Mom Prom.’ There are just certain things that I don’t want to miss with the kids. We had this mother and son thing the other night called ‘A Minute to Win It’ and we had all these games. For Mother’s Day I’ll actually be home in the evening, so we can have dinner together. It won’t be a total loss.

Are you a good traveler? Do you know how to be on the road and make it work? I am. I mean, I know how to pack. However, I am becoming more intolerant of being on a bus or taking public transit. I really want a car to pick me up and drop me off. Is that too diva?

I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I just start getting irritated when I have to get off the plane and get my bag and wait for the mystery bus that never comes. I feel myself just slowly losing my grip sometimes. I don’t want to ever freak out like that bitch on ESPN. <laughs> Did you see that?! Oh my God. I don’t care how many times you apologize for that behavior, that is the real you. You’re that blonde sorority bitch one hundred percent of the time. Your life has come easy to you and you are a spoiled brat and now we all know it. Honestly, I don’t think she should work again.

She definitely didn’t do her career any favors with that blow up. I know that even with my little scrap of fame, I can’t necessarily act the way I did five years ago. I have to be nice to everybody now. I can’t lose my shit on someone and get caught on some video acting like a lunatic. Recently, I had to do an appearance and I went to buy a few new things at Bloomingdales – and I love Bloomindales – and I talked to everyone there and had a great time. Maybe because we were having so much fun and stuff they got distracted, because when I came home and got ready for the appearance – I went to put on the dress and the fucking security tag was still on it! Agh! I was so pissed. <laughs>

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Like the plastic exploding ink thing?  Yes! That fucking thing that you can’t take off without some special crazy device — and I don’t live close to Bloomingdales! It’s not like I had time to just run over and have them take it off. I was so upset. I had to find something else to wear, which defeated the whole purpose of going shopping. I had to go back in there a few days later with my receipt – but before I did, I was like ‘Ok, Heather, calm your ass down. Do not go in there acting like some raving bitch because if you do…’

<laughs> They’re gonna be like ‘That Heather McDonald is one crazy bitch!’  Yes! That’s exactly what would happen. The sales girl would say ‘You know, this is why your show got cancelled’ and I would lose my shit and scream back ‘It didn’t get cancelled! You’re the bitch who forgot to take off the tag! How do you even have a job?!’ All this horrible stuff would just come flying out of my mouth and the next thing I know some shaky camera phone footage of me having a meltdown in Bloomingdales is all over TMZ – screaming at some poor girl who is crying behind the register. There would be some hashtag created to go viral on Twitter – #StopTheHateHeather. <laughs>

Seriously, Heather, you’re a celebrity. You should’ve just called and made them bring the gun to your house and remove it. <Laughs> Oh, honey, I wish I had that kind of power. Maybe if I was like a regular customer at Bloomingdales. It’s a treat for me to shop there. They would be like ‘Listen lady, your purchase was for $64. Calm down. We don’t even know who you are.’ <laughs>

Well maybe you could at least have them meet you half way? Maybe in a Wendy’s parking lot in Encino or something. <laughs> Can you imagine? Knowing my luck, THAT would end up on TMZ. It would look like some sort of shady drug deal. But you know, the security tag thing has happened to me twice, and the first time I just put it on and wore it. I was like ‘fuck it, I’m wearing this.’ It was actually for Chris Noth’s Christmas party. He played Mr. Big on ‘Sex in the City’ and I was so looking forward to wearing that outfit to his party. Maybe it was the wine or something, but I just was like ‘It’s like a broach or something.’ <laughs> Who’s going to notice? Of course I get to the party and I’m seriously holding it in every picture. <laughs> I got tired of hiding it so finally I just started talking to people about it. It became a conversation starter. I mean, it’s happened to everyone, right? ‘Hi, I’m Heather. I’m not a thief.’ <laughs> I am totally taking this shit back the minute we leave here. <laughs> Exactly. Suddenly it’s like Lindsay Lohan’s ankle bracelet. Everyone is looking at it.

Chelsea ended the show in August of 2014?  She did. We shot the final episode and that was it.

The show was so great. I miss watching it. I mean, every night I’d watch Chelsea Lately before I went to bed. I think the show is missed – and a missed opportunity. Yes, absolutely – it’s totally missed. For the most part, late night is all men, still. But you know, it’s easier said than done when you’re dealing with this exclusivity and everyone has different agents and managers. It’s like Chelsea was moving on and they had this pool of talent and they didn’t know what to do with it. So they didn’t do anything. However, I think E! realized months later that there is an opportunity for a show like Chelsea Lately at that time and with that subject matter.

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I think straight men don’t get pop culture the way women and gay men do. I think they miss the mark and don’t see the real irony and humor in some of it. We get it in a different way. I absolutely agree. Like the Kardashians and all that – we see the meanness in all of it and its weirdness and its fun. I think our audience was so funny and so sophisticated that we actually got away with a lot of stuff on Chelsea Lately and After Lately. <laughs> We never got in trouble. We got very little hate. People were just like ‘Do that Geri Jewell impression!’ and we were like ‘Ok! Let’s make fun of the handicapped.’

You do the best impressions. Have you always done impressions? You know, I did. I mean, I did impersonate people I knew and stuff.

More like making fun of people behind their backs? <laughs> Yes, exactly. Like teachers and stuff. I didn’t really do impressions that much until I got to the Chelsea show. When I studied at the Groundlings, it was sort of frowned upon – they wanted original characters. I never tried to do celebrities until I was in the writer’s room and I would be like ‘ugh, this Drew Barrymore interview is annoying’ and I would just slip into imitating Drew or Celine or whatever. The guys were always like ‘Wait, Let’s do that!’ You have to remember that in the beginning we had no idea what the show was even going to be about or what the format was going to be. No one expected writers to be on the show – and the whole sketch comedy portion of Chelsea Lately just kind of evolved. In fact, once we added those elements, people would come up to me and say ‘I love your show on Comedy Central.’ And our show was on E!, but I thought it was the greatest compliment that they thought we were funny enough to be on Comedy Central.

I must have watched The Facts of Life sketch a hundred times. Your Geri Jewell impression is so good. <laughs> Geri Jewell is the best. <slips into her cerebral palsy imitation> What can I say Blair, when you’re hot, you’re hot. <laughs>

Wait, I have to tell you a story behind the Geri Jewell impression. When my first book came out I was doing a signing at The Grove and there was a pretty good turnout and everything was cool. A few of my best friends were there and I did see this woman sort of in the back of the room who sort of looked familiar. Anyway, I’m signing books and my friend comes over and whispers in my ear ‘Geri Jewell is here and she is coming up.’ There was a big part of me that knew she loved the impression – I mean, I just knew it. And she did. She said ‘You know, a lot of people have done the impression but you are the best – if you ever want to do something together, let me know.’

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On the pilot of After Lately, we were going to do this sketch where I was doing my impressions and making this charity event all about me. Everyone was going to sort of be rolling their eyes, but then the real Geri Jewell was going to be in the audience and she’d say ‘Fuck you, Heather, you’re not funny!’

But Chelsea is pretty mean sometimes, too.  She is. And she is completely unapologetic, which I totally respect. I love that about her. Once you know someone is never going to apologize for anything or back track, you feel like you can get away with anything. It’s not worth writing an email to someone who is just going to laugh at it and promptly delete it. You sort of just keep pushing that boundary because you know no one on the show is going to call you on it.

Doesn’t she have some Netflix thing in the works? Are you a part of that? Yeah, she’s supposed to be working on a Netflix thing that happens in 2016. But no one from the Chelsea Lately group is a part of it. It’s a whole new thing for her.

Did you know Chelsea before you joined the show?  Sort of. I mean, I knew her from the clubs and doing stand-up and I heard she was getting a show. I loved her and her sense of humor, and I love pop culture and E! – I’m like, OMG, if I can write for a black man, then I can write for a drunk white girl. <laughs> So I emailed her and we were more acquaintances than friends at the time – and I just asked if I could submit a packet. She was really receptive and I was told it would be a 13-week commitment. I was like okay, ‘I’ll do this for 13 weeks and then I’ll do something else. I’m sure it will be cancelled.’ But then it just kept going.

You opened for her when she did her comedy tour. I did. That was actually great and it really boosted my standup career. Being on the show was great obviously, but that exposure to fans around the country was a big help for me. I mean these were big venues with lots of people, so it was a wonderful experience.

Well, we are really looking forward to having you back in San Francisco!

Heather McDonald returns to San Francisco for 4 shows
on Friday, May 15th and Saturday, May 16th

Tickets are available at CobbsComedyClub.com


Heather McDonald is an American actress, comedian and New York Times Bestselling author.  She is best known for her appearances on the E! series Chelsea Lately.

Born in the San Fernando Valley of California, McDonald, the youngest of five children, was raised by her parents, who were real estate agents. She is of three quarters Irish and one quarter French-Canadian ancestry. McDonald was raised Catholic and attended a private, Catholic school. McDonald is married to Peter Dobias, an investment banker. They have two children, and Dobias has a daughter from a previous relationship. They live with their six chickens on their ranch in Woodland Hills.

Image courtesy of David T. Burgoyne / davidtburgoyne.com

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