Ronna and Beverly Talk Performing for Ben Affleck
A longer conversation with the comedians featured in our June issue.
Actresses and comedians Jamie Denbo and Jessica Chaffin have been performing in character as two nosy Boston-based ladies named Ronna and Beverly in a podcast, a stage show at the UCB Theater in L.A., and even in a TV show in the United Kingdom. We featured excerpts from a conversation with them in the June issue of our magazine as their podcast turns two years old and their careers take off in other directions. (Look for them playing roles in the new Sandra Bullock-Melissa McCarthy film The Heat.) But the talk didn’t end there, so here’s a longer conversation taken from the cutting room floor.
Brennan Carley: It’s been two years now right?
Chaffin: 50 episodes!
BC: And you said Ben Affleck was at your [UCB] show on Friday [the day of the Boston lockdown]?
Chaffin: You know, a friend of mine is friends with him. Their kids go to school together and she’d been telling him and his wife about it, and to come, because she’s obsessed with Ronna and Beverly. We never thought he would come. That day, the [lockdown] coverage was crazy. We were like, “If we didn’t have to be at the show, we’d be home watching the news.” I wouldn’t go anywhere, there’s no chance he’s coming. He came anyway.
Denbo: In all fairness, the stand-off ended an hour before.
Chaffin: Well he was already in the cah. ‘Cause he lives all the way in Pacific Palisades, which is fah. And there’s Friday night traffic. There were so many reasons why he shouldn’t have come, not least of all nothing.
So, hilariously, we always have a little ritual before the show. We always meet for an hour or two before we go over the show. We go buy whatever Beverly’s snack is going to be because she always eats something disgusting on stage.
Denbo: I get hungry!
Chaffin: She’s on a diet where she only eats after 8 o’clock.
Denbo It doesn’t work!
Chaffin: I get my Baron Herzog Old Vine Zinfandel wine, which I drink on stage. So we were at Gelson’s, which is this supermarket next to the theater and Jamie was like, “I really wish they would like, not to be like rude, but I wish they would wrap up this stand-off because we need to know how we’re gonna wrap up this show.” And one second later I got a text message from my fiancé that said, “suspect in custody, captured alive, and en route to hospital.” So we were like, “Do you think we might be controlling the universe?” You can tell the Watertown Police Department they’re welcome.
Denbo: We also opened the show with “It’s over!” And it was incredibly cathartic for everyone to start cheering, and it was awesome. And of course immediately as soon as the applause died down Beverly was like, “the defense rests in the Jodi Arias trial!” And we were like “No the other thing.” I felt, of all the shows in the world that Ben Affleck could’ve come to, it felt very right to have it be that one.
Chaffin: And everybody said he was laughing the whole time.
Denbo: Yeah they said he was laughing wicked hahd. And we had some really offensive shit.
Chaffin: It’s a nice confirmation though because you’re like, “I could have a beer with that guy. He seems like the kind of guy you can have a beer with.”
Denbo: He was Boston Ben, he wasn’t Hollywood Ben.
Chaffin: Yeah, he was totally great.
Denbo: [To Brennan] So, I have a million theories about what goes on in that room. [This conversation took place over Skype video chat with Brennan in his bedroom.]
Chaffin: Yeah he’s a big True Blood fan. Anime?
Denbo: Is that manga behind you?
BC: No that’s a Nicki Minaj poster and that behind it is a Hobbit poster.
Chaffin: Oh a Hobbit poster. Nicki Minaj and the Hobbit. [To Denbo] He should have posters.
Denbo: Not The Hobbit though!
BC: It was a free poster I got at the movie theater.
Chaffin: Just put up a blanket [laughs]. No, Peter Jackson, he’s a very talented man [laughs].
BC: You say you’re not in costume when you do the podcast. Have you ever found any guests who are less than receptive to the act?
Chaffin: The thing is, stand-ups aren’t always great guests. They try to do the routine a little bit.
Denbo: Usually we can turn it around.
Chaffin: The dynamic that we think makes our show good is that you get people who come on with an intention or a persona or whatever, and they know how they wanna be, and within like three moves you get them to a place where they just have to revert to their reptilian brain and be themselves because they have to answer a question they completely weren’t expecting to answer and you have to answer as yourself.
Denbo: We’ve had a few, but usually we can make it fun. You can only resist your mother, your mother’s best friend, and your best friend’s mother for so long, and then eventually you break down and we got people that we thought were gonna be really uptight and we broke them a little bit.
BC: You’re both from the Boston area, can you talk a little about growing up here?
Denbo: I am from Swampscott, Swampscott High School, born and raised. I went to BU. My parents aren’t from here so I think that maybe gave me a slightly different perspective on the people that I was growing up around. My mom is from Montreal and my dad’s from South Jersey, near Philly. From a very young age, I knew that nobody speaks normally. Nobody speaks normally in my life except the people on the news. Everyone sounds crazy. So I remember knowing right away that the dialects and accents are very, very funny, and very acute, particularly in the Boston area. They just made me laugh.
Chaffin: I grew up in Newton. I went to Newton South and my mother grew up in Revere, and my mother was like Scotch-English from Revere like from the hood neighborhood, and my father is Jewish. He grew up in Newton so there’s a little bit of the opposites attract situation.
Denbo: Very Titanic.
Chaffin: Yeah, it was just like Titanic [laughs]. So basically I always had these two parts to my personality. Definitely grew up in Newton, grew up Jewish, all that stuff, but you have this whole other element to your family. And I always found that so deeply amusing. I never had a Boston accent. I was Newton South, no one really did. But my family had such thick Boston accents and I was always fascinated by that. Because, in a way you’re an outsider on all sides because you’re not 100% one thing or 100% another. I think that you just observe more. I grew up with six kids in my family so you’re a funny family, funny at the dinner table and all that stuff.
Denbo: And I was an only child so I made up all the siblings … I just feel like the women that my mother represents are those women that are switching labels in Marshall’s and they’re like, “What? They charge you an arm and a leg anyway. They charge you an arm and a leg so what does it matter?” They switch the tags and it’s like, “Ok, stealing.” “It’s not stealing!”
Chaffin: Ronna is for sure my mother in terms of the attitude. My mother just used to speak in a way that anything she said was a fact. Like whether it was or it wasn’t. She’d go, “Here’s what you do: you go right up to that school and you tell them, ‘I don’t want my kid in that class.’ And then you say it’s unacceptable.” And then people are like “OK, OK.” You would see these sad mothers in the grocery store who just didn’t know what the f–k to do with my mother. She’d say, “You march right up there and you tell them my kid’s not going on that field trip. What do you think of that?” And they’d go, “Oh, OK. OK, I’ll do that.” Women in tears in the grocery store.
BC: You both were in the Real Housewives of Boston spoofs? What do you think about the recent onslaught of the Boston reality shows this year?
Denbo: Wicked Single. Boston is hot right now. I haven’t seen them.
Chaffin: I watched about 12 minutes of Southie Rules. I wanted to watch the whole episode but first of all, I just thought the casting was so bad. The family was not compelling in any way. They weren’t really a Southie family and it was so contrived that it was difficult to watch. “Oh then why don’t we put these meatballs in a cart, we don’t have money so we need to sell the meatballs!” I have such a logical brain that that shit makes me crazy. I was like, “How do they buy the meat for the meatballs if they can’t pay their cell phone bills?” It was making me nuts. “Oh it turns out my friend is having a reception tonight and he needs 400 meatballs.” Come on. so that was just infuriating on any level, and Wicked Single, I have some friends who like it but I didn’t find it compelling. It seems like everybody was from Sharon.
What kind of plans do you both have for the future?
Denbo: [It’s] based on our schedules for The Heat and her pilot if it gets picked up. I sold a writing project to FX so we have to sort of balance it out. [Ronna and Beverly] is our always our heart project. We love to do it. We work in other ways. We don’t make a ton of money from Ronna and Beverly so we have to work in other ways, which is lovely and diversifying but it cuts into potential runs of shows. But we’ll continue to do the podcast.
Chaffin: We hope to do more of the series in the UK too.
Denbo: [To Brennan] I need to know before we go if you’re gay or straight.
BC: [Laughs] I’m straight.
Denbo: That’s encouraging! We have a huge gay audience. We did a big cruise in the Mediterranean with a huge gay audience. We did a show in San Francisco—again, one of the reasons people won’t put us on television here is because the demographics are not the straight white male consumer—but turns out the gay white male consumer is very happy with us, which is why it’s great that you’re interested in us. We went to San Francisco as part of the San Francisco Sketch Festival past January and our audience was filled with gays from the Castro who had named drinks after us. It was amazing, and they were all podcast listeners.