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Michelle Buteau — the host of “Late Night Whenever,” a new podcast from WNYC Studios — was editing video for a local NBC station in New York when 9/11 happened. “It was like watching a horror movie on my two screens in my edit bay,” she said in a moving 2016 keynote speech at podcast festival Werk It.
When she emerged from her office 18 hours later, she decided it was time to live without fear. “F--k this s--t, f--k what people think, f--k what we’re supposed to be. Just be who you are.” She said she felt like Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill: Volume 1,” waking up from a coma.
“It’s been my therapy. And I have to say, there is a certain amount of freedom in not giving a f--k what everyone else thinks.”
Seventeen years later, Buteau is now the kind of comedian who greets her live audience with a casual “Hey, b----es!” She’s like your best girlfriend and motivational speaker all wrapped into one. Known for her work in “Broad City,” “Key and Peele” and being the best third-wheeler on “2 Dope Queens,” Buteau’s new show is — in her own words — a "no-budget Oprah experience.”
Her first episode, "What’s Even the Point of a Buffet?”, debuted Tuesday.
We caught up with Buteau over the phone to talk about her favorite talk show host, handling rejection letters and the five podcasts she recommends.
The Lily: What’s your elevator pitch for “Late Night Whenever”?
Michelle Buteau: “Late Night Whenever” is my take on a late-night show that you can listen to whenever. I grew up watching a lot of daytime TV and I’m a talk show junkie. It’s gross. I like to watch stuff in real time. I knew that I had this phone call, so I taped all my shows.
… Obviously, I don’t have money, so it’s not like daytime TV where people are going under their chairs and finding something besides happiness and maybe a chewed piece of gum or something.
For this show, my monologue is always going to be a story about my life or something I’m obsessed with, and I feel like that’s missing right now with a lot of talk show hosts whose names are James or Jimmy. JK. Shade!
TL: Favorite talk show host?
MB: I love Regis [Philbin] so hard because he was the number one fan of his family and you felt that. It feels like I’m hanging with an uncle, as opposed to a dude in a suit doing set-up punch jokes.
TL: What do you have to do to get a podcast with WNYC Studios?
MB: You have to at least have three cameras in your sex tape. Just kidding.
WNYC Studios was like, “Well, let’s do something fun that you want to do.” Then I’m like [raises her pitch], “I don’t even know what that means. What do you mean what do I want to do?” It took us about six months to come up with a fun concept: A live show that can translate to a podcast.
TL: Did you ever feel boxed in when you were auditioning for roles, before you landed this new gig?
MB: Usually, I’d get called in for a tired mom with a “real-looking” body. Or sometimes they won’t even say they’re looking for a black woman. They’ll just be like, “Sassy. A real tell-it-like-it-is woman.” My favorite is when they say they’re looking for someone who has an “open ethnicity.” I’m like, that’s just called “being human.” But when you show up, everyone’s Chinese, Indian, Puerto Rican, black. So “open ethnicity” means everyone else is white except for this neighbor, so let’s figure out what kind of neighborhood they are going to be in. … Probably, like, 75 percent of the industry has said no to me. But I haven’t said no to myself, which is why I’m still here paying my taxes, looking cute with a braid.
TL: How did you handle that kind of rejection?
MB: There’s this agency that I kept submitting to, and I would send them a different headshot and VHS tape every month for a year. I was like, “Oh, just a friendly reminder.”
And then, at the end of the year, they sent me all my material back with a rejection letter.
TL: Wait, what? Were you crushed?
MB: In my mind, I was like, “Holy s---. I got all my material back! I don’t have to pay for it again. I can send it somewhere else.” With all the rejection letters I got, I put them on my fridge. I was proud of them. I was like, “They got back to me!” I know, it’s so crazy. I just think it’s amazing because I want to remember the people that said no to me.
TL: You should sell those letters on eBay now. They’re going to be worth money.
MB: Yasss, honeyyyy! What are you? A shark in “Shark Tank”?
TL: Any last words about your show?
MB: You know, anything can happen, and who doesn’t love leaning into the awkward and sassy?
Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations: “You don’t need to go to church. You need to listen to that every Sunday. The end.”
Sooo Many White Guys: “I love that Phoebe [Robinson] purposely sets out to find someone who’s not a white guy.”
My Favorite Murder: “What a weird, wacky subject to bond over, and I love that it’s turned into this phenomenon. Wow.”
The Read: “Crissle [the co-host] is what Wendy Williams used to be back in the day, on the radio.”
A Piece of Work: “People think [Abbi Jacobson’s that] character that she plays [on “Broad City”], but she’s so smart and thoughtful, and it definitely makes me feel like I’ve been to public school. No shade. We just need more money. Thanks, Betsy [DeVos]. Anyway, wow, that took a turn.”
• Photos by Jesse Dittmar for The Lily •