Alison Becker is an actress and comedian who has taken some awesome roles throughout the years. She currently plays Shauna Malwae-Tweep on the hit television series, Parks and Recreation. She also currently plays Xandra Dent on the Adult Swim comedy, Newsreaders. Prior to that, she had a memorable role as Becky on the vulgarly hilarious series, Z Rock. And before all of that, her first television show was Boiling Points, the prank reality show from MTV. With all that said, I chatted with Alison about working with Joan Rivers, which musician she hopes to meet someday, Parks and Recreation, Adult Swim, Weird Al Yankovic and more.
Alex Obert: The way that I was introduced to you was from your role on Z Rock. How was that opportunity presented to you?
Alison Becker: I actually first auditioned for Lynne Koplitz’s role, but when they saw Lynne, they were like, “Oh my god, she’s perfect!” That character is actually based their real-life former manager and Lynne is very much like her. So then they were like, “We love you, do you wanna audition for the part of Joey’s girlfriend?” And I was like, “Fuck yeah!” It’s such a funny show, plus it’s improvised. I come out of improv comedy. Plus I’m from Jersey, so I love hair metal and music like that. It was perfect in every way.
Alex Obert: What was your experience like working with Joan Rivers on the set?
Alison Becker: She’s just so amazing. When I heard she passed, I just started crying. I was so devastated. She is so amazing, so lovely, so talented and she was just so gracious. Z Rock was a show on IFC, it wasn’t a huge budget show or anything, so we didn’t have fancy dressing rooms or trailers. Joan Rivers was a pretty big star, there were other people who would come in there and put up a stink, but not her. We were waiting to shoot a scene in a dingy backstage of a dive bar and she just couldn’t have been happier. She would always bring all the women on set Joan Rivers branded nail polish and jewelry. I am so glad that I got to work with her and I’m so devastated that she passed.
Alex Obert: What did you think about your chemistry with Joey?
Alison Becker: Joey’s great. The guys in ZO2 are performers, they’ve been performing on stage and for kids for years and years, but they’d never done on-camera stuff before. It was cute because they were all really nervous about it in the beginning, but they were natural as soon as they shot the first scene. And Joey was amazing.
Alex Obert: On the topic of musicians, what is on your iPod?
Alison Becker: I was a VJ for a while at Fuse and VH1, then I worked at a record label for a little while. People would just assume that I’m always into the newest indie bands and they’d ask me what’s cool at the moment. But I still listen to Bon Jovi, Jane’s Addiction, Poison, Guns N’ Roses, I just never really got out of the late eighties. (laughs)
Alex Obert: I’m glad you mentioned Jane’s Addiction because it brings me to the topic of how you still kept in touch with Dave Navarro after Z Rock.
Alison Becker: I met Dave on that show and he is so different than I expected him to be. Everyone always has this preconceived notion about him. He’s really fuckin’ intelligent and has his tight knit of friends, he kind of keeps to himself. He’s such a cool, smart dude. He also hosts a radio show that I’ve been a guest on a couple of times. He’s also really surprisingly funny. I enjoyed watching him improvise on Z Rock. One of the little character quirks that the producers came up with for Dave’s character was that he was gonna be obsessed with flowers, he would hate to see flowers cut off from stems cause it’s killing them. If you presented that to any other rockstar, they’d be like, “I don’t get it… what am I supposed to say?” But he would just riff and he’s fucking hilarious.
Alex Obert: Do you have any particular memories meeting other musicians?
Alison Becker: Well Z Rock was great because they brought a lot of people like Navarro and John Popper, he’s amazing. One person that did come to set that I was bummed I didn’t get to meet because I didn’t have any scenes with him was Sebastian Bach. I actually saw him in a restaurant the other day and I still regret not going up to him and saying hello because I would’ve loved to have met him.
Alex Obert: How was the exciting opportunity to be a part of TRadioV presented to you?
Alison Becker: It’s funny because I got my show on TRadioV from meeting my friend, Jessica, who I met through Dave Navarro. She does comedy also. She does his radio show with him and she’s become one of my best friends since then. We started doing a show there every week. Paulie’s been a guest a couple of times actually. It’s so fun.
Alex Obert: Were you involved in radio before that?
Alison Becker: Not really. I mean I did radio in college, but it was just five friends on campus listening. I don’t know if that counts. But I’ve done so much hosting and so much VJ’ing, it’s kind of the same thing. But it’s internet radio, so it’s really a podcast. It’s so much more freeing, you can say and do whatever you want because of the fact that it’s on the internet. There’s no censorship. So it’s different than being on national radio or on a TV show where you have to say this line in this amount of time, we can talk about whatever the fuck we want.
Alex Obert: How did your tastes and passions shape throughout college and high school towards what you’re currently doing?
Alison Becker: I always thought I might be an actor or a writer and I was doing plays in high school. I didn’t really get into comedy until I was in college. I went to Georgetown in D.C. and they had an improvisational group there. I didn’t really know what improv was, but I auditioned and I got in. I was there at the same time as Mike Barbiglia, who’s a big standup comedian now. Nick Kroll, who has his own show on Comedy Central, was there as well. And John Mulaney, who also has his own show. I was with all these comedians trying to find our way at the same time. The first time I did an improv show, I just remember being on stage and pulling something out of my ass. I said something dumb and everyone laughed. I was like, “This is amazing! This is a great high, saying shit and a whole room full of people laugh.”
Alex Obert: Was acting what you wanted to do when you were a kid or did you envision something different?
Alison Becker: When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I still kind of want to be a veterinarian. (laughs) But it was either an actor or a vet.
Alex Obert: Do you have any roles that you’re currently preparing for?
Alison Becker: I am going back to Parks and Recreation. I’ll be shooting another couple episodes of that, which I’m excited about. They are so amazing over there. I’m in a show now called Newsreaders, which is on Adult Swim. That’s currently airing Thursday nights at midnight. That is another group of insanely talented comedians. It’s a spinoff of another Adult Swim series, Children’s Hospital.
Alex Obert: Who do you feel you connect the most with on the set of Parks and Recreation?
Alison Becker: I’ve known Amy Poehler for a while because I studied at her improv theater in New York. It’s so fun to do scenes with her, she’s the most talented person I’ve ever met. Because she comes from improv, once we do the scene once or twice the way it’s written, she’s very open to saying, “Okay, let’s have fun with it now and play around.” It’s so fun when you get to improvise and that line makes the cut. Then you see on TV and you’re like, “Oh my god, I wrote that!” (laughs)
Alex Obert: What was the reaction from friends and family like when you got that role?
Alison Becker: My parents were so excited. A lot of the comedy I do is either just internet stuff or a little more dirty, my parents are very old school and old-fashioned. Sometimes they’ll see my comedy and be like, “Did you have to swear?” (laughs) With Parks and Rec, it’s so great because it’s a comedy that I love and my parents love and younger people love. My parents get so psyched whenever they see me on that show. Even if they catch a rerun, they’ll call me up and be like, “You’re on right now!” They get very excited.
Alex Obert: Since you are also currently involved with Adult Swim, what are your thoughts on that channel?
Alison Becker: Adult Swim is so amazing because I think it’s one of the only channels that really lets people have creative freedom with their shows and say whatever they want, much like with podcasts. It’s so bizarre and I love it. Yes, a lot of the shows are for teenage stoners, but aren’t we all teenage stoners at heart? (laughs) It’s so fun. The character I play on Newsreaders is this techie girl, who just wears these crazy cosplay outfits and wigs and feather eyelashes and platform shoes. If you put that on a network show, people wouldn’t know what to make of it. Adult Swim just lets the freedom run crazy and the stuff that they get because of that is amazing. And they also have a lot of animated shows, my show isn’t animated, but animation opens up so many other things. When you’re writing animation, you can put your characters on the moon and you don’t need to build a set for it. It’s great.
Alex Obert: You had a very notable role recently in a commercial for RadioShack with Weird Al Yankovic.
Alison Becker: Oh my gosh, he was so amazing! He’s just how you think he’s gonna be, kinda dorky and totally adorable, super smart and lovely. Not pretentious at all. I was so excited to get to work with him. At the end of the day, I felt like such an asshole because I was like, “Can I please take a picture with you?” And he was like, “Of course!” (laughs)
Alex Obert: A decade ago, you were a part of MTV’s Boiling Points. What did you take out of that?
Alison Becker: That was the first TV show I ever did. I was on it with a bunch of other improv comedians, who were also friends of mine from the Upright Citizens Brigade. I was so excited to be on an MTV show, but we were so mean to people because it was a prank show. Even though it was for the show and everything ended up fine, it was definitely hard to shoot some of these because I hated being mean to strangers. (laughs) But we got so tight on that show. I still talk to the producers, the other actors and the camera guys. It was all of our first shows, not just the performers, but it was everyone’s first show that made it. I think that really helped bond us. Whenever I’m back in New York, I see those guys and they’re all doing great.
Alex Obert: So you moved from New York to LA, how did that happen?
Alison Becker: I was in New York for about nine years. I would come out to LA every once in a while for pilot season, which is January to March-ish, they cast a lot of the big shows. So I was slowly coming there for a few months at a time. I love New York, there’s no city that will ever mean to me as much as New York does. LA’s fine, but I really love New York. But there wasn’t enough work there. It was a lot of cable, a lot of hosting, and I was ready to take the next step. And it’s less stressful in LA because there’s more job opportunities. So that’s really why I’m here.
Alex Obert: What are some of your favorite spots in New York City?
Alison Becker: My favorite restaurant in New York is Lil Frankie’s, it’s a little Italian spot. I’ll go there to get a glass of wine or have dinner. I was there for so long that the places that I liked to go out to changed. For a while, I liked to go to Meatpacking and that became kinda douchey. And then I was hanging out in the East Village and that became kinda douchey. There is a lot of speakeasy bars there now that are a lot of fun. I just didn’t love the vibe of the city. I love all the restaurants and I love the public transportation and I love the theater, I just love all of that.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, I want to get your thoughts on this. If it were to all end today, how would you want to be remembered?
Alison Becker: That’s a good question. I want to be remembered as a hard worker and someone who’s funny. It’s interesting because no one in my family is in the industry at all. I remember talking with my uncle one time and I said if a stranger comes up to me and says, “I think you’re so funny”, it makes my day. And he asked me, “Would you rather someone come up to you and tell you you’re beautiful or you’re funny?” And I was like, “Oh my god, funny! One hundred percent!” (laughs) That just means so much more. Fuck the pretty people, I wanna hang out with the funny people.
Alex Obert: Do you have any plugs for readers?
Alison Becker: I love to tweet and use Instagram, those are my two online outlets. They’re both the same handle, @thealisonbecker.
Alex Obert: Sounds good! I’d love to thank you so much for your time. I had a lot of fun.
Alison Becker: Me too! Thanks, Alex!