By James Dempsey
Worcester, MA, USA
Nancy Pimental, born and raised in Boston, attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute and graduated with a degree in chemical engineering. Not the obvious qualification for her big break job of writing for the icon hit series South Park. From there she wrote the screenplay for The Sweetest Thing starring Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Selma Blair, and replaced Jimmy Kimmel as co-host of the Comedy Central game show Win Ben Stein's Money. In 2010 she joined the Showtime ranks as a writer-producer for the hit series, Shameless, starring Emmy Rossum, William H. Macy, Jeremy Allen White and Cameron Monaghan. THIRSTY was fortunate to catch-up with the whirlwind that is Nancy Pimental in Los Angeles for this chat.
THIRSTY: When did you first know you were funny and how did that change your view of yourself?
NANCY PIMENTAL: Hmmmm...good question...not sure of the specific time or event...but I remember sitting in a classroom...maybe middle school age...and saying something funny in response to the teacher…I got a positive reaction from the class and even the teacher…I had an understanding that the reason it was funny was not only the content, but also the timing of when I said it...the quickness of making a crack, right after the teacher had said something, was what made it funny.
That soon became something I honed...or maybe it always lived in me...the rapid fire of thinking and speaking on my feet...comments are floating in my head at all times during a conversation...my job is to pick the moment...read the room...and know when to say it.
THIRSTY: Who are your comedic influences and does their humor still resonate in today's culture?
NANCY PIMENTAL: I seemed to have a lot of exposure to Joan Rivers as a kid...my mother took me to see her when I was 12. In the middle of Joan's act, outside the theater, the audience heard gunshots. Joan Rivers didn't miss a beat making a joke – something about her boyfriend waiting for her outside. Her timing was quick and seamless. Perhaps that's where I learned it from?
She recently did a roast of Howard Stern for his 60th birthday. She went up right after Tan Mom. The first thing out of Joan's mouth was, "Oh, boy, Tan Mom, I bet your daughter is the only kid who wishes her Mom were Casey Anthony."
When I was a kid, I loved the movie she wrote and directed, Rabbit Test. To me, it was hysterically funny. Although I just looked it up on IMDB [Internet Movie Data Base] and it got one-and-half stars, so what the hell do I know about funny...
THIRSTY: Do you base your comedy on your own life, family and friends and if so, have there been any personal repercussions?
NANCY PIMENTAL: I absolutely base my comedy on my experiences. Or my friends' experiences. I haven't had any repercussions yet – which can only mean one thing – my friends don't watch anything I write – assholes.
THIRSTY: When did you decide to go into show business and how did your family feel about that decision?
NANCY PIMENTAL: I decided to go into show business when I was 8. It took me about 12 more years before I actually did it.
One time when I was struggling out in Los Angeles and hadn't made a career for myself yet, my mother said that I could always come back home.
I snapped at her that this wasn't an option and that she needed to support me. It was never discussed again.
THIRSTY: Is stand-up comedy still relevant in our electronic world?
NANCY PIMENTAL: I never, ever go to see stand-up comedy, but I went to the Comedy Store on Saturday night. My friend Eleanor Kerrigan was performing. On the line-up was also Jeff Garlin, Mark Maron and Neal Brennan.
It was fun and I enjoyed it, but I was also hanging with a friend. Texting people on my phone. Snacking on some food. Enjoying a tasty beverage. And bouncing up and down from my table to chat with people out in the hallway that I knew.
If I had had to sit there the whole time, for 2-hours straight, I would've developed restless leg syndrome.
So, I guess the answer to your question is – it's relevant in the age of our electronic world as long as I can recreate the ADD electronic world experience in the comfort of my own comedy club cocktail table.
THIRSTY: You've worked in both film and television. Do you have a preference and which medium is closer to your soul?
NANCY PIMENTAL: I'm digging the film world right this second – as I am on hiatus from the TV world – because film has a definitive beginning, middle and an end. As well as a character who is flawed and must transform to win the girl or win the war.
I desire to transform, I think we all do, but we don't, I don't. So at least I can watch some bozo in a movie do it if I can't.
THIRSTY: What is the secret to surviving and thriving in Hollywood as a woman?
NANCY PIMENTAL: Don't act like a woman. Act like a talent. Your gender should not be a factor. Your craft. Artistry. Voice. Sensibility. Gift. Is all that matters.
THIRSTY: What made South Park such a groundbreaking show and which episode that you wrote reflects the real Nancy Pimental?
NANCY PIMENTAL: The show was so groundbreaking because Trey and Matt wrote what they wanted and thought was funny not what the marketplace wanted or thought was funny.
That's cute that you think I would remember any of the episodes that I wrote. I do have the scripts on floppy disks, so if you'd like to go back in time with me, we could get a floppy disk machine thingie and read some of the scripts and then I could tell you.
THIRSTY: Shameless satirizes everything. What is the biggest taboo the show has broken and did you fear any backlash?
NANCY PIMENTAL: We've done episodes called, "Cancer Camp" and "Retard Nation". I'm pretty sure those were giant taboos.
I also wrote and episode where Frank's girlfriend needs a heart transplant to survive. Frank answers the phone when the call comes in that there's a heart available. He lies saying that his girlfriend doesn't need the heart anymore. Then he fucks her until her heart gives out and she dies.
Those are all pretty taboo – I'm assuming – although I have no filter anymore as to what is appropriate and what isn't.
To me anything that is mean spirited and angry is inappropriate – no matter what the subject matter. If there is a sense of irony, and poking fun, then everything is fair game.
We try to give equal attention to all races and beliefs – that way no one feels left out.
Showtime has been okay with me writing an episode where Frank has sex with an underage girl, but they didn't like when I had Lip steal library books.
So, go figure what's taboo and what's not...
THIRSTY: Frank Gallagher, your lead character, is indeed "shameless". How do you make an audience empathize with such a despicable person?
NANCY PIMENTAL: I'm not sure the audience does empathize with Frank. We're not looking for empathy. We're looking for reality. For this reason, people either love or hate the show. Because it's so real. The feedback I hear is, "It's too hard for me to watch because it reminds me of my own (fill-in-the-blank) relative". Or "I love watching because it's so honest."
THIRSTY: Do you have an interest in writing "serious" drama or would you rather stick with comedy and maybe move into directing?
NANCY PIMENTAL: I would have interest in writing serious drama – if I knew how. I fear my lack of reverence and my desire for irony gets in the way of writing a full-on straightforward drama. I like writing dramatic scenes within a collection of comedic scenes in an episode.
But I worry if I were writing pure drama it might be sappy and heavy handed. I'm not sure I know where the line is between enough and too much drama.
Besides, nothing to me is straight drama. I find way too much comedy in the tragedy of life.
THIRSTY: What is the next project we can expect from you?
NANCY PIMENTAL: I'm working on writing a movie spec right now during my hiatus from Season 4 and Season 5 of Shameless. Maybe if I'm putting that down in writing and out in the universe I'll actually get it done. Because now I'm accountable to you all...