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Grace And Frankie’s June Diane Raphael on the joy of calling Donald Trump a “little bitch”

Graphic: Nick Wanserski
Graphic: Nick Wanserski

In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.

June Diane Raphael is one of those people you’ve probably seen a dozen different times and not realized it, given her ability to submerge into noteworthy comic roles. But she’s also stood out in series that have showcased her talent, be it as the bachelorette in that reality-series sendup Burning Love, Piper Ferguson on NTSF:SD:SUV::, or her guest arcs on shows like New Girl and Lady Dynamite. In addition to her gig on the popular podcast How Did This Get Made?, she currently co-stars on Grace And Frankie, which begins its third season on Netflix March 24. She was very funny and idiosyncratic when we spoke with her for 11 Questions, holding court on youthful sexual awakenings, her favorite curse words, and working without a net.

1. If you could spend the rest of your life inside one movie or TV show, which would it be and why?

June Diane Raphael: I would spend the rest of my life inside The Golden Girls, of course. I feel like my dream is to just be retired and to really let it all out and to not give an F anymore, and so Golden Girls, to me, is that time in life. I’m on a show right now on Netflix. I’m on Grace And Frankie, which is also about that time in life, I’m realizing. But I would—so I guess I am sort of in that show. But there’s something about The Golden Girls and the sort of multicam set and Bea Arthur that I just want to be around those ladies all day long, and I want to be on those comfy couches and want to sit in that kitchen in those chairs in those pastels, and I want to wear Blanche’s outfits and it’s just really… and I want to sit outside in that weird little courtyard. I just don’t want to eat the food, that’s the only thing—because I feel like it’s really bland—but otherwise, I feel like that’s where I’d be loved. And just exist.

The A.V. Club: You’re selling me on it right now just by describing it.

JDR: [Laughs.] I know. It’s just so comforting. I remember watching that show with my parents and not totally understanding it. Like, a lot of comedy flew over my head, a lot of the sexual stuff I didn’t know. But because there was a laugh track, I’d laugh really hard, and I’m now remembering the look on my parents’ faces—I had no idea why it was funny. I was sort of, like, laughing along.

AVC: Was there a certain age when it transitioned from being this thing that you watched with your parents as a kid to “Oh no, I love this”?

JDR: Well, it was a time when—yeah, I guess you’re right, there was that moment of, “Oh, my parents are watching Columbo and I hate it” to “No, I love this show, too.” And I feel like, for me, that was around 11 or 12, where I could actually join my parents in their viewing and wasn’t so irritated that they were always watching Columbo. I remember my dad watched a lot of TV that we watched, too. I remember watching Saved By The Bell because me and my sister watched it, and my dad kind of watched it with us, too, while he was cooking or whatever he was doing in the kitchen. And years later we were watching 90210 when—I’m totally going to blank on her name right now—oh, my god, I can’t remember it.

AVC: Which one?

JDR: This actress shows up on the TV—oh, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen—and I said, “Oh, my god, that’s, that’s, who—that’s, oh my god, that’s”—and my sister and I were trying to figure out her name, and my dad, mid-sip of coffee, turns around and goes, “Kelly Kapowski.”

AVC: That’s incredible.

JDR: Like, how do you know this?

AVC: That’s so funny. By the way, my significant other is going to be so amped by your answer, because right now, every night, I fall asleep watching Golden Girls because they find it so comforting. So that’s what we turn on as we’re falling asleep.

JDR: Look, in these dark times: Treat yourself. I love The Golden Girls. I’ve watched recently, and it’s sort of insane there’s a chef that they’re always referring to as “fancy”—the pilot’s kind of a mess. [Laughs.] But it’s fun to watch, because it’s so not what the show will eventually turn into. But it is really comforting to be with those women.

2. Do you have a favorite swear word or phrase?

JDR: So, I mean, I do use the F word a lot, unfortunately. But my favorite thing to do, when I’m speaking about a man that I don’t like, is to call him a “little bitch.” [Laughs.] There’s nothing more satisfying to me than calling a grown man a “little bitch.” You know, I’ve referred to Donald Trump as a little bitch—so many times—and I find it so demeaning toward him and so empowering for myself. So yeah, him and several members of his administration, I’ve been referring to as little bitches, and wow! It feels good.

AVC: Yeah, that’s very satisfying. How often would you say you use it?

JDR: A lot of the day. A lot of the day. Very often. You know, for those of us—I’ll keep this as nonpartisan and diplomatic as possible—but for those of us whose heads are kind of spinning off and are really engaged in what’s happening right now and trying to effect change where we can, when we can, I think we also need to express ourselves and express our anger and also find joy in things like The Golden Girls right now. I will be damned if that little bitch ruins my joy. So I find it really comforting to refer to him as a little bitch.

AVC: It’s funny that you were trying to be diplomatic. We’ve referred to him as a “flaxen-haired jagoff” so many times at this point—

JDR: I think I know who my audience is. It’s pretty satisfying, and I think we all need to take care of ourselves and laugh as well as do everything we can to fight back right now while being mindful of laughing and enjoying ourselves where and when we can.

3. How did you spend your last birthday?

JDR: Unfortunately, this past birthday, my son was up the entire night before, very sick with that horrible—I think it was called the Norovirus or whatever the hell that was that was going around. So I was up the whole night with him, and the next day, I got it. And then my husband [actor and comedian Paul Scheer] got it. We were both fighting it because he had planned this whole day for me, and we were both pretending it wasn’t happening. We were literally driving ourselves to a massage and facial that he had planned and at one point, I was like, “I can’t drive anymore. I need to get in the passenger’s seat.” And he was like, “Okay.” And he was driving, and I was like, “I’m too nauseous to be in the passenger’s seat. I have to drive now.” It was a disaster.

And he, god bless him, was kind of pretending to not be as sick as he was. And then we almost pulled into this spa when I finally called it and said, “I’m very ill. We need to go home.” And he said, “I am, too.” And then he was much sicker than I was, and I was like, “Well, what was your plan?” He said that he wasn’t going to do his treatments, he was going to—by the way, these are great problems to have—he was going to lie in the men’s relaxation room in between throwing up. I was like, “This is insane. We’re sick, and we need to just acknowledge it. And it sucks that it happened on my birthday, but let’s get back into bed.” So we did. Of course, when you’re a parent, you can never really be sick, so it was pretty terrible. It was a pretty terrible birthday this year. Yeah, it was horrible.

AVC: How far into the day was it? How long were you pretending for?

JDR: That was, I think, our appointments were at 12:30, and so we called it probably at 11:45 and went back home. But then I was also angry with him for getting sick because I felt I deserved somebody to take care of me. It was that cycle of insanity, which, of course, made no sense. He was lying in bed and moaning, and I was like, “Goddamn you!”

AVC: No, that makes total sense, because the second you get sick, you want someone to wait on you hand and foot and take care of your needs.

JDR: Yeah. I was very resentful.

4. What is the worst professional advice you’ve ever received?

JDR: Um, I think the worst professional advice I’ve received… I feel I’ve been lucky in that I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful guidance, but I remember—and I would never do this to someone—I remember going into a manager’s office, the manager I had in New York, and this was way back when. And she said to me, immediately, “You should never wear striped T-shirts. You look much bigger than you are.”

AVC: What?

JDR: By the way, she was right, but it really rocked me in that I was early in my career and didn’t understand that people were looking at me and critiquing me yet. I was still kind of innocent in that. I was like, “Everybody sees my characters. Nobody sees me!” And it really rocked me for a while, and I got very self-conscious about the way I look. So I, especially with young people coming into the industry and young actors, I feel it’s really terrible to start with their looks. Right? Because especially for women, it just puts you in your head at a time when you should really be focused on your work and what you’re saying and doing and not how you look. And I remember she also turned on the lights—it was 4 p.m., it was kind of dark out—because she wanted to see if my hair, my roots, were done. She came over and stared at them. That kind of dissection for me—maybe for other women, it would be totally fine—but I walked out of there a shell of myself. I felt so uncomfortable and so embarrassed. It really made me scared in a way I shouldn’t have been. By the way, I looked fine. But it just… yeah. That was the worst piece of advice. Everything else has been actually quite helpful.

AVC: Do you remember what you had to do to work through that or get over that shitty insecurity that manager served you up with?

JDR: You know what, I don’t know if I’ve ever quite shaken it. It’s still very present. But I’m more focused or try to be more focused on my acting and writing and comedy and let the other stuff fall where it may. But it’s very hard, I think especially for women, to not take it in and to not be super conscious of the way that you’re being seen, which is of course completely antithetical to the work you want to do, which is completely free and bold and truthful and honest and brave, right? So it’s a very hard line to walk, and I certainly am nowhere near having cracked how to do that, but I try to focus on being a brave performer and not worrying about my lighting or whatever, even though, then, sometimes I see myself on screen, and I’m like, “Why did you wear that, look like that, whatever,” but I’m also more accepting that is what it is. There’s this battle always. But I’m certainly much happier when I feel that the work is good.

AVC: It’s such an omnipresent issue for women, not even just in Hollywood but in general. Is it something where, unfortunately, part of the ability of processing it is just having enough life experience to be able to deal with it because you’re older and more mature and can reflect on dealing with it?

JDR: I think so. I think I certainly know that the space I want to work in is a fearless space. I’m not always there, but I have been there. I know what it feels like. I know that it feels dangerous and scary and working without a net, so to speak. And working without a net, for me—maybe other women do it a totally different way—means being vanity-free. That’s how, as an artist, I know that I need to work. I can’t always get there. But I have enough knowledge now of what it feels like, and that’s ultimately the goal, always. Which feels a lot better when you can work in that space, for me, than someone saying, “You looked beautiful on screen.” Although that’s a nice thing, too.

AVC: And then you can take comfort in calling the president a little bitch.

JDR: Exactly.

5. If you were a medical doctor, what kind of doctor would you be and why?

JDR: I think I would be an ob-gyn! Because I love vagina. I love the experience of giving birth, and whatever way it happens for you is a powerful one. I feel I’ve learned a lot about it, and I think it’s amazing. Men and women who are ob-gyns are pretty amazing. One thing that I would like to do that I’ve seen them not do that well is take women all through the process of the postpartum period in a more meaningful way. That would be my agenda. I feel like there’s so much focus on the woman when you’re pregnant, and it’s amazing and beautiful and everybody’s taking care of you, and then you have the baby and nobody’s interested. And yet you are the most vulnerable you’ve been—I mean, I’m speaking on my own experience. Other women may have very different experiences. But for me, I was the most vulnerable and needed the most in my postpartum experience and got the least. It was just kind of a drop-off. That would be my focus—on the woman, afterwards.

AVC: You had that sense of feeling abandoned as soon as you had the kid?

JDR: Yeah, for sure. And that, I think, is a cultural thing, too. You know, everyone wants to see the baby. Everybody’s bringing gifts for the baby. I had several moms who knew and didn’t bring gifts for the baby and instead brought me food, candles, journals—the women who were like, “Actually, I know this is a tough time for you, and it’s much more important that I show up here instead of to the baby shower.” Those are the women who already had children and got it. That’s a raw time when you need your friends and family to swoop in in a very real way.

6. What’s your perfect Sunday?

JDR: My perfect Sunday is waking up at 10—which, you know, those days are over for me—but waking up at 10, breakfast with children, hanging out with well-behaved children. [Laughs.] And then, at 4 or so, having my sister come over and hang out with us, but then, leaving the children with her and my brother-in-law, going to see a movie with my husband, and then coming back for children and bedtime, and then going to bed. God, that sounds great. And then watching John Oliver or something fun in bed.

AVC: This seems like a question that maybe had a radically revised answer after you had kids.

JDR: Yeah. I mean, I love being a mom. Being a mother is my favorite thing ever. Don’t quote me on this. Someone else said this. I don’t know where I read it: I wish it started an hour later than it does. It starts super fucking early. And so, waking up—I love them so much, but I wish I could just do it a little bit later in the day.

AVC: How often do you get to sleep in these days?

JDR: Never. I never sleep in. By the way, when we’re like, “We alternate waking up for the kids,” the other person’s waking up at 7 a.m. It’s not like you’re waking up at 10. It’s like, “I’m really going to give you a treat and you’re gonna get your ass up at 7 instead of 5:59.” Which is when our son wakes up. But literally to the minute every day. I’m like, “You could not wake up in the sixes? Does it really gotta be in the fives?” Because the 5 really feels like nighttime. I don’t like the day starting at 5.

AVC: The darkness never feels very comforting when you’re getting out of bed.

JDR: No, no, no.

7. What do you get snobby about?

JDR: The only thing I really get snobby about is—not food or wine or certainly not television—I would say I get snobby about skin-care regimens and people taking care of their skin in the right way. When I run into a woman who’s like, “I wash my face with soap! Never put on moisturizer! I don’t wear sunblock!” I’m like, what the fuck. I really get up in arms about that and have to talk to her about her skin-care regimen. For men, too. And that’s the only thing I feel like, “No, no, no, no—I know the way. I know the way. I know where you are and you need to come with me, and we need to take care of our skin.”

AVC: How did that develop as a personal thing that you’re super knowledgeable about?

JDR: I’m not a dermatologist, but I had someone explain it to me, and I’ve seen the effect on my own skin over the years. And so I feel like we need to protect our faces, especially those of us who live in Southern California, from this goddamn sun that’s on us all day. I don’t know where it’s come from, but after many years of many different products, I feel like I can speak as an authority on a lot of them. I was under the misconception that I have oily skin, I’m prone to breakouts, I shouldn’t moisturize or put anything on my face. And then realizing, “Oh, no, my skin is incredibly dry—that’s why I’m breaking out. I need to wear moisturizer.” Some of these steps could be anti-“I’m serious,” but that’s the one thing I feel I know the way on. I’m not snobby about anything else.

AVC: So if you heard someone say something about their skin-care regimen that you knew to not be a good idea, you’d be like, “Hold on,” and you would inform them of what they were doing wrong?

JDR: Yeah. If someone tells me, “I just wash my face with soap,” we have that discussion. And a lot of men, too. Thank god Paul Scheer knows to moisturize. A lot of men, they don’t put anything on their faces. And some women also overdo it. That has been a part of my journey, too. I got so into moisturizing, my skin started overproducing oil. That’s my story. There’s a lot to talk about, for sure. I’m not necessarily [into] pricey products, and I’m not recommending super-fancy stuff. It’s more the consistency and the sunblock of it all, engaging in that process—I can be a little snobby about it.

AVC: Where should a guy start with skin care? Should I start focusing on a men’s moisturizer? Should I buy one of those “age-defying wrinkle reductions”?

JDR: The main thing you should be doing is putting on sunblock during the day, or moisturizer that has SPF 30 in it, and you should be putting it on your hands as well as your face and especially the side of your face that you drive the car on, because you’re next to the window. Your left side—it’s the same for everyone, what am I talking about?And you know, [I think] everybody should see a dermatologist. I really do. I don’t see it as a kind of elite experience—it’s our biggest organ. We need to see a dermatologist and have them really look at our skin and figure out what’s going on. Another thing I also recommend is washing your face with white towels, little white towels instead of your hands. Other towels have dye in them and, with water on them, I just don’t mess around with that. This way you’re not getting your hands back on your dirty face as you’re washing it. You’re going to see what’s coming off.

AVC: That’s such a good idea.

JDR: Aha! The small little ones. Just roll them up, put them in a little pretty basket in your bathroom. You can really get into it. Make it a whole thing. Enjoy the process. Again, I’m not going to let that little bitch take my joy.

AVC: I like that idea of having my little towel and, when my face is all dirty, wiping it off and treating the towel as my little bitch. “Wipe my face, you little bitch.”

JDR: Exactly.

8. What book have you read the most?

JDR: There’s a book called The Women’s Room by Marilyn French that was a really big part of my personal feminist awakening growing up that I read. I don’t know where I got it. It was in my house somewhere, blew my mind, I was changed forever. And then I continued to read it at various points in my life, and it sort of opens up in a different way. I read it in my 20s, and I was like, “I understand this now.” And now I’ve become a mom and read it again and truly understand on a different level what one of the main characters goes through as a mother. It’s very much a white woman’s piece of fiction, for sure. But for me, as a white woman, I related to a lot of it and continue to as I’ve gotten older, and especially at this moment in time, I want to read it again. That’s one I continue to pick up. It’s one of those pieces of fiction that reveals itself in a different way every time. It’s incredible.

AVC: When you say this novel gave you this feminist understanding of the world in different ways, can you be more specific about what it first blew your mind with?

JDR: There were a lot of different things. I don’t really want to summarize it in this way. It’s about a woman’s awakening, a woman who came of age in the ’50s and is a teenager—actually, she’s a little bit older—in the ’60s and part of the women’s movement and how she ends up there. It was the first thing I read that explained a lot of the feelings I was having and a lot of the rage and the feeling uncomfortable in my body and knowing that I was feeling a certain way in the world, but I didn’t have the language for it. It certainly wasn’t taught in school beyond the idea of “girls can do anything that boys can do”—I understood that kind of pop culture feminism. I did not understand anything else about feminism. The sexual revolution… it was the first time I had read anything that came close to describing those feelings of being outside of my body, feeling the shame, all of it, that I really was able to connect to in that book. So it sort of blew my mind. I was also listening to Tori Amos at the same time, so I was like, “Wait, what’s happening?!” It was all a part of that, probably when I was, like, 13.

AVC: That feels like a common thread with great art, is that connection to the feeling of encountering something for the first time that explains some part of life to you that didn’t make sense before. “I know this thing is really interesting because I remember that feeling from the first time my mind was blown.”

JDR: Right. Yes. Totally. All these things. I remember watching 21 Jump Street and thinking I’m attracted to Johnny Depp—“What are these feelings?” I remember all of this, the first time you feel things. I mean, yes, boys in class, whatever, but to specifically go back to those experiences, it’s kind of amazing.

9. What are you afraid of?

JDR: I’m afraid of death, obviously, doi. But beyond that, I think my real fear is that I will get to old age and think I spent too much time concerned about the way that I look and other bullshit. That’s really a fear of mine. “Why did you waste so much time worrying about how you looked when you looked so good then?” I guess the bigger thing is not really being in the moments of my life, getting to old age and realizing, “Oh, my god, you thought you should be different or you thought things were going to feel better when? You didn’t know that it was all happening then, and you should have enjoyed it more.” So that’s my big fear, and not enjoying things as much as I could and realizing actually how awesome life is right now.

AVC: That’s actually kind of a sweet fear, though.

JDR: I guess it is kind of positive.

10. Who are you a big fan of that we wouldn’t necessarily guess that you’re a big fan of?

JDR: I’ve talked about this before, but Marcus Lemonis from The Profit.

AVC: Wait, who?

JDR: [Laughs.] Marcus Lemonis from CNBC’s show The Profit.

AVC: Wow, yeah, I did not see that coming.

JDR: I’m not referring to an up-and-coming comedian. I am referring to the host of The Profit. He invests his own money into small businesses that need to be turned around. He becomes partners in them. And I love the way he does business, and I love his integrity, and I love where his head’s at, and I love what he has to say, and I learn from him.

AVC: Is that something that you would be interested in or follow as much if it weren’t for him as a personality?

JDR: No, it’s all about him. It’s all about him. He is just—I don’t know. I love him. Love him like crazy.

AVC: Is it like a brain-attraction kind of thing, where he’s so charismatic, you’re just drawn to him?

JDR: I’ve referred to him as my celebrity crush. I’m totally describing my celebrity crush, and that was not the question. But I am a fan of his. I really am. I like the way he thinks. He’s made me think about things in a different way. He’s made me want to support small businesses in a very real way, seeing what these small-business owners go through and the struggle it is and the courage it takes to put your heart and money behind things at a 24-hour job. I think I relate to that as an actress and a writer and someone who works freelance, in many ways. It never ends, you never clock out. You’ve always got to keep things moving. I can understand it and appreciate it, and it’s certainly made me want to buy local and small more than ever.

AVC: You keep giving these hopeful, optimistic answers to these questions.

JDR: I know! This is our time. Here I am: Pollyanna.

11. What advice would you give to your younger self?

JDR: This is so obvious, but I would—well, first of all, I’d tell her to wear sunscreen and not tan outside, which I did on my roof with tinfoil. But I would ask myself to be a lot bolder and to take more risks and to fail more, to go down boldly—which is something I held myself back from for a long time—and to not be afraid of making a fool out of myself. Again, I said it better before, but that’s where the best stuff happens, and for a long time, I was too scared to do that.

Bonus 12th question from Kurt Braunohler: How many times do you have to fail at something before you think, “Maybe this just isn’t for me?”

JDR: Interesting. Once. That’s one of my greatest strengths. I’m a Scorpio rising—we’re very decisive. I’m very good at cutting things off that don’t feel right. Anyone who knows my professional history has known I’ve gone through a gazillion managers and agents or whatever. I’m like, “This doesn’t feel right—moving on.” I don’t really suffer fools, which makes it easier for me. I do a lot of coaching with my friends on how to get out of relationships with their agents, boyfriends, contractors, whatever, because that’s easy for me.

AVC: You’re like the Godfather of helping people break off unhealthy attachments.

JDR: Yes! Yes. I do gut checks really well. If I gut-check myself and don’t feel right about something, I usually don’t move forward with it. I’ve gotten better at it. I’m sure when I was younger, I [moved forward anyway]. I was desperate. I took whatever was coming at me. But now I feel like I’m pretty discerning. Casey Wilson has taught me about this, too: She will watch 10 minutes of a movie in a theater and leave. I did that for the first time with her when we were 19, in college. I don’t even remember what movie it was. She was like, “I’m ready to go.” I’m like, “Wait, what? We paid for this. We have to watch the whole movie.” And she was like, “No, we don’t.” And I’m like, “Great. Let’s go have a margarita.” I learned that from her, too—just because you invested in something, if you’re not enjoying it, this is your time and it’s valuable. You do not have to see it through. I think I’ve gotten a lot better. I don’t understand people who have trouble making decisions. It’s actually kind of a frustration for me.

AVC: If somebody’s indecisive, you don’t understand what’s happening in their brain?

JDR: Yeah, like, ugh! It’s so exhausting, yeah. Because I always feel like you know the answer. You just don’t want to do it, probably. Which I can understand, but I don’t have a lot—I don’t know. It’s hard for me. People who were undecided about this election made me want to blow my brains out. “What the hell is going on?” But, yeah, that’s not hard for me.

AVC: A lot of people, you can tell them to do the “1, 2, 3” and say the answer without thinking, and they sort of realize what they already knew but didn’t want to know.

JDR: Right. Well, I can see, creatively, there’s a process to finding out what you want to do or say, and that to me is different than being able to make a decision and finalize something. I don’t struggle with that.

AVC: If someone were having trouble deciding if they wanted Mexican food or pizza for dinner, you’d be like, “Give me a break.”

JDR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Especially with low-key stuff.

AVC: The way we end it, then, is we ask you to give a 12th question that we then will ask the next person.

JDR: Okay, great. My 12th question is: When was the last time you had a lot of fun?

AVC: That’s a good one. What would your answer to that be?

JDR: By the way, it can’t be “performing.” That’s always fun.

AVC: I’ll put a thing that says it can’t be “performing.”

JDR: My last time I really had fun was a few nights ago watching the Oscars and being with friends and yelling at the screen and all of that. It was so much fun.

AVC: Was the high point of the fun screaming at the Moonlight flub at the end? Or was there a different moment?

JDR: Well, sadly, I had to leave before then to put children to bed, so I ended up seeing that not in a group setting. But just being with friends and engaging in low-stakes fun like that was a joy.