You might not know her name, but if you’re a Real Housewives fan, you’ve seen Amy’s incredible impressions on Watch What Happens Live. Amy Phillips is quite possibly the best impressionist around. Her specialties range from Joan Rivers to Sarah Silverman to Ramona Singer – all hilarious and all ridiculously spot-on!
So I think my first Amy Phillips sighting was on FunnyorDie.com. It was there I saw your perfect Rachel Zoe impression. You played Rachel shopping for bananas that were “bananas” whilst getting pushed around in a shopping cart. Was that the first impression that got you buzz?
Yes, actually it totally was!
How did this buzz get started?
Well, basically I was putting a new character and impressions reel together to send to Saturday Night Live to get an audition. So I had made a compilation video of impressions and then I also made a stand alone Rachel Zoe video of Rachel driving around in a car. I had put that video up on YouTube and then one day I got all these hits.
That’s a pleasant surprise.
Yes and then that video was featured on Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, which is when I decided I wanted to keep making these types of videos.
People must always ask, “Why aren’t you on Saturday Night Live?” Does that question make you crazy at this point?
It definitely doesn’t make me crazy. That’s the ultimate show that I’ve always dreamed of being on. And really, I’ve had the opportunity to audition twice and I consider that an honor. So when I’m asked – it makes me feel good like I’m doing what I should be doing. You don’t get feedback on your auditions so I’ll never know, but that’s okay – I’m doing my own thing!
It’s just crazy, because who does better impressions than you?
I’ll answer that. NO ONE. Seriously!
Well. Make a call?
I will! P.S., it will go straight to voicemail and then get deleted. Who do you look up to for impressions specifically and then comedy in general?
I guess going back to middle school when I discovered Saturday Night Live. Dana Carvey would definitely be a huge inspiration, and my earliest were The Muppets and Carol Burnett.
For impressions, definitely Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman for sure. From there, there’s a long list of comedians from Madeline Kahn to Amy Poehler today. It’s such a long list.
The thing about your videos that speaks to me is that the writing is really good and you have clever ways of featuring characteristics. For example, you have Rachel Zoe and Roger going to bed in full-length Snuggies to highlight the platonic nature of their relationship, which is so smart and funny. Are you always looking for those type of specifics?
(Laughs) When I’m writing, absolutely. But I’m such a fan of these reality shows that I’m going to watch them whether I’m doing an impression or not. So all this information pours into my brain subconsciously. Then when we’re working, we improvise and I try to find something about the character to exaggerate.
I steer clear of easy, mean things. But I’ve crossed the line even in my own book.
Well, I’ve been doing so many reality stars that on some level they’re putting themselves out there to be made fun of. So I’ll take more risks with them than if I’m doing Sarah Silverman, who’s someone I have so much respect for.
That makes sense. The reality stars are already at a 10 in terms of exaggeration. Where are you going to go if you don’t cross the line?
That’s actually the challenging part. How can I be funnier and more exaggerated than what they’re already portraying?
Let’s play F, Marry, Kill. Of your Housewives impressions, who would you F, who would you kill and who would you marry: Ramona Singer, Lisa Vanderpump & Bethenny Frankel – go. This is for HelloGiggles, so the “F” stands for fondle-gently.
I would definitely marry Lisa V for sure. I’m going to have to drink pinot grigio with Ramona and fondle her gently. This is terrible, but I’m going to have to kill Bethenny. Ramona’s my gal, she was responsible for getting me on Watch What Happens Live. And Bethenny can handle being killed. She can turn it into a brand and parle it into another show.
Ha! You know she would. What’s your process of creating the impression? Do you start with the mannerisms or voice or does it vary? Like with Gwyneth Paltrow, the way you move your mouth sells it. But Bethenny Frankel, the rapid fire cadence is just so dead on.
It’s different every time – some of them are so easy to get to. A lot of the impressions are kind of in my voice range so it’s not much of a stretch. For example, when I was watching RHNY and Ramona said “Pinot Grigio!” (said in Ramona Singer squeal) and I knew I just had to make my eyes big.
Who was the hardest to impersonate?
Bethenny Frankel. I never intended on doing her but I thought she would be a really big challenge because my voice doesn’t naturally do what she does. But the key to her was that she talks like a stand-up comedian “What am I? Like what? Like am I like Paul Revere?” and she talks really super fast.
Your Housewives impressions are no longer just on the world wide web. They’ve been popping up during Watch What Happens Live. How did that happen?
I have a deal with them and we produce and write the videos and they feature them!
Was that so exciting? Did you push that or did they come to you?
It was so exciting. I work with Brett Guennel, he is my writing partner and director. He’s also my fiancé. And Nancy Edwards, who writes with me on some of the videos. After Andy Cohen showed my Ramona impression on WWHL, I said to them, “I really want to get more attention from Andy. Maybe I could put together a Bravolebrity compilation video.” Posting that video collided with Ramona asking if I could be the guest bartender.
When I got there, Andy said he loved the video and wanted me to continue doing videos for them. I thought he was just saying, “Keep up the good work kid!”
I didn’t think he meant anything official. Then my management got a call from Bravo and we set something up!
Well it’s great match. Perfect accompaniment for the vibe of the show. And you made it happen, which is awesome! You didn’t know exactly how it was going to look but sometimes just putting your energy in a specific direction works.
That’s a really good point. I had a bunch of impressions on YouTube and got some traction, but the Bravo stuff was moving the most. So I hit hard in that one spot.
Is it fair to say that impressionists were more bountiful in the ’90s?
Yes. It’s weird, I find it hard to define myself. I lean towards improvisation and sketch. I don’t do stand-up, I really love improvisation. But it just so happens that I can mimic easily. I feel kinda stuck – should I have some sort of schtick? I can’t imagine myself on stage going from impression to impression.
Doing the slow turn from one impression to another.
Exactly! Videos are the best format for this type of humor. If you’re not on SNL, what do you do with your impressions? Maybe my time was in the ’80s or ’90s, I’d have more street cred.
Has Sarah Silverman seen your impression of her?
OMG, that’s so funny that you said that. I have no idea, but I think she will soon because just the other day I did a podcast for Comedy Bang Bang. Scott Aukerman (the host of the show) asked me to do my impression of her. Jeffery Ross was the guest and he and Scott are good friends with her, so I hope she heard it!
If we could wave a magic wand and customize Amy Phillips’s career in 2013, what would it look like?
Oh brother, making lots of money doing really fun stuff with funny people. Specifically, I would love to get more opportunities on television. I’ve always dreamed of being a series regular on a sitcom. And I’m getting married in July so that’s coming up and really exciting.
Are there any impressions we should be on the lookout for?
Yes! I’m shooting a Yolanda Foster (RHBH) video this weekend.
So exciting! Amy, thank you so much for sitting down and sharing your funniness with HelloGiggles!