Frisky Q&A: Actress & Comedian Erica Watson, Co-Star Of “Precious”
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working alongside a lady named Erica Watson at a dreary desk job. She’s one-of-a-kind: nice as can be, whip smart, hilarious, and just an all-around bundle of good vibes. It was a total bummer Erica and I lost touch after we both moved on to other jobs.
Then I randomly saw Erica performing at a stand-up comedy club one night last spring and when we reconnected, I learned her career has blown up. The Fabulous Miss Erica Watson has a small, but significant, role in “Precious,” which you might have heard has OSCAR written all over it.
But not only is Erica a star on the big-screen: she’s also been performing a one-woman stand up comedy show about body image called—get this—”Fat Bitch.” After wrapping up performances in New York City this fall, Erica will be performing in a Chicago run of “Fat Bitch” at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts from November 19th-28th, 2009. (She’ll be back in NYC in February 2010—check Erica’s web site for more details.)
After the jump, Erica and I chatted about playing an abusive mom in “Precious,” freaking everyone out by naming her show “Fat Bitch,” and how Erica wishes she could be more like Santa Claus: The Frisky: So what’s your role in “Precious”?
Erica Watson: My role in “Precious” is very small, but I am so excited about it! I play a woman named Shelia, who is an abusive mom to a little girl you see throughout the movie. Lee Daniels, who is the brillant director of “Precious,” saw me in another film called “Dirty Laundry” and gave me the opportunity to audition for “Precious” based on that. So one blessing led me to another one!
The Frisky: Wow, was it hard for you to scream at this little girl?
EW: Not at all! The inner bitch in me was finally allowed to come out, and I had a ball! (laughs) But on a serious note, I was a little nervous about being mean to her, but she loved it! She knew that we were just “pretending” and she made it very easy for me to treat her horribly!
The Frisky: “Precious” really seems like a “message” movie.
There are so many messages in the movie. But what I take from the movie is that we all have obstacles and challenges in life, but you can overcome anything if you believe in yourself and work hard!
EW: I have met Mo’nique many times before, even though she and I do not have any scenes together. Most of my scenes were with Gabby [Sidibe], the lead in the movie. She and I had a blast.
The Frisky: I also hear you have a one woman comedy show called “Fat Bitch.” What’s up with that name?
The Frisky: So you’ve been called a “fat bitch” before, I’m guessing.
EW: I have been called a “fat bitch” by so many people. You hear it on the street when you make a stranger mad, you hear it in rap songs…and now I have taken the term and will show an audience how the “fat bitch!” came to be. I would love to be a happy-go-lucky fat person, like Santa Claus….but I can’t. Society has made me a “fat bitch!’ and my show uncovers how.
The Frisky: So what does “fat bitch” mean to you now—is it still hurtful or is it a term of endearment?
EW: Words have power. We give them power. Sometimes people want to hurt me with the term, and then for others (usually other fat bitches or gay men), call me “fat bitch” as a term of endearment … it all depends.
The Frisky: Seriously? People call you a “fat bitch”?
EW: I get called “fat bitch” by strangers as well as friends. My response depends on how or why the person says it. Personally, I am not offended by the words on plain sight, but the undertone determines how I feel. Ultimately, if you are called something enough, you will start to believe it if you do not have a strong sense of self! I know who I am,and I love me! So call me whatever you want, I’m still going to live my life. And there have been times when “fat bitch” was an accurate description of who I am. But many times, it’s the “fat and sassy” black woman stereotype that feeds into people thinking that about me.
The Frisky: Do you feel like you get stereotyped a lot as a plus-sized woman of color?< EW: All of us, everyone is stereotyped. In my show, I talk about how the “mammy” stereotype has effected me, but then I relate it too how everyone has a “mammy-type” of stereotype that people use to put you in a box. You may be a skinny white blond with blue eyes and people assume that you are a ditz. You may be a young black man with an Ivy League education, but because you wear a baseball cap people think that you are a thug. Even white men are sterotyped to be racists. We all have things about us that the world uses agaisnt us, but we have to get over it and move forward.
But, I think plus sized black women are treated very poorly on TV, films and other forms of media. The fashion industry ignores us and we do not get starring roles in movies, unless we are the sidekick. But, when it comes too the porn industry we get a lot of love. Porn featuring fat women is the third highest-selling porn. So, it’s interesting that a mainstream movie will never let the fat girl get the guy, but behind closed doors, we get the guy in the bedroom all of the time. (laughs) I can not wait for the world to catch up to the low-budget fat porn industry! (laughs)
The Frisky: Has the title of your show offended people?
EW: Yes, some people have been offended. But when they walked away, they probably called me a “fat bitch” under their breath! (laughs) So who cares? I’ve actually had more men be offended than [women]. A couple of guys have said, “Why would you call yourself that? You should love yourself more!” But they totally do not understand the focus of my show. I am taking the term “fat bitch!” and dissecting it to how that I do not fit the stereotype.
The Frisky: Do you think women, or women of color for that matter, have a trickier time doing stand-up?
EW: Yes I do, and it’s because of stereotypes. When people see me on stage, they expect for me to only talk about “urban” topics, whatever the hell that means. “Urban” is the new “n-word” and I hate that term. Why are black comics thought of as urban? It does not make any sense to me. Many of the mainstream comedy clubs will only use black comics on “urban” night, and they use black female comics even less. I feel like the comedy world is one of the most segregated forms of entertainment.
But for every person in the industry who does not embrace black female comics, there is another who does. So I try to stay focused on the positve things and not wory about the rest. It is hard out here for all female comics no matter what. Racism and sexism in comedy is real!
The Frisky: Do you consider yourself a feminist? I only ask this because I know a lot of women of color prefer to use the term “womanist,” since they feel like feminism is a “white women’s thing” and I’m curious what your thoughts on this are. And also, do you feel like feminists do a good job of including plus-sized women and women of color?
EW: Yes, I am a feminist … I am also a womanist. I embrace both terms. But I can honestly say that the feminist and womanist movement have a lot of work to do, and many times the voices of all women are not heard by either side. I’ve seen panel discussions by feminists and no women of color are included. But, I’ve seen womanist panel discussions about body image and no full-figured women or dark-skinned women are included. I totally believe in the advancement of women’s rights and issues. Yes, I am pro-woman. I am also pro-man, as well. I am pro-people! I am pro-human! (laughs)
Many times it is hard for black women to participate in the feminist movement because racism plays such a large part in our lives, and is a shared experience with our men. So as a black woman, I have to be sensitive to the racial issues that effect both black men and women. I can not seperate my womanhood from my race. That’s just my opinion, and their are others that may feel differently. I am a black woman that is also plus-sized—Ive got too many issues with society to count! (laughs)
The Frisky: Are there any blogs, TV shows, or movies which you think do a good job representing plus-size women in a non-douchey way?
EW: Well, “Precious” does an amazing job at showing full-figured women as three-dimensional characters. But many times, the actresses that Hollywood celebrates as being plus-sized are not really plus-sized in real life. They may be considered to fat for TV, but they wear a size 12/14, which is the NORM!
There are many blogs, online magazines that I love: MANIK Magazine, The Curvy Fashionista, Plus Model Magazine and I also adore women like Mia Amber Davis, Chenese Lewis, Beth Ditto and Ashley Falcon who are making waves for plus-sized women.
The Frisky: What’s next down the pipeline for Erica Watson? Any more movies or shows?
EW: God only knows. Right now, I am focusing on the Chicago run of “Fat Bitch,” [which will] be in Los Angeles, Atlanta and North Carolina next year as well. I am also in the process of talking to different publishers about a book that is full of funny, yet true, dating advice for women. Especially skinny girls. You guys need help! (laughs) So there should be a big announcement in the top of 2010 about my book deal. I’m also working on a comedy album with a wonderful hip hop producer named R-Kitech. The sky’s the limit for me!