• Lindsey Bowden

Conversations...with writer, Michael J. Feldman

Updated: May 8



Michael J. Feldman

In 2015 I flew into Los Angeles and just a few hours later was sat in the famous Groundlings Theatre watching a side-splitting show called Fairytale Theatre 18 and Over. It was hilarious, clever, and, to be frank, just plain wrong. I loved every single second.

The next day I met with the writer, and together we took the show to the Edinburgh Festival where it was a huge hit, and he hasn’t been able to get rid of me since. He’s a writer, a performer, a producer, and a beautiful soul if ever there was one. Here is my good friend, Michael J. Feldman.


Lindsey Bowden (LB)

Hey lovely, thanks so much for joining me in this series of Conversations. How are you and how is life in Los Angeles with all the Covid crazy?

Michael Feldman (MF)

Thanks for having me! Life is pretty crazy right about now. It’s just such an emotional rollercoaster. Some days I’m okay, and I feel like I have a grasp on it, and then BOOM! Despair, anxiety, and depression will just smack me in the face. I’m usually able to funnel how I’m feeling into writing, but now even writing feels so unnerving. I’ve been working on a TV pilot, and I was writing a scene with multiple characters and I thought, “Will this be allowed to shoot anytime soon? Should I only be writing one-person scenes?” Anyway, short answer— it’s nuts. But I’m VERY lucky to be worried about writing scenes and not, you know, death and illness. Thankfully my parents, my husband, and my husband’s parents are all safe and healthy.

LB

It's a very unnerving time for us all, and I think the huge spectrum of emotions is hitting everyone. I know I’ll never take being able to hug my friends for granted again! So, let’s chat about how fabulous you are. Can you remember what your first hint at wanting to work in this business was?

MF

For as long as I could remember I’ve been in love with making people laugh. In junior high, when I was bullied, I would often make fun of myself to beat them to the punch. I think a lot of my self-deprecating humour came from that period of my life. I was obsessed with stand-up and would watch George Carlin and Richard Pryor on repeat. Then in college at NYU (New York University), I took a class called COW (Creating Original Work) and I wrote my first solo show, and thought, “Oooh, THIS is what I want to do…” I loved writing and performing my own material, and slowly that turned into a love for writing for other people. The idea of a TV writer’s room was so magical to me; to get to sit around a table with some of the funniest people you’ve ever met, and just come up with stories all day. That was the dream I ultimately pursued.

LB

Oh, I know what you mean. One of my favourite things is brainstorming ideas. I love the energy when everything comes together. I interviewed your good friend, Tina Huang, who you met at Uni, and we spoke about her move from New York to Los Angeles. What drew you to Los Angeles?

MF

Tina and I met at NYU, we were in a devised play together and we instantly fell in love with each other. We moved to LA together— at the time, she was in San Francisco and looking to pursue a career in Film & TV (which seemed more attainable in LA than San Fran), and I was in New York, desperately looking to shake things up in my life. I was a PA at The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which was my first job out of college, and I loved it, but I knew I was avoiding pursuing my dream of writing. So, when Tina called me and said she was moving to LA, I jumped on that bandwagon pretty quick.

LB

I don’t blame you, I can’t wait to jump on that bandwagon myself! Let’s talk about the people that inspired you as a youth and whether those same people still inspire you.


Lily Tomlin

MF

Growing up, my biggest inspirations were George Carlin, Steve Martin, Carol Burnett, Billy Crystal, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Jon Stewart, Charlie Kaufman, Seinfeld, and Lily Tomlin. With Lily Tomlin, I was just so inspired after seeing her on Broadway in The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in The Universe. It was another moment in my life where I was like "Yes! This is what I want to be doing!". Since moving to LA, I'm inspired constantly by so many writer/performer/comedians who consistently release phenomenal work-- Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Ryan Murphy, Tina Fey, John Early, Cole Escola, and John Oliver to name a few...

LB

Some incredible people there, Billy Crystal and Lily Tomlin I strongly agree with! You are known as a writer, actor, and producer. Do you feel drawn to a particular area?

MF

If I had to pick one, it’s writing. But I also love performing, and if I go TOO long without it, I go a little nuts. Producing I do out of necessity, because we all have to produce our own work these days. But I don’t love it, and I’m not particularly great at it.

LB

I often feel that way myself! I definitely miss acting and am planning on doing more in the future, but you’re right about producing your own work, it sometimes feels like that is the only way you’re going to get work! So, speaking of which, you created Fairytale Theatre 18 and Over, fairytales with morals for adults. The show has been enormously successful in the States and the UK. Can you talk a little about its conception and development?

MF

After I moved to LA, I went through a rough transitional period. I felt stuck. Someone recommended Steve Martin's book, Born Standing Up, and it shook me to my core. His stories of just going for it and being absolutely insane onstage were so inspiring. I thought, 'I'm having a tough time being myself on stage, so screw it, I'll be a squirrel!' So, I came up with this squirrel character who just woke up from hibernating, and I'm STARVING, and I can't find the acorn that I buried away before the winter. I'm screaming and whining and asking the audience if they've seen this acorn anywhere. It was going over really well, and I remember thinking, 'I wish there was some sort of show I can put up and utilize this and other crazy animal characters.' That’s when it hit me; use animals and puppets to tell child-like stories with morals and lessons for grown-ups! Fairy Tale Theatre was born! In 2011, I was given a monthly residency at the ACME Comedy Theatre in LA, and I gave myself the insane challenge of putting up a brand-new show with all-new tales every month. It was during that time that I booked my first TV writing job, and I even got to pitch my fairy tale show to several networks after Billy Crystal came to see it. He was so impressed that he signed on to produce it.


Michael J. Feldman in Fairytale Theatre: 18 and Over

LB

It’s such a great story and, as you know, I do have a slight crush on Billy Crystal. Wait, do you know that?

MF

I’m not sure I do not know that.

LB

Don’t tell him…or maybe do (laughs). Anyway, back to you! We met, of course, in 2015 after I saw Fairytale and it completely took my breath away. I remember, so clearly, sitting in the audience KNOWING it would be perfect for Edinburgh. So, our mutual pal, Patrick Bristow, introduced us, and together we took Fairytale Theatre 18 and Over to the Edinburgh Festival that same year. Did you find that the audiences in Edinburgh had a different reaction to the show than the LA audiences you are used to?

MF

I did. Edinburgh audiences were just SO joyful and light-hearted. I remember feeling the need to cut certain darker jokes that didn’t go over too well. They were just so ready to laugh and enjoy and be supportive. It’s a completely different energy than in LA or New York where it feels so competitive and cutthroat.

The Inbetweeners (USA)

LB

Yep I understand that, and in fact one of the things I love most about the Edinburgh Festival is the way that there is no hierarchy, and there’s just support. People do help each other and want each other to do well. I actually miss working there and meeting all the different creatives, but I’m too old to live on 3 hours a sleep a night now! As a writer you have a unique view on the world, but can you chat through your process of being a writer on established programmes like The Inbetweeners and how that differs from writing work you have created?

MF

My first writing job was on The Inbetweeners (US version), which I booked after the head writer saw my fairy tale show. As I mentioned earlier, sitting in a writer’s room coming up with stories and making other funny people laugh all day is really a dream come true. I still enjoy working on my own projects, because that’s when I get to express what I’m going through and be true to my voice and keep developing my voice, but collaborating with other writers on this thing that you build together, shaped by the showrunner or creator of the show is so gratifying. Sometimes I forget that it’s actually a job.

LB

So, Michael, let’s get political. In 2016, Donald Trump became President of your country. This was a huge hideous shock to us all, but you channelled your horror into a 2-minute film (watch below) which ended up going viral and having over 4 million views on Facebook. Did you have any idea that it would get the response it did?

MF

I thought it would be popular… but I didn’t think it would be SO popular. I’m really glad I went through with it. At the time, I was SO depressed, and the premise for this video popped into my head, and I almost didn’t do it because I felt, “Who cares, what’s the point?” But then my husband and my friends encouraged me, and I went about filming it, and had a cathartic blast working on it!



LB

It really is wonderful, and I love that I know so many people in it!

MF

Yes you do!

LB

You just mentioned him, but of course you do have a fabulous husband, who is also called Michael, and you both star in a web series that you created called Michael and Michael are Gay. This is a very open, comical look at life as a gay couple in Los Angeles. It looks like it was a riot to make, what made you decide to write it together? Are there plans for more?

MF

We just always thought our relationship was so funny to begin with. We have a very Pinky and the Brain (American animated series) energy between us. The situations we’d constantly find ourselves in seemed ripe for a sitcom. We also have an open marriage, and we barely see that discussed or even mentioned on TV, so we thought we had a unique perspective on relationships, especially gay relationships, to share with the world (or, ya know, whoever watches on YouTube). We’re currently adapting the web series into a half-hour TV show. Fingers crossed it’ll see the light of day one day!


Michael J. Feldman & Michael Rachlis in Michael and Michael are Gay

LB

That would be wonderful. It’s brilliantly written. The ‘Dinner with Straights’ episode had me roaring! As a writer myself, I know the ideas that are constantly whirling around and taking over my mind. I’m sure you have the same. How do you decide which projects to try and put down on paper?

MF

I usually just go with my gut… something I’m instantly excited about. Then I’ll see that through until moving on to the next idea. A lot of times I start working on something and get stuck, and desperately want to move on to another idea. But if I stop and remind myself what made me excited with the idea to begin with, I can usually steer myself back on track. Otherwise I’m just hopping from one idea to the next with no follow-through and getting absolutely nothing done.

LB

Oh, I hear you, big time! It’s very easy to have the intention of coming back to something when a new idea pops in, but very rarely do you go back to it! I’m sure creators the world over are nodding their heads right now, cause I believe that many people read my interviews ha! Thanks so much for having this chat with me Michael, I look forward to being back in LA with you and procrastinating together over mountains of coffee!

MF

Thank you! And yes please! Don’t forget Zoom session procrastinating is always a possibility!

LB

I wish I had shares in Zoom right now.

MF

Right? Then you can use all that extra money for producing your own work, and the cycle of creative life continues!


Follow Michael J. Feldman on Instagram @michaeljfeldman and Twitter @JMichaelFeldman


Follow Lindsey Bowden on Instagram @lindseybowden76 and twitter @lindseybowden76

© 2020 Lindsey Bowden.