With the launch of her podcast Busy Philipps Is Doing Her Best, the actress/writer is doing just that: trying to make sense of a world turned upside down.
After the abrupt cancellation of her E! TV show Busy Tonight, which lasted less than a year but served as a welcome respite from the male-dominated late-night circuit, Philipps entered 2020 aiming to find the show’s new home. Those plans were dashed when COVID-19 hit, but from it arose the podcast, available now via Cloud10Media.
Co-hosted by creative partner Caissie St. Onge and comedian/former Busy Tonight writer/bestie Shantira Jackson, the show is a loose, humorous forum for Busy and Co. to chat with celebrity guests and friends, including actor Ike Barinholtz (Eastbound and Down, The Mindy Project), ESPN anchor Cari Champion and Rosie O’Donnell. With topics ranging from pop culture to personal setbacks, the through-line remains: Even if we have know idea what we’re doing, we’re all just trying to do our best, dammit!
Music has always been her oasis during times of doubt and struggle. Raised on sugary ‘80s pop, she quickly manifested her own musical destiny through the neon glow of ‘90s raves and with the help of indie record stores. With the occasional assist from her husband, screenwriter/director Marc Silverstein (with whom she recently created the video for Tomberlin’s new single “Wasted”), we discussed the soundtrack to Philipps’ life.
What’s the first song you remember truly falling in love with?
Busy Philipps: I had an older sister, so I was beholden to her musical tastes when I was really little. She was really into hair bands. [laughs] I was in fourth grade, and for my birthday that year, I got a Walkman and two tapes: Debbie Gibson’s “Lost in Your Eyes” and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer.” Those were the first two cassettes that I actually owned and would play on my Walkman. I was truly obsessed.
Would you do the dancing in the mirror with a hairbrush thing or make your own music videos?
BP: We didn’t have a video camera in my house because my dad was always holding out for the technology to get better. He really stuck to that, and we never got one. But yeah, I did sing in front of the mirror. I think every kid did that. I used to practice commercials in the mirror. I’d memorize commercials and practice them in the mirror but not music videos. MTV was in constant rotation in my house, though. As I got older, staying up for 120 Minutes on the weekend was a big deal.
In your podcast trailer, you say that you didn’t win Class President junior year because you were too busy doing drugs and going to raves.
BP: I grew up in Arizona in the mid-90s. What do you expect? That was one of two ways to go in that situation. You could become a young Republican or go to raves and do drugs. I really do think I won that election! I think I definitely won the popular vote, but the administrator in charge thought, “No way will I let this girl be in charge.” They went with the kid who had been president since fourth grade. I was running on a “Change Is Good” platform. I wanted to bring back hope to the people. I really felt like I nailed it. That was 25 years ago, and I’m still pissed.
Were you hardcore into DJs and house music, or was it more about the drugs and the rave experience?
BP: I was really into DJ Dan and Z-Trip. One of my on again/off again bad boyfriends was a DJ in his early 20s, and I was in high school, which was so mid-90s. None of the girls I knew dated anyone age-appropriate. Z-Trip was from Arizona, and was just coming up in the scene in my era. I wake up every morning with a song stuck in my head, and it usually ties in with something I’m going through in my life, and sometimes it just feels like a total non-sequitur. A couple weeks ago, I woke up with the Chemical Brothers and Beth Orton song “Where Do I Begin.” I had to listen to it immediately, and it totally holds up. During that time I was really into the Orb, and that song “Little Fluffy Clouds.” I always felt like that song was basically me talking about growing up in Arizona.
I went to the DMV five years ago to renew my license and was in line behind Paul Oakenfold. If you could have told 16-year-old me that I’d be standing behind Paul Oakenfold at the DMV, I would have completely lost my shit. I was too scared to say anything to him, but it was a full-circle life moment.
We’re three years apart, and my high school was completely consumed by Phish, Dave Matthews Band and jam bands. Did you ever do the hippie thing?
BP: It wasn’t my vibe, but I went to a Grateful Dead show in eighth grade, before Jerry Garcia died. I was friends with some girls that were really into jam bands and the hippie vibe. I went on a really weird date with a guy in high school to see Dave Matthews Band. That was a fluke, because I wasn’t a fan. Although, I have to say, “Crash” always holds up. I don’t know Phish at all. I was good friends with this guy Jarrett Bellini throughout middle and high school, who went on to be a journalist at CNN. He was fully into the hacky sack life. Through Jarrett I was exposed to jam band culture, but it’s never been my scene.
I didn’t have the Internet growing up, but we had independent record stores with listening stations, or even Tower Records when I moved to L.A. When I was 15, we’d take the bus down to Tempe and hit up basically the one indie record store in Arizona. I also liked punk in the ‘90s, which was a very “in” thing during that time. I was a total punker who loved NOFX [laughs]
Is there any music that you and Marc totally clash over?
Marc Silverstein: Not clash, but I’m sure you would rather not listen to so much R.E.M.
BP: Marc would rather not listen to so much Tori Amos. And yeah, I would definitely prefer to not listen to so much old R.E.M. That’s true. We both can acknowledge and appreciate that it’s good, but my overwhelming desire to put Tori Amos into so many of my random mixes is definitely a bummer for Marc. Generally we have very similar tastes in music. He’s listening to “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger right now.
What was the first dance song at your wedding?
BP: We had the best wedding mix ever.
MS: Here, you can pull it up on my phone.
BP: We got married in 2007, but it feels like a million years ago. When people first walked in, we played “Take Pills” by Panda Bear. Then “Words for Two” by Six Organs of Admittance. Mark walked down the aisle to “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” by the Smiths, “Heartbeats” by Jose Gonzalez — which is now my daughter’s favorite song before bed — into “Pitter Patter Goes My Heart” by Broken Social Scene. I walked down the aisle to “The Dream Before the Ring that Woke Me” by David Karsten Daniels, which is such a cool song that everyone needs to hear. It’s only like two lines repeated through the entire song, and it’s really beautiful, almost like a mantra. We kissed to “This Will Be Our Year” by the Zombies. Then it was “The Ballad of El Goodo” by Big Star. People started dancing to “Oh, You Pretty Thing” by David Bowie. We did a dance with our parents to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Greg Laswell. The end of the night song was “Can You Get to That” by Funkadelic.
Your daughter Birdie is 12. What kinda music is she gravitating towards?
MS: She’s really into whatever she’s watching. She got way into the ‘80s with Stranger Things.
BP: She got really into the ‘80s songs from the Stranger Things soundtrack. Now she’s into Sufjan Stevens because we just watched Call Me By Your Name. She loves Girl In Red and that song “We Fell in Love in October.” I think she likes some Harry Styles, but she’s not really a typical tween in that way. Our little one Cricket Pearl has very mainstream tastes. [laughs] She gravitates toward One Direction and Coldplay. It’s actually a hilarious joke in our family that she absolutely loves One D. I don’t know how she found it because it’s not the music that we play in the car. This is a controversial parenting move, but we refuse to let them listen to the music they want in the car. They are forced to listen to our music. The only thing that they’re really exposed to in school, dance classes or online tends to be pop music. I don’t want to listen to most of that. I feel like they can do so much better and should at least get a chance to hear other stuff.
Have there been any nerves taking on a new medium with Busy Philipps is Doing Her Best?
BP: I feel like anytime I put myself out there, there’s definitely a part of me that is nervous. In terms of Shantira and Caissie, the three of us know each other so well that it feels very easy and not nerve-racking. I talked about it in the first episode, and it’s true: I don’t know what I’m doing. I hope it all works out, but it’s not that far removed from all the other things I’ve been doing creatively in my life, especially in the past five years.
Is there any bitter residue from Busy Tonight getting cancelled?
BP: I feel like if you’re holding on to anything from last year, you gotta reprioritize and just look at the world, dude. So no, I’m not hanging on to revenge fantasies. I’m happy to move forward personally, but also very aware of what’s happening in this world. My priorities are in the right place in terms of what’s important to focus on and what to let go. 2020 has been challenging in so many ways, especially with having school-age kids who need help, while trying to work at the same time. That was really tricky in the beginning and took a lot of adjustment. Once we got into the groove of it, it’s been nice. We like the time together, and Marc and I have figured out ways to make it easier between us, like taking time for ourselves every day. I go onto the balcony and listen to music by myself every day. That really works for me.