Emma Willmann Checks in at WICF After a Crazy Year

When we spoke, I congratulated on a blockbuster year- one that included a recurring role on The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the Inside the Closet podcast with Matteo Lane, and a forthcoming Netflix special (among the first in their fifteen-minute format). But she was quick to correct me: what we’re seeing now, is the culmination of years of work. Her time to reflect on all that work is happening in her adopted hometown of Boston, where she’ll be playing an integral role in this year’s Women in Comedy Festival.

“It’s a nice check-in point for me to make sure I’ve got new jokes!” she mentioned as we chatted ahead of the festival, but also noted that taking part in the festival consistently proves to be a kind of homecoming. Willmann has participated in this festival several times – first as a submitting artist, and in the past few years as an invited guest. But one thing has remained constant, from her first appearance to the coming weekend’s shows: the care and kindness that festival organizers have shown her.

“Even when I was coming into it through me just submitting for it, they were respectful and nice and supportive then, and they also are now,” Willmann shared. “They really care about comedy and definitely are also friendly to the Boston comedy scene.” The care and kindness stretches beyond the festival and into congratulations on personal accomplishments; Willmann noted “When I got Crazy Ex, [festival organizer] Michelle [Barbera] was very sweet about it.”

Willmann’s turn as Beth, the romantic interest on the recently renewed CW musical comedy, is her first big break in acting, and is a role she couldn’t have imagined for herself even a short time ago. “I started really wanting to try to work on acting stuff about two years ago. You get some stuff, and then those little things add up and help you get SAG or an acting agent. I wouldn’t have gotten Crazy Ex if I didn’t have that particular agent to help me get that audition, and I have a good acting coach now…each thing that you get, you then use that to apply to the next thing.” And now that the show has been confirmed to return for a fifth season, we can look forward to more of her budding relationship with the recovering perfectionist Valencia. The role seems fated to have gone to Willmann, who admitted, “I was attracted to [her] from the beginning.” Now the formerly “bitchy” character is starting to relax and become more laid-back…and Willmann can inadvertently thank herself for that!

Her time on the show, and particularly under the influence of “classy individual” and showrunner Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom (who previously sponsored a short film competition at WICF), is informing the show that Willmann is preparing to write herself. In addition to paying attention to what directors and contributors she brings into her future space (“man, I don’t know what other sets are like, but…”), it’s also given her the confidence to write and pitch a show as “quirky and silly” as she is:

When I first set out trying to write something, I thought, ‘I should try to write something like this, this one type of thing because that’s what a comedy is and that’s what people want,’ that’s what I thought I’d have a chance getting made. But when you see a show like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, or even like a Broad City, you see you can do something really quirky and silly, and people will also respond to that. So you can have faith that if you really try to make something good, you can make your own roles and there is the opportunity that people will also respond to that.

But for now, Willmann is aiming to enjoy the success that she’s having between the show, her podcast, and the June debut of her Netflix special…and acknowledging that the year ahead will build on what she’s doing now. “A lot of times you get something, and then you think, ‘Now all these things are going to happen.’ I just don’t see any examples of that happening, at least for me! You think, oh, I’ll get something…but you gotta keep doing the work to get that next thing.”

Follow Emma on Instagram, subscribe to the Inside the Closet podcast, and keep an eye out for her Netflix fifteen-minute set this June.

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Amma Marfo

Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.