Lisa Kudrow: Head Case

7.18.2011

By Ari Karpel

For a series about the endless humiliation associated with reality TV, the double vomit was comic gold. Toward the end of the first -- and, it turns out, only -- season of HBO's The Comeback, Lisa Kudrow's character, Valerie Cherish, dressed as a giant cupcake, punches her loutish nemesis Paulie G in the stomach. He throws up, prompting her to upchuck as well.

But Kudrow kept flubbing it. Every time she went to throw up, she turned her head away from the camera, instead of facing it.

'I think it was a polite, real-people-don't-throw-up-on-camera reflex,' says Michael Patrick King, who created the show with Kudrow. 'I don't know, you're in a cupcake -- you don't know what you're doing.'

Actually, Kudrow knew exactly what she was doing. In her mind, the ultimate goal of a reality show is to capture crying and vomiting. 'I had seen it on The Amazing Race, that's why we put it in,' she recalls. 'To me, vomiting is the most humiliating thing.' But when she wrote the scene, it hadn't occurred to her that the audience needed to actually witness the projectile. 'We just want to know it happened,' she explains. 'At least, I don't need to see it. I mean''

Sitting on the outdoor patio of the Beverly Hills Hotel Polo Lounge, Kudrow has just quoted what is probably Valerie's most cherished line: 'I don't want to see that!' But sadly, Valerie's days are over -- Kudrow has moved on to a new self-absorbed, delusional persona: Fiona Wallice, the therapist at the center of Web Therapy, Kudrow's Web-to-TV comedy now airing on Showtime. Like Valerie, Fiona is a manipulative wack job, but she's also rather clever. Undaunted by a lack of credentials, Fiona takes to the Internet to provide three-minute counseling sessions to on-the-go patients.

'One day, Lisa came into my office and said, 'You know what would be funny?' ' recalls her producing partner, Dan Bucatinsky. It was 2007, and Kudrow, intrigued by the proliferation of online services, had the idea of busy professionals turning to their webcams for quick therapy between meetings. 'That character just arrived out of Lisa, full-blown,' says director Don Roos, who is married to Bucatinsky.

'We weren't dying to do a Web series,' says Kudrow. The show originated when she and her team were approached by luxury car company Lexus, which asked if they wanted to contribute something to LStudio .com, the entertainment site it was launching. 'You could never walk into any network or studio and pitch, 'Oh, it's two people on this video iChat thing,' ' Kudrow says, pausing for effect. 'And that's it.' But with Lexus, there wasn't the usual harrowing process of developing a show at a studio and a network. They just made it and delivered it, which is part of why Kudrow can't imagine returning to a traditional sitcom anytime soon.

Of course, that's how it all began. Kudrow achieved fame, and fortune, in the '90s, playing Friends's Phoebe Buffay, one of the most likable -- and dumbest -- characters in TV history. (Her gloriously idiotic Michele Weinberger in 1997's Romy and Michele's High School Reunion may claim that spot for the big screen.) But Web Therapy, which recently snagged two 2011 Webby Awards (for best comedy and best individual performance for Kudrow), makes her one of the only major television stars to produce and headline a successful online series that has been remade for TV.

Tags: Television
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