Deep down, Fortune Feimster suspected that she could turn her number one passion of comedy into a living. She just didn't know what shape her path might take when she arrived in Los Angeles 11 years ago, with only $25 in hand.
Such experiences remain vivid in Feimster's mind as she prepares for her first theatrical tour – for which she's promising material with a strongly autobiographical slant.
“It's fun, it's silly – I do a lot of stories about my family, growing up in the South, observations about life, and coming out. It's a show that a lot of people can relate to. It isn't focused on one thing,” she said.
When Feimster hit Los Angeles, she'd graduated with summa cum laude honors from Peace College, in Raleigh, North Carolina – where she found her comedy path.
“It was a small women's college – I got to do theater there, and explore my more artistic side,” recalled Feimster. “It was the first place that showed me I could be funny, and pursue a career in comedy. Our graduation speaker was an actress here; I was the student speaker. We hit it off, and she hired me to be her assistant.”
Feimster eventually branched out from working with that actress, Emily Proctor – a Raleigh native who's appeared on shows like “CSI Miami” – into taking improv classes and “many, many years of free shows, just trying to get better at what I did,” she said.
Feimster built on those humble beginnings to become a member of the Groundlings Theatre's Sunday Company – whose past alumni have included “Saturday Night Live” star Will Ferrell – as well as a paid regular at venues like the Comedy Store. She also worked for seven years as an entertainment journalist.
Her big break came when Chelsea Handler plucked Feimster from eight finalists – out of 200-300 original submissions – as a writer-performer on the E! Network hit show, “Chelsea Lately,” where she's spent the last three years. She's also a main cast member on their scripted series, “After Lately.”
“'Chelsea Lately' was the big tipping point that put me on a different playing field,” said Feimster. “It was a huge opportunity for me, because I'd been waiting for that one person that did get it, and know what to do with it. And Chelsea did, thankfully.”
Asked what she's learned from working on “Chelsea Lately,” Feimster responded: “Probably how to write for television, find the joke quicker. It's one place where I got to do everything that I'd trained in – sketch, improv and writing. It's very rare that you to do all those things.”
Feimster also looks forward to “Chabot College,” a potential Fox comedy series about an all-female institution that's opened its doors to men for the first time. She's slated to play Becca, a popular sophomore who's also openly gay, but isn't uncomfortable about her sexual orientation.
“We're hopeful that we're going to get a chance to shoot some more episodes, but until everything's official, we're just waiting and seeing,” she said.
If it's picked up, “Chabot College” would fulfill Feimster's dreams of making acting a fulltime proposition. If not, she'll keep building her standup act, and see what happens with the next project – like she did so long ago, on arriving in Los Angeles.
Learning to weather those ups and downs is the key to succeeding in an unpredictable, fickle business, Feimster believes.
“You can't come into it thinking, you're going to do a couple shows, and have this huge career,” said Feimster. “It took me seven years to get to that point, and that's a faster trajectory than most people (experience) – I know a lot of people who are so talented, who haven't gotten that break. I'm lucky that I did. It doesn't happen overnight.”