It may sound trite, but it’s truly inspiring when one of the “good guys” makes it.
Diona Reasonover, a star on the new TBS show “Clipped,” is one of those good eggs. She joins Ashley Tisdale (“High School Musical”) as a fellow hairstylist in this beauty salon comedy. Sitcom royal George Wendt (“Cheers”) plays shop owner and patriarch to a group of comedy’s latest and greatest including Ryan Pinkston and Lauren Lapkus of “Jurassic World” and “Orange Is the New Black.”
Born and raised in Detroit, Diona, 23, worked her way through the comedy scene at the Los Angeles branches of Second City and the Upright Citizens Brigade to perform on their main stages. Now she’s a sitcom regular! Given her hard work ethic, earnest nature and natural comedic ability, it was inevitable that she would “make it.”
I’ve had the privilege of knowing Diona and seeing firsthand how hard she’s worked to get to where she is. And as a fellow actor and queer person of color, it’s inspiring to see more of us in Hollywood. I recently got the chance to ask her about diversity, comedy and working with hilarity heavyweights before the Tuesday, June 16 series premiere of “Clipped.”
Christian Cintron: How did you get involved in “Clipped?”
Diona Reasonover: Julie Ashton, the casting director, saw me perform in the CBS Diversity Showcase and was willing to bring me in, even thought I didn’t have many credits before this show. But I was on an episode of “Basketball Wives LA” in a scene with Draya Michele, but I didn’t even get into a fight. Snoozeville.
What’s the hardest thing about being on television?
I started worrying that I wasn’t perfect enough for TV, but then I came to realize that as long as I keep my weight in between Ashley Tisdale and George Wendt’s I should be fine. I also think people are sick of perfect. I got this part by being who I am, and I’d like to continue being who I am. That’s why it bugs me when people assume I’m just the token black cast member.
You’ve really heard that?
Yeah, people haven’t even seen the show yet. I’m a queer person of color playing a queer person of color on TV. I’m really bringing myself to the role. People have made comments online about my accent in the trailer, having not even seen the show. Meanwhile, that’s me as an actor using my sister Lisa’s voice. Seriously, if you call her on the phone, that’s exactly what she sounds like. This is important because this is a story people need to see.
What can you tell us about your character Charmaine?
Charmaine has got this really sharp wit that I just love, and the most colorful pants you’ve ever seen. She’s so much cooler than me.
What is it like working with Ms. Sharpay Evans aka Ashley Tisdale? Had you seen “High School Musical?”
Who hasn’t seen it? Seriously who? Tell them to come over to my one-bedroom shanty and watch. Just don’t be allergic to cats or lesbians, as I have both. Ash is so sweet and generous. Also unlike Sharpay, Ashley doesn’t wear a lot of feathered ensembles.
And what bout working with sitcom great George Wendt?
George is the chillest person I’ve met in Hollywood. I’ve learned so much from him. Whenever the director tells him to exit a scene, George replies with, “So I should fuck off, then?” It’s great! I even got a little emotional.
Emotional, how so?
When I was growing up, my dad really shaped me as a comedian based on what he showed me. One thing was “Cheers” — he had, like, all of the episodes on tape. My family was not super supportive of my sexuality. The fact that one of my father’s idols is playing a queer character in an interracial relationship, and I’m a queer person in an interracial relationship, it’s like we’re practically the same person. [laughs] But honestly, it’s great for there to be some closure. I really like it when things come around like that.
Did you get star struck at all with any of the cast members or guest stars?
Oh yes! I can’t spoil anything, but one of the female guest stars is “family” if you know what I mean! I was so pumped to work with her, but when I get excited, I just start talking too fast. I sound like a deranged turkey. Lucky for me, she’s also sweet and cool and chill as fuck.
Can you share any funny stories from the set?
Ryan Pinkston, who plays Ben, was on “Punk’d,” and he would pop out of nowhere and scream and scare us. So one day, [costar] Matt [Cook] sneaks into Ryan’s dressing room, and tells Lauren Lapkus to film him scaring Ryan, and I was there, filming Lauren. Don’t ask why we film so much stuff. We clearly have a ton of storage on our phones. Anyway, Matt screams when Ryan walks out of the bathroom, which didn’t scare Ryan, but did scare Lauren, which scared me. So everyone is screaming except for the person who was supposed to be screaming.
What is the most important thing you learned about comedy before or while working on this show?
All the best comedy comes from truth, but the best bits come from hiding in your cast mates’ dressing rooms and scaring the crap out of them.
As a queer person of color, do you think that it’s hard to find roles that really celebrate who you are?
It think it’s getting better, but we have a long way to go. There are so many stories to tell, and we’re just at the tip of the iceberg here. One of the more “interesting” things I’ve been told is that I don’t really have to be gay to qualify as diverse, that being black is enough diversity. But if that’s the case, then we’ll only get to hear the stories of Caucasian queer folks. I want to hear everyone’s story.
How do you feel about diversity in comedy?
It’s easy for us to just sit back and blame studios, but we have to look at our own tastes and what we are giving our time and attention to. If you want more diversity, are you supporting the diverse shows? Are you looking at independent stuff on the web? There’s great stuff online like “Awkward Black Girl,” for example, or “First Gen.” Are you going out and supporting that stuff? If you say you want a black person on “SNL,” are you even watching “SNL?” That’s not to say diversity is done or fixed in Hollywood, but we really all have to work together to make it happen.
“Clipped” premieres Tuesday, June 16 at 10 p.m. on TBS.
Christian Cintron is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.