This Wednesday at 8/7c, it’s the season finale of Nightcap (Lionsgate/Dakota Pictures/Trout the Dog Productions), Pop TV’s outrageous scripted madhouse comedy. The series takes you backstage at America’s number five rated late-night talk show, “Nightcap with Jimmy,” to reveal the absurdity of dealing with the quirky and often demanding personalities of A-list celebrities. Each week, viewers are treated to ever escalating levels of preposterousness that range from a pre-show boozefest with Brooke Shields to experiencing one of Debra Messing’s relaxing colonics.
At the center of the maelstrom is the talent booker, Staci Cole (played by Ali Wentworth). At any given moment, Staci is but one celebrity meltdown away from her own nervous breakdown. She lives her life on the edge… of sanity. The sole person responsible for keeping Staci from toppling into the abyss is Penny Jones (played by Lauren Blumenfeld). Penny is Cole’s upbeat, devoted assistant.
This season, Lauren became a series regular, which basically means she appears in every episode. Although that was also the case in season one, being officially named a series regular is kind of a big deal because there are basically only three types of roles on a series: guest, reoccurring, and regular.
“I am doing the exact same work,” Lauren began, “but technically, it makes me far more tied to the show. There are a bit more restrictions on what I can and can’t do. Also, it does legitimize, in some strange way, this crazy acting choice that I made, which happens to have no security. It means maybe I can continue acting for a little while longer before I have to go back to my restaurant job… even though it was really a great restaurant job.”
Lauren is a wildly creative talent who brings a vibrant energy to whatever character she inhabits. She has credits in film, television, the Broadway stage, and more. Her characters range from Olive Oyl to Barack Obama. Originally hailing from Los Angeles, Blumenfeld attended the Experimental Theatre Wing at NYU and is a member of Old Vic New Voices in London. Additionally, she is a performer and writer for Naked Angels’ Naked Radio and a volunteer and Smart Partner at the 52nd Street Project.
The quest to play Penny Jones began when Lauren’s agent showed her a little teaser about Nightcap.
“I just think Ali Wentworth is hilarious!” Blumenfeld gushed. “I watched the teaser and I knew I definitely wanted to work with her. They had made it pretty clear that they were looking primarily for people who are comedians, stand-up comics, or improvisers. I’ve always had comedic sensibilities, but I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an improviser because those people are magical — they create out of thin air. But I can do it if I really understand the character I am playing.”
So, Lauren went into the audition knowing she’d be going up against some of the brightest talent from the Underground Citizens Brigade. [Talent such as co-regular Don Fanelli. You can read Don’s interview here.]
“They gave us a half page scene and said, ‘You’re going to improvise in the audition.’ If you’re a planner who likes to have any sort of control over the experience… that’s a little bit horrifying! The first time, I went in and I improvised with the reader. I had two auditions after that when Ali was in the room. Those were wild because I had the tiniest situation and I was told to improvise an entire scene in front of strangers and a camera.”
“I left not knowing how it went,” she recalled. “I remember talking to my agent about it afterwards saying I didn’t remember what I did. I think I cried — because it was part of the situation — but I’m not entirely sure. It was entirely out-of-body and very, very fun, so I felt good about my audition, but I really didn’t know what they were looking for.”
When she didn’t get a call back, Blumenfeld decided she’d better fly out to LA for the pilot season to look for work. After five days on the west coast, Lauren got the call she’d been hoping for and promptly flew back east.
“I remember sitting down in a coffee shop being a total dork,” she laughed. “I wrote down all of these ideas I had about the character, her likes and dislikes, things that freaked her out… I felt like I needed to go in knowing that I was a real person because if I really understood who I was, then I would be able to react honestly to these crazy, insane things that Ali would throw at me. If I was shaky on who I was, I would go into it thinking, ‘I have to make them laugh. I have to be witty.’ And that’s like death!”
“All that work I did in the coffee shop was my preparation. But when you get in that room in front of the camera, you have to forget all of that work you did and just listen and be present. The first thing that we shot was just stage directions: ‘Penny tries to get Staci to wear a Fitbit.’ I was out-of-my-mind terrified! One thing I learned while doing Nightcap was if I was doing my crazy alone work and I came up with any lines that I really wanted to say, those lines would never work as well as when I was just in the moment during the scene, which made shooting so fun and alive.”
As the series progressed, out of necessity for story clarity, Nightcap became more and more scripted.
“What attracts me to comedy is when it’s earnest and sincere and the character I am playing is not in on the joke,” Lauren told Entertaining Options. “The more I can get into the character’s headspace and justify their choices, the funnier it is because they are just so clueless!”
What makes Nightcap so over-the-top hilarious is its devilish spin on the truth. It takes the public’s perception of celebrities and either exaggerates that persona to a scandalous degree or gives it a complete one-eighty and slaps you across the face with the unexpected. For instance, in last week’s episode, Dr. Oz threatens to have Staci killed if she tells anyone that he secretly drinks Mountain Dew. And he’s not joking!
“The show has that kernel of truth that you can really explode,” Blumenfeld commented. “It’s written so well, they take the public’s notion of who these celebrities are and they kind of rip it wide open.”
Which brings us to the celebrities. Nightcap doesn’t just have the occasional big name guest cameo, it features an endless procession of A-listers. At least two per week. In the upcoming season finale, they’ve got four: J.J. Abrams, Mark Hamill, Christie Brinkley, and Rachael Ray!
“So many of the guest stars who have appeared on the show are actually Ali’s friends,” Lauren informed. “These are huge, huge celebrities who usually have very limited time, so typically, we’d only have a few hours to get all of their coverage.”
“For my scene with Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos from season one [See above.], we got all of their coverage done in about three hours and then they left. Then we had another celebrity coming in and we had to get all of their coverage, too. So, maybe around midnight, I was speaking to an X on the wall, trying to remember what Kelly and Mark had done, and reacting. It was crazy! But the actual experience of working with them was so fun. It’s always refreshing when you get to see huge celebrities who are the epitome of grace and beauty and all of these things just totally making fun of themselves. It’s so satisfying to see that they have a sense of humor!”
Besides being a bold adventure in zaniness, Nightcap is a testament that we are currently in the midst of a second Golden Age of television. Entertainment without limits that is created with passion and exuberance.
“It is such a crazy and exciting time for television,” Lauren agreed. “All of those old rules no longer seem to apply because there are so many great options on so many different platforms at so many different times throughout the year. It’s really an exciting time for television!”
The season finale for Pop TV’s Nightcap (Lionsgate/Dakota Pictures/Trout the Dog Productions), “The Show Might Go On, Part 2,” airs on Wednesday, August 2 at 8/7c. Along with the regular cast, it features J.J. Abrams, Mark Hamill, Christie Brinkley, and Rachael Ray.
If you would like to get a double dose of Lauren this week, you can also catch her on CBS’ Doubt, this Saturday at 8/7c. In the series, Katherine Heigl stars as Sadie Ellis, a brilliant attorney at a boutique firm.
“I play Lucy Alexander, Sadie’s assistant — which seems to be a trend for me. Lucy is similar to Penny, but the two have their differences. Penny’s quite intelligent, but she’s also very gullible and very attached to her job — probably too much for her own good. Lucy, on the other hand, isn’t really attached to her job at all and she’s definitely not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but she’s incredibly well meaning. I get a chance to do a bit of comedy on a lawyer drama, which is fun!”