From her memorable stint on Saturday Night Live, to scene-stealing moments on VEEP, The New Girl and Transparent, actress Michaela Watkins is always one to watch. She narrates her life through music in her Guest DJ set, with many laughs along the way. Michaela stars in the forthcoming Hulu series Casual, from executive producer Jason Reitman.
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- Bugsy Malone soundtrack - "You Give A Little Love"
- Prince - "Baby I'm A Star"
- Beastie Boys - "Egg Man"
- Mavis Stapes - "You're Not Alone"
- Jason Anderson - "So Long"
Photo Credit: Alex Pieros
Anne Litt: Hi, I’m Anne Litt, and I’m here with actress/comedian Michaela Watkins. She’s been in dozens of TV shows and movies and stars in the forthcoming Hulu series Casual from executive producer Jason Reitman. From her memorable stint on Saturday Night Live to scene stealing moments on Veep, The New Girl, and Transparent, Michaela is always one to watch.
Today we’re here to talk about music that is inspired her over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Welcome Michaela!
Michaela Watkins: Hi!
AL: So what did you bring for us today? Where do you want to begin this journey?
MW: Well, I thought what I would do is kind of curate this by giving a song to each decade, something that I would attach to a decade of my life.
AL: So decade one?
MW: Yeah, there’s this movie Bugsy Malone, are you familiar with it?
Okay, so if you’re not, it’s a kids movie where 200 kids were sort of wielded by the, you know, arm of this British director to do this 1920’s gangster film.
Jodi Foster was in it, I think she’d left that to go do Taxi Driver and you know, Scott Baio - of course my first crush - but my connection with it was that I had a friend, a fellow improviser at the Groundlings, who would always describe me as a 70-year-old in a hot girl's body (laughs). And I think I always was this old, old soul. Even as a kid I was sort of this little old lady. And when I saw this show of these kids playing impeccably, these incredible detailed adult characters, it was my dream come true.
Song: “You Give a Little Love" – Bugsy Malone
MW: The theme in the song, you know, the anthem is “We could have been anything that we wanted to be and it’s not too late to try.” They have adults singing and the kids are just lip syncing, okay, but it felt like the billboard from the future. It’s very ironic having these kids say “we could have been anything that we wanted to be and it’s not too late to try”.
All adults are just kids anyway. And it’s this billboard saying, “Hey you can be anything you want to be! Anything!” And that was a very uplifting sentiment to me as a kid.
AL: That was “You Give a Little Love” from the Bugsy Malone soundtrack and next up we’re going to turn to Prince for the next decade of your life. Is this the teenage years?
MW: This is. In the 70’s, there were so many anthem rock stars, just amazing epic rock stars.
But then the 80’s became this whole other sound, that quite honestly it’s interesting and cool to look back on it. It evokes so much nostalgia and wonderful feelings instantly, but in terms of the musicality, you know, when Prince came on to the scene, it was just - what was he?
For being this little dude who is sort of sexually ambiguous and a dirty, but classy – had so much confidence and was a straight up genius, you know, musically and poetically.
I grew up in Syracuse, NY where it’s just a really depressive town. Especially that time, it was always really cold and grey and a sad, broke town. And, you know, I was a sad broke girl. My parents had split at a time where parents weren’t doing that a lot and just hearing this music that was so different and stood out so much from all the other sounds that were happening, and this song, “Baby I’m a Star,” I just feel like is such a powerful song that moves in so many different ways.
Song: Prince – “Baby I’m a Star”
AL: That was “Baby I’m a Star” by Prince. A classic. I noticed next up you bring us the Beastie Boys. I feel like you’re narrating my life. (Laughs) So tell me about the Beastie Boys and this particular song, “Egg Man” and why that’s so important.
MW: Oh, “Egg Man” I’m calling this my 20’s to my 30’s you know, my 20 to 30, cause I think that’s when I was really starting to find my voice as a comedian, as an artist.
And, if you just listen, I think I picked “Egg Man” specifically because it just goes you know, “drive by eggings plaguing LA!” (Laughs) “which came first, the chicken or the egg?! I egged the chicken!” – it just it goes into so many different voices and they’re just having so much fun and they’re just ripping off each other and it’s steeped in this sort of old school sound.
It feels very specific to Brooklyn and yet, the whimsical free form of their sense of humor came through so hard, and it just really resonated with kind of the tone that I was starting to step into in my own life.
And I think it was at a time where I - this is a very strange thing, I don’t even know why I’m saying this - but I wanted to be a guy because it just felt like so easy to be a guy and it looks so effortless and I was working so hard.
And luckily the platform has balanced itself out but at that time, where literally the question was, you know, “are girls as funny as guys?” And I’m like, that is such an asinine question. Now it feels so ridiculous, but I tried to answer a lot of times, you know? Well yeah!
Song: Beastie Boys – “Egg Man”
ML: That was “Egg Man” from the Beastie Boys album Paul’s Boutique. I’m Anne Litt, here with Michaela Watkins who is narrating her life in music, decade by decade. So now we’re moving from the hilarious Beastie Boys to the slightly more adult, Mavis Staples?
MW: Yes, “You’re Not Alone,” Mavis Staples. So what I’ll say about my 30’s is this -- and I think maybe people will say “oh that sounds familiar” -- you do this thing, you sort of blow up your life a little bit. (laughs) You know?
You have heart breaks of a depth of a level you never even thought possible, there are deaths all of a sudden, there’s so much that happens in your 30’s where you sort of have to break apart your life a little bit and kind of figure out how you’re gonna put it back together.
And so, my 30’s was the first kind of fore into a spiritual curiosity and it was a very hard but very soulful time.
And even though the sun didn’t come out necessarily in my 30’s, I feel like it was a great song to sort of combine Jeff Tweedy and Wilco, which has always been my favorite, you know and certainly got me through my 30’s (laughs). But this song, you know, it’s so literal. There’s this bass line in it, you know, “open up this is a raid” and it’s just that “open up” idea? And then in your 30’s, I think a lot of people would agree that, like, the armor has to come off -- it gets real. It gets real, real.
Yeah, this song…it just sums it up to me.
Song: Mavis Staples – “You’re Not Alone”
ML: Alright, Michaela, let’s get into your last song. This is an artist with whom I’m unfamiliar, his name is Jason Anderson. The track is called “So Long.” Tell me about this artist and what he means to you and about this song.
MW: A friend of mine introduced me to this song, it’s called “So Long.” And no, I’m not going to talk about my 40’s to my 50’s 'cause I’m not that old, so I’m calling this one "right now."
And it’s a little meandering at first but it is worth it. It is foreplay for the climax of the song which is this anthem that goes, “the best thing in the world is when you love someone and they love you back.”
And it’s not, you know, you love someone because they love you back, which I’ve done. Or, you love someone cause they don’t love you back, which I’ve done.
It’s you love someone and they just so happen they completely, independently, they happen to love you back. So you’re just these two whole pieces coming together and I married that guy. It is such an anthem of true, healthy love.
ML: This has just been incredible Michaela, thank you so much for joining us on KCRW.
MW: Thank you, so so much.