Chelsey Crisp of Fresh Off the Boat Talks Diversity in Hollywood

”We get stories that are as diverse as our writers are”

Chelsey Crisp will not be pigeonholed.

The wry comedian, who plays “Honey”—the conspicuously blond next-door neighbor—on ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, says that she’s well aware of how she’s typecast. “I think being blond and Caucasian, people make assumptions about, ‘Oh, you’re dumb!'” she says.

It’s “not the most fun thing in the world,” she adds, but notes that it’s a far cry from what her co-stars have faced in real life. “I would not equate that to a minority [actor] feeling like you are constantly losing roles to white actors.”

This candor—and this insight into experiences other than her own—is partly the result of working on FOtB. It’s also the result of years of fearlessness onstage; as part of the all-girl sketch group Duchess Riot, Crisp does monthly improv shows and constantly stretches the boundaries of her comfort zone. Here, she talks about FOtB, her new film, and the joys of creating comedy with eight other talented women.

You’re on a TV show about diversity at a time when diversity in Hollywood is all over the headlines. What has that been like?
It’s been a really interesting access point to that. I’m obviously a Caucasian member of the cast, and it’s been so educational for me. I work the most with Constance Wu, and seeing how her career is changing…she takes that moment as an Asian-American actress really seriously. To see what she is going to engage on and what she isn’t, it’s just been so awesome to be a part of this show for so many different reasons.

What role do you think the show serves as far as forwarding the conversation about diversity?
Well for instance, our next episode, the one that will come on when we come back, is about Chinese New Year. They have done such a fabulous job of educating the audience about what Chinese New Year means, what the traditions are. You learn a lot about the culture, and it’s done in a smart and creative way. The family feels familiar, like it’s your family. It’s that fish out of water feel, no matter the culture.

Why do you think the show has been so successful in being relatable and telling stories that audiences connect with?
It’s happening on every side. Something about Nahnatchka Khan, our showrunner; she has put together this wildly diverse writing team. We get stories that are as diverse as our writers are. Our directors have been just as diverse as well. They bring all of their own points of views to the story.

Nahnatchka doesn’t write one-dimensional characters. Everybody in the [show’s] neighborhood was judging my character by the way she looked. They immediately find out that there is a lot more underneath it, and that drew me in right away. I have no interest in playing a bimbo, or that whole aesthetic.

You’re starring in the upcoming film In-Lawfully Yours, with Marilu Henner. What drew you to that project?
It’s a romantic comedy about an atheist woman going through a divorce, who moves to this small town and ends up falling in love with the local pastor. The reason I really wanted to do it was because it was written around a female lead who was funny, and awkward, and constantly says the wrong thing and was putting her foot in her mouth. I just completely fell in love with it.

You’re also in an all-female comedy group, Duchess Riot.
Yes! We have eight women, and we got started over five years ago. Initially I don’t know that we had this vision of what we were doing, but we clicked. We loved doing improv together. We come from all the different schools—Groundlings, Second City, UCB—we just created a unique form of improv that we love, that’s pretty character driven. We do our show once a month; it’s a really high-energy show and the audience is really involved. It’s the closest we will get to being rock stars.

We have a feature film in development. It’s set in the 1950s and it involves an all female cast trying to get a TV show made. Two of our members are writing the script.