Interview | Jillian Bell on ‘Fist Fight,’ Horror Movies and How to Funny

Jillian Bell is, and I’ll stand by this, one of the funniest actors in film and television right now. The 32-year-old Las Vegas native has been working her way up the comedy ladder for years with small roles in Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bridesmaids, but she’s become a ubiquitous presence lately, with breakout performances in hit films like 22 Jump StreetGoosebumps and Inherent Vice, and on the small screen on popular shows like Workaholics and Idiotsitter, the latter of which she co-created with her co-star, Charlotte Newhouse.

The latest film to get Jillian Bell’ed, Fist Fight, opens this weekend. It’s the story of a mild-mannered teacher, played by Charlie Day, who gets challenged by a fellow teacher, played by Ice Cube, to a fist fight on the last day of school. Jillian Bell plays the hero’s best friend, Holly, a high school guidance counselor who also does meth and tries to have sex with the students.

Also: ‘Fist Fight’ Review | See Me After Class, Movie…

In other words it’s perfect for Jillian Bell, not because she’d do either of those things but because she’s a scene-stealer who knows how to spin weird gags into gold. I sat down with her before the release of the film to talk about her performance, her comedy secrets, and the value of humor in today’s politically charged climate. We also talked a lot about puzzles and horror movies, because that’s how we roll.

[Note: This interview has been edited for length, because we also spent WAY too much time talking about kale, Disney’s Tower of Terror and Gary Sinise.]

Warner Bros.

Crave: So in this film you play the “funny best friend.”

Jillian Bell: I’m like a guidance counselor, yes, who’s best friends with Charlie [Day]’s character, and she’s also into hitting on the male students and doing meth.

Not AT school though, which I appreciate. There’s a line.

Yeah, yeah. There’s a line.

You kind of represent everything a horrible faculty member would be and yet we’re supposed to love you. How do you balance that? Where’s the line?

I don’t know. Richie [Keen, the director] and I talked about it in the beginning, how she should look, and you know there’s an obvious way you can kind of go, leaning towards meth – do you know what I mean? – and seductive, like hitting on the students. Then we were like, it might be funnier if she was a little more reserved and you can’t tell by looking at her, who she is.

It makes sense because that’s probably how she keeps her job.

Oh yeah, for sure. I mean she’s in a pink cardigan and a flowery dress and then she’s going and doing these horrible things. So it’s a fine balance.

How does a person with that particular set of interests end up so close to Charlie Day’s very reserved character? What’s their connection?

I think that she thinks they’re better friends than he does, but he also leans on her because there’s probably not a lot of people at that school that he gets along with, you know? It’s one of those work relationships where if we didn’t work together, I don’t know if we’d be friends. But she really loves him and so he confides in her some of his ongoings.

Warner Bros.

It’s a broad comedy and I can’t say I entirely approve of everything you do in it…

[Laughs.] I don’t think my mother would either.

I imagine not, but I grew up around teachers and it’s kind of nice to see a film about teachers and about that experience.

And about who they really are, probably, off the clock at little bit. Not… you know, not my character as much. I would hope there’s not a lot of teachers like my character out there.

I’m sure there are some.

There might be but that’s very sad to think about. But I think there are some teachers who are, you know… it’s funny when you run into someone later and you see them at, like… I remember seeing my eighth grade teacher at a mall once and I was like, “No, you don’t exist outside of the classroom!” They’re real people, you know, with real problems.

So I know it’s a broad comedy but did you have any personal experience with teachers that informed this, or did you reach out to any friends who were educators?

Not really, only because my character specifically… one, she’s a guidance counselor and so not specifically a teacher, and two, like I was saying, if there is someone out there who has that type of job and has all the characteristics of Holly, I would be very sad for where we are in America. Well, I kind of am already…

Aren’t we all?

Aren’t we all!

Warner Bros.

I was actually looking at this movie, and I’m sure it was somewhat of an accident, as a representation of how people who are used to being passive are now having to rise up and take a stand for things, even though it’s really uncomfortable and there’s a lot at risk.

Wow, that’s… yeah, that’s perfect.

Does that conversation even enter your head or are you just thinking you’re making a fun comedy?

I mean at the time all of this stuff wasn’t happening, because we were in October or November of 2015. So we were in a different place then. So yeah, we were just making a fun, lighthearted, crazy comedy and we had the best time of our lives, and it’s times like now where I sort of look back at that and say well, I’d like to try to keep that mentality now as I move forward in movies. I think one of the reasons most people go to the movies is to sort of escape from whatever they’re going through. If they’re having a hard time or whatever is going on with them, it’s a way to just let your brain focus on something else and hopefully laugh or grow or cry watching a film. For us, we hope they go and laugh.

There’s that, and also comedy is a great way of throwing reality into sharp relief and it’s very powerful as a social tool.


Does that responsibility weigh on you at all, or are you trying to focus more on the entertainment?

Sometimes, sometimes, yeah, especially when I go to write. You know, I write as well. I have a show on Comedy Central with my writing partner Charlotte Newhouse called Idiotsitter and it’s totally stupid and funny and broad. But you know, we’ve been talking about some other projects we want to work on and that does come into play because you can’t run away from what’s going on, at least right now, and so yeah. I think that is important. And it’s also important, equally important, to do comedies that are just out there and fun because, like I said, it’s a good distraction.

It’s hard to stay involved, politically, constantly, without getting exhausted. You need to release.

My good friend Ian was telling me that he read something online that was beautiful about, like, participate as much as you can but be healthy. They literally said go to the movies, go see your friends, and then go to a protest. You know, make sure you’re out there and saying something and speaking up for people, because we need to, but also make sure that you’re also keeping your sanity.

Comedy Central

What do you do to keep your sanity? What are you doing right now that keeps you centered?

Oh my gosh, I actually like to do puzzles? [Laughs.]

Really? That’s so cool!

Yes, it’s like how people do coloring books, adult coloring books. I like to do puzzles.

Jigsaw puzzles?

Yes, my friend Charlotte got me into it. I like to do that. I like to watch really crazy, like… I like horror movies…

Such as…?

Oh my gosh, I like Texas Chainsaw Massacre…

Original or remake?

Both, but I know this is the wrong answer, but I lean towards the Jessica Biel one. It’s one of my favorites.

Why is that?

I just think the actors are really good in it, and I know the creepiness of the ‘70s one is on a different level, but I love… I don’t know, that one really scared me when I saw it.

That one starts off at like an eight and moves to a ten, whereas the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre starts off at like a four and builds. I think that’s what gets people freaked out.

Yes, totally, but I love both.

Do you want to do more horror…?

Oh, I would love to do a horror. Specifically would love to play a witch.

Walt Disney

Not like a Practical Magic witch, but like a Lords of Salem witch?

I wouldn’t mind going anyone from Hocus Pocus to a Practical Magic to Witches of Eastwick to The Witch, which came out last year and was incredible. I will go to creepy horror or to cool, funny, PG.

You would be good in literally any of the witch roles of Hocus Pocus if they did a remake.

Thank you! I’d be so excited. That’s seriously the best compliment I have ever received in my whole life. In my whole life.

Well, I mean it. Is that something that would appeal to you or would you like to do your own original kind of thing, and write it yourself?

That’s what I can’t tell because I feel like, and I could be wrong, but I feel like you can only do one witch movie. If it’s really big, right?


You can’t have Bette Midler go and do another witch movie, right? Besides Hocus Pocus 2

It’s not as big a genre as you’d think.

Yeah, that’s true. Look if that’s the case I’m only going to do witch movies, so don’t tell me that. I’m going to do some comedies and just witch movies.

You could do a whole franchise. That would be cool.

Yeah, that would be very cool. I’d be psyched about my life. [Laughs.]

Warner Bros.

I’m psyched about your life too. You’re having such a cool career right now. You’re one of those actors, every time I see you in a movie I’m like, “Oh, this scene’s going to be fine.”

Oh, thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.

It’s because you’re really funny, and I wonder sometimes, in my life, how do I funny? Like how would I?

Yeah, how do you funny…?

How would one, if one were so inclined? I know you studied, you were in the Groundlings…


Do you have a secret? Is there something that’s important to you when you’re trying to be funny, professionally?

Oh man, that’s a great question. I don’t know, I wonder. A lot of it is listening to what’s happening in the scene, because sometimes if you’re already thinking about where you could plan something, then you’re probably doing it wrong. You know, it’s just seeing what your partner in the scene is giving you and just keeping that going and, hopefully in a good way, one-upping each other so that the scene becomes ridiculous. I think also, I don’t know, there are small things that make me laugh. This is a secret of mine but I’ll reveal it. If there’s something I have to add and I can’t quite find it, I’m like “How does this person cough?”


Or what’s a tic that they do or what’s like a little signature at the end of a scene, do you know what I mean? There was one scene in Workaholics I did where they were like, “Add something at the end” and I was like “Sure” and I literally just looked at them and went [coughs] and walked away. And it’s stupid but it made me laugh. The cough is just an example of it but it’s like tics, what’s in this person that makes me laugh?

It injects humanity also, because if you only exist to serve a punchline that’s one thing, but if you’re also under the weather today there’s an element of reality.

Totally. One of the things that was supposed to be in Office Christmas Party that didn’t quite make it into the final cut, but my character the pimp was supposed to have anxiety attacks and that was one of my favorite things. There’s hints of it in there but that’s not really in there anymore.

Top Photo: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.