Casey Wilson Explores Grief, Motherhood, and Reality TV in New Memoir
“I wanted to write a comedic book that had more substance underneath it,” actress and writer Casey Wilson told W over the phone, just a few weeks before the release of her first memoir, The Wreckage of My Presence: Essays. “I adore the books that are primarily comedic, but I wanted to get into some different topics of grief, motherhood, and loss. I felt the desire to touch on some deeper things.”
Fans familiar with Wilson, who currently stars on Showtime’s stock market comedy Black Monday and will soon appear on Apple TV+’s The Shrink Next Door opposite Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, and Kathryn Hahn, know of her work as the daft and lovable Penny Hartz on the cult-sitcom Happy Endings, the two seasons she performed on Saturday Night Live in the aughts alongside Jenny Slate and Michaela Watkins, or her popular podcast in which she breaks down episodes of The Real Housewives franchise and other Bravolebrity-adjacent drama. Her first book, an essay collection written over the course of four years, explores all of this and more.
Those “deeper” subjects Wilson mentioned are hilariously woven through The Wreckage of My Presence—from the zany story of a former internship boss who made insidious comments about her weight, to a lovely, funny chapter dedicated to her feelings about Mother’s Day after the passing of her own mom, and the emails she sends to her two sons (for them to discover after she herself has passed). Here, Wilson opens up about the decision to get personal in her book, explains her history as a “bed person,” and of course, gives a few suggestions of some slept-on reality television shows that everyone should be watching.
When did you decide to write a memoir?
I’ve always loved the genre and form of comedic essays. Even when I was little, I would read my mom’s Erma Bombeck books. I loved Nora Ephron’s essays and David Sedaris. You can pick them up, put them down, have a laugh—and you’re somehow crying by the end. That is really satisfying, so I’ve always wanted to do it, but it wasn’t until about four years ago that I thought, “I’m going to take a swing at this on my own, and no one has to see if it’s terrible.” Always a good backstop for a creative endeavor.
It clearly was not terrible! I’m sure you received some encouragement along the way. Who was the person pushing you to follow through and share your essays?
My friend Jessi Klein, who wrote an amazing memoir called You’ll Grow Out Of It, really encouraged me. She’s one of my dearest friends and she introduced me to her book agent—that got everything rolling. And then my friend Andrew Rannells also wrote a memoir, so he and Jessi have been my touchstones through the process.
The opening line of the very first essay in the collection is, “I am a bed person.” You go on to describe a “bed person” as “someone who wants to recline at all times”—movies are watched in bed, drinks at bars are consumed hunched over as close to the table as possible, and even a full dinner is eaten every night in bed with your husband. It’s something you say you saw your parents do when you were a kid, citing a long lineage of needing to recline. That’s a very intimate thing to share, so I’m wondering, were you ever apprehensive about getting too personal in the book?
I felt like I needed to unburden myself about the extent of my laziness and desire to be horizontal at all times. [Laughs.] It felt very freeing to start there. From there, it was a spiral into how much I decided to share. Believe it or not, there was actually a lot I didn’t share because I had a boundary with myself. It may not appear that way! I am weirdly not a fan of having to share every single detail being up for consumption, which is counterintuitive, having written a memoir. I feel happy in the sense that I think I shared things I hope will make people laugh or make them feel less alone. But I’m also trying to retain some sense of dignity, which is hard given the fact that I revealed sometimes I still suck my thumb.
In your chapter titled “Send in the Clowns,” you write that you started watching Real Housewives in what you call the darkest period of your life, dealing with the early stages of grief after your mother passed. You say that, after being one of the first people to catch the premiere episode of the show as it aired live, you see a lot of The Real Housewives women as “cautionary tales.” What is the biggest lesson you have learned from watching that franchise since Day One?
“Lesson” is a strong word. I really do find value in zoning out and enjoying a mindless activity that makes me laugh—I find it to be truly joyful. Life is so hard. To unwind to them screaming at each other, and being wrapped up in their lives...what I love about the Housewives is the complexity that their lives offer. The complexity of women’s lives, who are by and large over age 50, which I think is cool. They’re funny and detestable, but also lovable. I know a lot of people don’t share that viewpoint, but as I said in the book, I’m done being a Housewives apologist.
While reading that chapter, I was itching to know what you thought about Real Housewives of Salt Lake City cast member Jen Shah’s arrest for fraud earlier this year. I wish you could have put your thoughts on that in the book!
It’s so upsetting that I couldn’t get in there. Believe me, I called. They were like, “The book is already at the warehouse and it’s printing,” so I was like, “Well, do we put an insert in? What do we do to include Jen Shah’s arrest in this memoir?” It’s part of my own life! I will never forget where I was when I found out.
Where were you when you found out?
Where do you think? In bed!
You’ve also been a longtime viewer of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, so much so that it somehow made its way to Kris Jenner, who, in a move that you say was one of the greatest things to ever happen to you next to meeting your husband, sent you a gift basket.
It was so thrilling! I don’t know if I included the main detail, now that I’m recalling this, which is such a missed opportunity. But the gift basket was addressed to Casey...with a K! Kasey. The thought that went into that touched me so deeply; to be included in with the gals by changing the first letter of my name was glorious.
What is the most underrated reality series on air right now?
I am missing huge ones in my repertoire. I know I need to watch Married to Medicine, and that’s my next binge. I think it’ll hit the sweet spot for me. I really love Marrying Millions, which is—well, you can guess—it’s about people marrying millionaires who don’t really seem that rich. It’s actually quite devastating. I’m also a huge 90 Day Fiancé person. You can really pop in and out, you don’t have to spend every moment with them. I’m a big Sister Wives person, too. My best friend June and I are obsessed.
In your memoir, you write about your two-season tenure on Saturday Night Live, and how most of the sketches you pitched were about “two women sitting at a bar and emotionally unpacking the nuances of their lives and the textures of their grief.” Lorne Michaels didn’t seem too sold on that at the time, but would you say that idea leads you when you’re creating work by yourself, or even with your creative partner and best friend, June Diane Raphael?
I really just love—and this includes the Housewives, too—writing about women, watching women, and learning from women. I am fascinated by the complexity of it, so I’m always drawn to doing that in my work. Obviously, I love comedy, so I like everything to be presented with comedy, because especially now, I don’t have a huge bandwidth for watching super heavy things. I am interested in—and I say this for lack of a better word, and anyone reading this can go throw up—the multitudes that women contain.
Many people know you from Happy Endings, the ABC sitcom you starred on for three seasons, and the place you met your now-husband. There’s a touching chapter dedicated to the cast and crew, where you write about your affable character Penny Hartz, and how she could have been played as a substance-less ditz but you gave her something more by “leading with optimism.” As someone who has experienced grief and tragedy in your personal and professional life, why did you choose to play Penny with so much hope?
Most of the women I know lead with optimism, or there is hopefulness. When I was growing up, there was that archetype of the jaded Gen-X girl who is over everything. I’ve seen that and that’s not what I’m seeing with my friends. We’re all just trying our best, and in that is inherent optimism. It’s also funnier to me when someone keeps picking themselves up, throwing things against the wall. I relate to it. It’s the feeling of, “The next one is right around the corner for me!” as it is clear to everyone around me that it is not.
Throughout the book, you write about your spiritual journey, especially after your mother passed away. Would you consider yourself a seeker?
Oh my gosh, yes. It should just be the only word written on my tombstone and I hope I’ll be seeking it into the great beyond. I’m a very spiritual person, and that’s only grown. Not to be cheesy, but I think in some ways it helped with the confidence to just write the book and hope everything will be okay, which goes back to my inherent optimism. Whether it’s true or not, I think of this Iris DeMent song about spirituality called “Let the Mystery Be” which means, basically, I don’t care if I’m right or wrong about what’s out there. If it helps you feel better at night, then who cares.