Somewhere between the stages of comedy clubs in Los Angeles and New York, including The Hollywood Improv, The Ice House, The Comedy Store, and Gotham NY, and the watchful lens of a reality TV camera that follows socialites in upscale Beverly Hills hotspots, stands Rachael O’Brien—the bold, honest, and real stand-up comedian who dabbles in the always-interesting world of Bravo’s hit show Vanderpump Rules between her gigs as a performer. Originally reluctant to have any involvement with a reality TV show, Rachael, who is close friends with the show’s stars—particularly Stassi Schroeder and Kristen Doute—spoke with us by phone about the decisions she’s had to make as an up-and-coming comedian, what’s really real about reality TV, and how being associated with the series has shaped her career in comedy.
Cailin: You moved to LA to attend UCLA and pursue a career in acting and comedy, and now you’re on Vanderpump Rules. I think a lot of people wonder how a person even ends up on a reality show. How did you go from a poli sci major at the University of Oregon, to a screenwriting student at UCLA, to a comedian and actress, to a reality TV personality?
Rachael O’Brien: I didn’t really intend to be on a reality show. All the main cast members of the show Vanderpump Rules, I’d been their friends for like six years by the time that show started. Let’s see… I was Kristen’s first friend in LA; I lived here before she did. And then I knew Jax, and Sandoval. And then about two seasons in, Kristen alienated herself and she had no more friends on the show—she does now, obviously—and they needed someone to be her friend on the show. So I just randomly happened to be out one day with one of my friends having drinks, and his friend was one of the field producers on the show. She found out that I knew them, and knew them really well, and then they called me in for an interview. Originally, I did not want to do the show at all. But then it just sort of was like… then I just started hanging out with everyone more and more, and I couldn’t really avoid it, ‘cause I didn’t want to not be in Katie’s wedding or something like that.
Hannah: So by interview, it was almost like an audition process?
RO: Yeah, they just called me for like a chat, the first time, and then they had me come in for an on-camera interview. Yeah, so it’s kind of like an audition, ‘cause they put you on camera and just see what you’ll talk about and stuff.
C: So when you say that you were friends with all of them before they were on the show… were they all kind of asked to do the show together? Like, they all already knew each other?
RO: Yeah, that show was not cast with, like, random people. You know how other reality shows are just random people that didn’t necessarily know each other, maybe a few of ‘em did? And they’re cast just to be on it? Vanderpump Rules is not like that at all. They were truly all really close friends, dating each other, fighting with each other… they all worked at Lisa Vanderpump’s restaurant.
H: That’s cool, it wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to throw you guys all together and now you’re all going to be friends!” It was more real than that.
RO: Yeah, it’s very real. Fortunately and unfortunately, sometimes.
H: How has being on a reality show affected your career in comedy? I would imagine it would make good fuel for your stand-up shows, at the very least!
RO: It definitely has helped me get a bigger following, because comedy clubs want to book you if you can sell tickets. So if you’re more well-known, they’ll book you easier. So it’s definitely helped with that. In a way, though…I think I’ve gotten over it, but in a way I was a little bit embarrassed for awhile that other comedians wouldn’t take me seriously. But now I’m sort of like, screw you, you guys would do it too if it would help your career. And I’m still a really dedicated comedian. I’m more of a comedian than a reality person, it’s just that I happen to appear on the show here and there.
H: I know a lot of comedians, especially nowadays, base their material on things that are happening in the world, in the news and in politics and so on. Do you feel pressure…Is that something that you think about when you’re writing your shows, like, Do you think people will relate to or respond to it more if I tie it back to things that are going on in the world?
RO: You know… yes, I feel pressure with that. But there’s so many comedians that do that so well…I don’t think I could do it as well as some comedians do it, so I sort of stay away from political stuff. I mostly just make light of things, I guess. I make fun of myself. My humor is more self-deprecating, and just weird stories about my life.
H: In a way, what makes you unique is the fact that you do stay away from that…
C: …and that you’re not doing what a lot of people try to do.
RO: Yeah, maybe. Thanks for making me feel better!
H: [laughs] No, it’s great! So, Cailin and I always talk about how we have such an oddly specific sense of humor—everybody does! How do you write comedy that appeals to big groups of people knowing that everybody thinks different things are funny?
C: Like, do you write something into a comedy bit because you find it funny, or do you ever actually stop and think, Okay, it it just me though? Do you think that much about how other people are going to react?
RO: You do have to think about that for sure, but I think as long as you’re being honest, and truthful, and…relatable, I think relatable is a big thing. Everyone can relate to embarrassing stuff that happens to you. I mean, you definitely have to check yourself, ‘cause sometimes the stuff I think is funny, like with me and my friend Stassi, for example…stuff that we say in the privacy of just us talking, isn’t something that we’d say— [laughs]. So I have to check myself with that. But I think that…I don’t know, I think as long as you’re being honest people find it funny and relatable.
C: Yeah. I think that’s cool that you do the personal stories, because even if people haven’t experienced the exact situation you’re describing, everyone can relate to and appreciate funny stories.
RO: Yeah! Everyone has an embarrassing dating story. You tell a story about embarrassing yourself, or something funny or a bummer that happened to you, people can be like, Ah, yeah, I get that.
H: Because comedy can be such a personal thing, I wonder how much you draw inspiration from other comedians. Like, is it even helpful for an up-and-coming comedian to watch other comedians, or is that not a good idea?
RO: It’s the most helpful thing. It’s like you study greatness, you practice greatness, then you become great, sort of. Comedy is a really… I don’t know if being a musician or anything else would be the same, but comedy is a very specific thing where, even if you’re not performing that night at a comedy club, you’re hanging out at the comedy club every night. You’re watching and seeing what other people are doing, and you just really immerse yourself in it. And it’s not to say you’re copying other people, that’s not it. It’s just like studying, almost like going to school.
C: You recently toured around Europe to perform for the troops, which must have been just the most incredible experience. What did you take away from that?
RO: It was a firsthand look at what the men and women are doing for our country. I mean it was really incredible for that reason. Just getting to talk to the troops and hearing their stories… I mean, we were sleeping on the bases. In Kosovo we slept in the barracks like they did. In other places there was an on-base hotel, but we were really immersed in their life. That was really cool. And also, just getting to do comedy, and experience that, and travel around Europe was just the coolest thing ever.
H: That’s not only a good experience for your comedy career, but a life experience, too.
RO: Totally. And it was the first time I’d ever been to Europe, so it was extra cool for me.
C: So let’s talk more about Vanderpump Rules. A lot of people suspect that reality shows are scripted, or at least that producers somehow push the cast to behave in certain ways. Like, “Oh, you were upset at Lisa for saying this to you? Why don’t you go confront her about that.” Or, “Isn’t it time to go catch up with Jax?” Have you experienced any of this?
RO: It’s definitely not scripted, but to fill the show they have to get scenes. There’s not a camera on them at all times, so they have to say, “Alright, go up and have that conversation,” ‘cause they have to catch the scene, but it’s stuff that had actually happened. If that makes sense. So it’s like, maybe they found out that the night before off-camera … let’s say when we were done filming we all went out and did something, and an incident happened there. They would try to then get us to talk about it the next day. It’s still all real stuff that happened.
C: That makes more sense to me, because there are people that will absolutely swear this has to be totally scripted, but when I watch it, I can tell that those emotions are at least partially real.
RO: Yeah! I mean, yes, they do say, “Go up and talk to Lisa,” but the involvement of Lisa and the personal lives is like… it’s not scripted, but she [Lisa] wouldn’t normally be like, “So. Who’d you sleep with last night?” But they have to keep the storyline going, so it makes sense.
H: And like you said, the cameras aren’t following them around at all times, so as far as the logistics of filming with the crew and everything goes, you have to kind of do that. You have to plan out when it’s gonna happen.
C: I know that some reality TV personalities watch themselves on their show and feel like they are looking at someone else; as if through editing producers make them into fictional characters to carry the show. Do you feel like you and your friends come across on Vanderpump Rules like you actually are in real life? Like, is the Stassi you hang out with off-screen the same girl you see on the show?
RO: No, she’s much sweeter. Well, I feel like she hasn’t really appeared in the last several seasons how she did season 1 and 2. I mean, they’re all versions of themselves. It’s like, Kristen, you know, they call her “Crazy Kristen” on the show. She can be a little erratic, but she’s not crazy. It’s just an amplified version of her. Like Stassi having the princess complex on the show, it’s just an amplified version… I mean, they are making a TV show at the end of the day.
C: And I feel like anybody if there’s cameras following them, they [the producers] could edit it and film it in a certain way, and everybody would kind of look like they had many different sides of themselves! [laughs]
RO: Yeah! You could say something one way, and they could edit it in a way that…like, you could make a joke about something, and then be like, “I’m just joking, haha,” and they could take out you saying “I’m just joking,” and just have that line, and then you look like an asshole.
H: Right! [laughs] So as far as your comedy and acting career goes, where do you see yourself heading? Like, in the next 5, 10 years. What’s the goal?
RO: I’m going to do stand-up for the rest of my life. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done, ever. In the next 5-10 years, I would guess that I will write something and put myself in it. And that will be some sort of TV show. At least, that’s the goal. But I have a gut instinct it’s gonna happen.