Lisa Ann Walter

April 2023 View more

This mom/comic proves to be a class act

Lisa Ann Walter

In her colorful career, SAG-Award-winning actor Lisa Ann Walter has wrangled Lindsay Lohan (and Lindsay Lohan) in The Parent Trap (1998), rhumba-ed with Richard Gere in Shall We Dance?, ran from aliens with Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, co-created and starred in her own network sitcoms (like ABC’s Life’s Work), penned a memoir, and danced her ass off, literally. (No, really: She was creator, executive producer, and head judge of the aptly named dance/weight-loss competition series Dance Your Ass Off.) These days she’s staring as a second-grade Philly teacher in the ABC hit Abbott Elementary. She’s also returning to her standup roots with five shows April 27 to 29 at the Comedy Vault in Batavia.

We caught up with this single mom of four—a daughter and three sons, including identical twin boys—on the same day she was headed to The Late Late Show with James Corden as a guest (not too shabby).

With ‘Abbott’ costar Sheryl Lee Ralph
With Abbott costar Sheryl Lee Ralph

Q: What do you think makes Abbott so special?
A: We can all relate to it—we all went to school, we have kids in school, some [of the audience] are teachers. I said to [Abbott creator] Quinta [Brunson] on the second day of shooting the pilot, “If only teachers watch, this is a monster hit.” Because she was really smart about setting up the series where there’s nothing that these people do that you don’t root for them. I think there’s a real support for what these teachers are doing, and we are showing them as fully fleshed-out human beings, not a teacher who is the butt of a joke. These are human beings who deserve more money, first of all, and our respect. Because the job was historically a female profession, it never got the respect or the money that it deserved, so we’re showing this entire situation in a loving kind of way—but it’s not cloying.

Q: Any advice for someone who wants to break into comedy?
A: There has to be a point of view, something you are driven to say. It’s not just telling jokes…It’s more than something to say—it’s something you have to say or you’re going to die. When I was coming up, I was a feminist, I was a very young mother. There’s was a whole lot of pressure on women to not just do all the things—the plate-spinning act of being a mom, being a killer businesswoman—[but also,] like I used to say at the end of my act: “Raise a family, find a cure for cancer, have a flat stomach.” We were made to believe if we didn’t do everything perfectly we were failures. That was my point of view—we were sold a bill of goods about doing it all and that it was impossible and that we should just lighten up.

Q: And now?
A: As fierce in certain roles or even on the standup stage, at the end of the day, I’m a working mom and I’m proud of my four kids and being the clown car they all popped out of. I love cooking for them, and nothing makes me happier than having them all with me. So, as much as I appear to be a badass, I just want to bounce a baby on my knee and feed a man a delicious meal. I’m so feminist and forward thinking, and then at the end of the day, I’m like, “What am I really happy doing? Serving everyone dinner.” What the hell is wrong with me?

Q: Will you keeping pursuing a variety of projects?
A: Definitely—as long as I have the energy to do it and people are interested in hearing what I have to say. I started my career providing what I thought was a voice that I didn’t see on TV. They always had the center of the show as Mary; the ingenue’s funny friend was the Rhoda. There always was a rule on television with women that you couldn’t do anything that wrong, you had to be, quote, likable. And I’m like, “You know that we’re full human beings just like men, right?” We can be the smart-ass, funny center of the show. So I always wanted to represent women and our comedy like I didn’t see it being represented. So I’m going to continue to be all about that—just a badass voice for women through comedy because I think any message you have can be heard easier when it’s funny.


Photos courtesy of ABC-Matt Sayles (headshot) and ABC (Abbott Elementary)