By Tyson Paul
You can take many paths while traveling on the road to happiness. After enduring a failed marriage along with the darkest moments of her life that nearly took her with it, Dani Fernandez’s road began by taking a leap of faith. She followed a humorous lifelong dream and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in comedic writing. When she arrived in the city of angels, Fernandez started working at a legendary west coast comedy club and developed connections through comedy that would help her stay afloat for the first few years in a new city.
After surviving the first few years in LA, she found her footing in the world of comedic writing as she has written for Comedy Central, New Form, Fullscreen, Epic Meal Time, as well as various humor sites. Dani has performed on The Comedy Store’s Roast Battle, The Fictional Roast, The Historical Roast, and UCB’s Tournament of Nerds. Her talents have evolved into hosting, being featured at San Diego Comic-Con for Funimation, and on entertainment channels including E!, Disney, and SYFY. She hosts a weekly podcast for iHeartRadio called “Nerdificent” which covers the past, present, and future of fandoms. Amassing enormous popularity among the pop culture and comic book community, Fernandez has been a panelist multiple times at LA Comic-Con, WonderCon, and New York Comic Con speaking on the importance of Latinx superheroes in media. One of her wildest dreams came true in 2018, as she made a big-screen cameo playing herself of all people in Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Many professionals in comedy throughout their careers have taken some of the darkest experiences in life and turned them into some of the most successful stories in the business. HBO Max saw the same lineage in Fernandez, as they announced in late 2019 the development of a scripted comedy series based on her life. 1% Happy centers around a woman who, after a particularly dark period in her life, is forced to move back in with her estranged father and attend weekly group therapy with a class of oddballs. Showing the funny and relatable sides of Clinical Depression, the series challenges both the stigma of mental illness and the United States healthcare system itself.
Even at her lowest point in life, Fernandez managed to find a way to bet on herself and win big. People always say you can never forget where you come from, but sometimes that means no matter how much happiness comes your way, you will daily deal with emotional battles from your past. Dani recently sat down with We Own The Laughs.com’s Tyson Paul, where she talked about her early days in Los Angeles, her mental health during the pandemic, what to expect from her first starring role, along the pressures of being a Latino writer in Hollywood.
Before we start, I just wanted to ask you if you’re aware that when someone googles your name, information, and articles referring to a Spanish professional footballer named Dani Fernandez appears?
Yeah, there are several of us Dani Fernandez. Even a musician and a magician.
Does it make you a little jealous that you share your name with famous people or does it make you feel like you have a long-lost twin somewhere in the world that you share your fame with?
I don’t really have control over all the Dani’s out there but I’d say all of us are very talented in our own ways.
What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen lately?
Jesus Trejo’s standup special on Showtime is phenomenal.
When did you begin writing any forms of comedy?
I wrote super dramatic poems when I was in elementary school, which looking back, is hilarious. I think I did a dramatic reading of some of them for a comedy show one time. I also used to copy the standup specials I would see on Comedy Central and write the jokes down on notecards and read them off at recess. My mom found those and wasn’t too happy.
One of your first jobs, when you arrived in Los Angeles, was working at a comedy club that I’m very familiar with. Talk about your experience working at the Ice House Comedy Club?
They took me in and became my family during a time when I was very poor and very lost. I think they were concerned for me. They used to send me home with food from the kitchen. I worked the door, would assign seating, and handle VIP customers, which is actually a very hard thing to juggle. At the end of my shift, they would feed me and I’d hang in the back booth or with the sound engineer and watch the comics.
How often did you perform on the Ice House stage while you worked there?
I didn’t really perform while I worked there. I mainly met all of my comedy friends performing at The Comedy Store or UCB. Those became my communities when I was doing stand-up. I’m still friends with most of the comics I met during my first couple of years.
What are your thoughts on the state of comedy right now?
I’m not sure. I’m lucky I’m a television writer as our rooms have just moved to zoom. We can still work, even though things are moving slower. I know this has been hard on my friends who are comics, but I see they are getting creative. My friend Jenny Yang created Comedy Crossing which is a hilarious stand-up show mixed with Animal Crossing. They get almost 1,000 viewers each week. So people are still finding ways to perform. For me, it’s been doing a lot of live streaming shows for my friends’ Twitch, Insta, or Youtube Panels.
You went from being a comedy writer to becoming an on-air talent as you’ve been a host on various television shows. How close or how far apart is your TV personality from your normal self?
I am 100% me at all times, unfortunately. (Laughs)
What were your first impressions and thoughts of COVID-19?
I was very terrified as I have autoimmune issues. So I still have to be cautious, but don’t feel the fear as much anymore. Now it just feels like an inconvenience we are all going through.
How has your mental health been day-to-day during this pandemic?
Because I live with depression and anxiety, it’s hard to tell what is pandemic-related and what is just related to my overall trauma and the anxiety of being in one of the hardest industries to survive in.
How did you spend your spare time during quarantine?
Tremendous amounts of self-care. Anyone who follows my insta will see me in the bathtub damn near every day. I meditate and light candles, or go for walks outside in the sun. It’s vital for my mental health.
How often did you work on comedic writing during quarantine?
Not nearly as much as people think. I have people reach out and ask how I am able to do all the things I do because it looks like I am constantly working or constantly announcing some career news, but I can only write when I am in a decent headspace. I rarely force myself to write if I am struggling. That is probably why I do so much self-care, and therapy, so I can do all of these different aspects of my career.
How often are you recognized for Ralph Breaks the Internet?
I’m not sure if that’s what people notice me from, but there were so many people who came up to me at the premiere. That was one of the best nights of my life and I was definitely overwhelmed with the love.
Now that you’re a part of the Disney family, you can be possibly linked to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Would you be interested in playing a Marvel superhero or villain on the big screen?
I’d love to do either! They don’t really have as many Latina superheroes that I qualify for, but I’m down to make some up for them!
How about being a part of the Star Wars Universe?
This is my dream and I actively tell people I am going to be in a Star Wars project. Plus they have so many Latinos now. I think we have claimed our own planet. Latinos in space is definitely my vibe.
Does your family consider you to be famous?
No. I did take my niece though to see Ralph Breaks the Internet, but she was only excited to see Moana! That definitely keeps me humble I supposed.
Do they ever try and see if you can get them free Disneyland passes?
No, I really think sometimes they forget that I am a Disney darling.
It was announced in 2019 that HBO picked up your scripted comedy 1% Happy. Tell us about the process and how your show caught the eye of premium cable?
I wrote this show about a very dark period of my life because it was the thing that I knew best. I also wanted to show what depression and group therapy are actually like. Everyone thinks depression is looking disheveled and crying in bed. Which it can be, but a lot of high-functioning people have depression. What’s eye-opening is how many of my friends who are respected people in this business, have suicidal ideation. I’ve been open about mine and think it’s worth exploring and continuing to have a conversation around since it’s still taboo for some reason.
There is no one demographic or one look at depression. Your neighbor, boss, best friend, favorite artist, etc all could have severe depression. But above all things, it’s a comedy. I don’t want to watch a depressing show about depression. I think that’s what HBO Max loves about it. It is funny and maybe jokes about things people think are off-limits. I think that’s because it’s very authentic. No one can tell the comedy and tragedy of my life and depression better than me.
You get to work alongside one of the most recognizable comedians in the country Roy Woods Jr. How has it been working with Roy so far?
A dream come true. Roy and I met years ago at Denver Comedy Works. He has always been supportive of my voice and believed in my humor. He has helped so many young people trying to break into this space.
Does your show have some similarities to another HBO drama-comedy “Insecure” have you had a chance to meet or have a conversation with Issa Rae?
I haven’t had a chance to meet with Issa, but I do know she has opened the door for so many creators who get to star in their own series. She showed studios they can bank on different, often overlooked voices. Her success has impacted all of us. People like me get to tell our stories because of people like her. I don’t think our shows are remotely comparable though. My show deals with life after a young woman’s suicide attempt and having to reconnect with her estranged father while navigating through intensive crisis therapy. So, I don’t think they are similar and I hope people don’t compare them. Or even compare my show to other Latinx-led shows. I hope our shows just get to exist without having to speak for everyone. Because that is often a weight placed on us that is not placed on white creators. I cannot speak for everyone in the Latinx community or even the mental health community. My show is about my comedic experience with my mental health. And I hope that entertains people.
You’ve spoken your mind a lot on social media in regards to social injustice and the #MeToo movement. You’ve been through so much in your life that would make most women in your shoes very timid. Where are you finding the courage to just not care what anyone says about your remarks and speak your mind?
I have to correct you here because I think most women have survived through various degrees of trauma. I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t. That was why the #MeToo hashtag started. It was to show how many women have been harassed or abused, by saying #MeToo. It was all of them. I want to make sure people understand: women are not timid about not being publicly vocal about their trauma or abuse. Men don’t factor this in when they say “why didn’t she say something sooner?” That’s probably because she saw the sheer amount of hatred happening to those who have spoken up, and the idea of being gaslit, threatened, harassed, and abused further made them protective of their own safety and mental health. I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t been courageous by still existing in a patriarchal society, and industries, that want to harm them. I think of this often with BIPOC too. Existing in this country comes with a lot of trauma and hatred. I’m Chicana in a country that actively hates Mexicans. I create because I feel called to, but a part of me also does it to spite these people. Including people in this industry who do not want me to succeed – and there are many.
You’re a female Latina comedy writer, a position in this industry that hasn’t seen many of you here before. Do you ever struggle with your comedic writing because you’re trying too hard to be too great, so others in the future get the same opportunity you’ve received?
Anyone who follows me knows how hard I try to pull up BIPOC creators, and actively get them hired, whether it’s at the studios I work at or others. I look out for us. And people have looked out for me. We have to look out for each other because no one else will. But again I do think a lot of different people place a huge amount of pressure on us to be everything to everyone. It’s hard enough to break into this industry. Adding this extra pressure of representing us all, is anxiety-inducing. At times I lose sleep over it. I love Phoebe Waller-Bridge, but no one is asking her to make sure she represents her entire community. She doesn’t have to represent all white people. We are tasked with this and if we don’t, we are seen as leaving others out or our work is seen as not valid. I saw people write that Gentefied wasn’t Mexican enough, even though that show is a very specific Chicano experience. To me, that means we need more of us. We need more BIPOC creators at every element of this industry. That way all of our experiences, stories, and voices can be represented, seen, heard, and valid. That way no single show needs to represent all of us.
Has all of your focus been on writing for 1% Happy or have you been writing other comedies as well, maybe even a featured film?
I’m working on multiple projects right now which I’m excited for the world to see. Definitely jumping into animation, sci-fi, and horror next. So look out!
Where can new comedy fans find you on social media?
I’m @msdanifernandez on most of the things!
See more of actress/writer Dani Fernandez on SYFY’s The Great Debate and listen to her discuss everything nerdy subculture on the Nerdificent podcast w/ Ify Nwadiwe on IHeartRadio. Also don’t miss Dani in her first starring role in 1% Happy on HBO Max coming your way in 2022.
*Photos courtesy of John-Michael Bond