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Friendship spawns NBC’s ‘Best Friends Forever’

LennParham (left) JessicSt. Clair met New York improv theater where co-founder Amy Poehler taught them “show up play ball.”

Lennon Parham (left) and Jessica St. Clair met at a New York improv theater where co-founder Amy Poehler taught them to “show up to play ball.”

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Updated: May 23, 2012 8:02AM

LOS ANGELES — Gentlemen, it’s time to embrace the best friend.

Not yours, says comedy duo Jessica St. Clair, 34, and Lennon Parham, 35, of the NBC sitcom “Best Friends Forever.”

Your girlfriend’s. Your wife’s.

It’s the new, less scandalous kind of threesome: that awkward triangle between spouses and the best friends who refuse to stop nudging their way in.

“I remember when my best friend Brandy met my husband,” says St. Clair, who’s married to playwright Dan O’Brien. “She said something weird that was meant to be a compliment. She called him a hobo.” It didn’t go over well.

“At the end of the day, you can have two No. 1’s,” the blond comedian continues. “But it takes a lot of juggling.”

That juggle, and the struggle women face transitioning from their 20s to their 30s as permanent plus-ones begin to filter in, inspired the half-hour comedy built by the pair, who met doing improv 10 years ago in New York.

In “Best Friends” (7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, WMAQ-Channel 5), St. Clair plays Jessica, a woman on the verge of divorce who moves from Los Angeles to Brooklyn to crash with her best (and more practical) friend, Lennon. The hitch: Lennon has recently begun cohabitating with her boyfriend, Joe.

The characters are exaggerated versions of the two friends, who began writing pilots four years ago, first for HBO, then Comedy Central (“For which I believe I was paid $4.50,” jokes St. Clair) and finally, NBC.

“We have our fingers in every piece of this show, from hiring people to choosing the [set] wallpaper and the coffee table,” says Parham, who is married to a high school principal and, like St. Clair, lives in L.A.

Instead of writing traditional scripts, they recorded themselves while improvising. When acting jobs called them away — St. Clair last appeared in supporting roles in “Wanderlust,” “Bridesmaids” and “Life As We Know It,” and Parham has appeared on “Accidentally on Purpose,” “How I Met Your Mother” and “Parks and Recreation” — they resorted to doing improv on the phone.

“We figured it out,” Lennon says over lunch at local watering hole Little Dom’s. “Like a good long-distance relationship.”

St. Clair: “Lennon and I are in the healthiest romantic relationship you could possibly find.”

“Non-romantic,” Lennon interjects.

St. Clair: “Non-romantic, sorry. Right. But it is. It might as well be.”

“We do kiss in Episode 6,” Parham cracks.

She and Parham met in 2002 performing sketch comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York, back when Parham waitressed to pay the bills and St. Clair worked a mom- and dad-endorsed job in news.

“At night, I would change out of my Ann Taylor Loft suit in the bathroom at CNN,” St. Clair says. “I didn’t want [the UCBT crowd] to think I was some weirdo that had a normal job.”

At the time, “Saturday Night Live” cast members Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch and Amy Poehler would pop in and put on live sketches at the 22nd Street theater founded by Chicago-trained talent. Male comics outnumbered the women, “but because Amy Poehler was such a strong force in the theater, there wasn’t any feeling that women weren’t welcome,” says St. Clair.

“Either you were funny or you weren’t. And she really taught us that you don’t show up for a show in high heels and a skirt. You show up in your jeans and your Converses.”

“You show up to play ball,” Parham adds.

“Best Friends” was inspired by movies and TV shows such as “When Harry Met Sally,” “Gilmore Girls” and “Golden Girls.” “We always wanted to write a comedy that’s always funny but can also make you cry,” says Parham.

The show taps into a new normal for some men, including Fred Savage, who directed the series after successful runs behind the camera for “Party Down,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and episodes of “2 Broke Girls.”

“I’m Joe,” Savage says via phone. “My wife has a best friend who is the third member of our marriage. ... I’m the new part of this equation. A lot like Joe, I didn’t know what to do.”

And that, say the creators of the show, is exactly what “Best Friends” is for.

Gannett News Service

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