When you have an ensemble comedy like NBC’s Superstore, it’s hard not to play favorites and for plenty of fans, Cloud 9’s no-nonsense, avian enthusiast, assistant manager Dina tops the list.
Comedian Lauren Ash has been bringing her to life on the small screen for the past few seasons, fully-committing to every absurd storyline, romantic coupling, and even a surrogate pregnancy plot. She plays Dina with equal parts brash and an off-kilter vulnerability that transforms what might normally be a two-dimensional laugh generator into a fully-rounded comedic tour de force. And she does it in sexy cop costumes, khaki uniforms, and pregnancy bellies.
Uproxx chatted with Ash about what’s in store for her character in season four, how she’s muscled her way into the comedy space, and the one Office question she’s never answered … until now.
First, how are you coping with your loss to your co-star Ben Feldman on Lip Sync Battle? I think you might have been robbed there.
Listen, you and the rest of the internet, okay. Let’s get real about this. He was relying on things like props, using masks in my image. That’s cool, if that’s what you need to use to win, I hope you’re able to sleep well at night. If we’re just going performance to performance, I think it’s a no brainer. I was doing intricate choreography, okay? I poured milk on my tits. What more does America want?
Has he just been insufferable now at work?
You know what, I think he’s been pretty hurt about the whole thing. The internet really has turned on him, everybody saying I deserve to win. Just today one of the crew members said, “You know, Lauren really should have won,” and he was like, “Yeah, I know, I know. Everybody’s telling me that, I know.” I mean the funny backstory about that is we are really good buddies, we got approached to do it and he was like, “I don’t know,” and I was like, “Ben, I want to do this so badly. Please, do it for me.” So, he kind of agreed to do it for me, and then he ended up winning, which just doesn’t feel right.
Poor Ben. The whole cast got together recently for Sketchfest to read the pilot script for fans. Was it strange to go back in time and see how far you’ve come as a show?
I think we all kind of felt like it would be weird, but then when we ended up getting into it, it was like, wow. It really is a testament to Justin’s [Spitzer] writing of that pilot, because the characters are all so fully formed right off the bat. Of course, lots of things that have changed, like Dina and Garrett have obviously had a relationship, now Amy and Jonah are in a relationship. For example, Dina’s not in love with Jonah anymore, so that was fun to revisit, but in terms of the nuts and bolts of who the characters are, and what their relationship to each other was, I feel like it was still there. It was cool to re-read it because it was like, man he set us up right from the beginning.
Jumping back into season four, Dina’s going to be forced to interact with Glenn’s baby a bit more. How did you feel about that pregnancy plot when they pitched it to you?
At first, I was like, is it weird that Dina would be doing this for Glenn? But I think we handled it really well. My number one thing about Dina in general is I never want her to seem like a sociopath. I never want her to seem two dimensional. So, it was a good opportunity for you to see that she has fond feelings, deep down, for Glenn. You get to see her be vulnerable even though it’s through a filtered Dina lens. I was excited to get to see a little bit more of her, to see a new color. Consequently, I ended up in pregnancy bellies for an exceptionally long time. I was in them at the end of last season, then I was back in them again this season. I felt like I was gestating an elephant baby at some point. So, I was glad when it was through, but I thought it was a cool thing. You do get to see her interact with the baby [this season], and that’s a fun dynamic.
Dina really thrived during her pregnancy and Amy … did not. I think, when it comes to pregnant women on TV, Dina is not the norm. Did that make her pregnancy more interesting for you to play?
I thought not only was it a fun well to mine for the disparity between Amy’s experience and Dina’s experience but truthfully, I feel like it made sense for Dina. She’s an ox of a woman. She’s a beast of a woman. I always say my favorite thing about her is just her delusional level of confidence. I love to embrace that. I believe there was a conversation about the sex that she was having during her pregnancy, or whatever. I think it was great to be able to see a woman who isn’t just, you’re a pregnant woman, therefore you’re not a sexual being, your body is no longer your own or any of those kinds of things. I think it was great to see that not only was she having a great experience, that pregnant women can enjoy pregnancy, but it wasn’t slowing her down in any way in her normal life. There’s a huge spectrum of what women’s experiences are with anything, but certainly with pregnancy. So, I think it was nice to get to see the other side. Not to suggest that pregnancy is easy for anyone, it’s amazing that women are able to do it, it’s a journey. But I think it was interesting to get to see her as still kind of a sexual, independent, vibrant lady, which we don’t often see.
Speaking of sex, does she get the green light with Garrett now that the baby’s been born?
The people do love Garrett and Dina. It’s the coupling that nobody knew they wanted. There’s lots of cool stuff coming out on this second half of this season for Dina. First thing, we are going to get to see the birds. She’s in Garrett’s storyline coming up. The Dina storyline we’re shooting right now definitely got some huge [reactions] at the table read so I’m excited for people to see it.
You’re Canadian so I’m assuming you’re a genuinely nice person. Dina is not. How much of yourself have you put in that character at this point?
We’re a very kind folk. I would say that that is not something that she and I have in common. What we do have in common is that I am also a rule follower, I’m just not a psycho about it. I do believe that rules are there for a reason, and I get anxiety if people break rules for fun. But, because I’m Canadian, I probably won’t say anything. Or if I do say something then it’s like slightly passive aggressive, like a snippy comment under your breath. That’s the Canadian way.
That’s how we do it in the South too. You started doing stand-up at Second City. I think recently, we’re hearing more stories from female comics about how hard it is to break into the boy’s club of the industry. Did you have that kind of experience?
It was a huge thing when I first started. I think that things are getting better now. It’s crazy for me to even think about because I was [creating] comedy within the past two decades. It was like 2005 when I started [performing for] the main stage. At that time, I was in a show that had four men and two women in it. Now, the standard is three and three, that it’s 50/50. It blows my mind to think about the past 14 years, but even then, I saw a time where women weren’t valued enough to be represented equally to men on a comedy stage. I remember that there were people at that time, people that I deeply respect, who would say, “Yeah, but, I mean, there’s really only enough roles for two women.” That blew my mind because I was like, guys, we write the shows. The suggestion that women could only play a certain number of roles is a fallacy because we’re creating the material, which would then insinuate that there would be endless roles for any gender. Right?
Even prior to getting onto the main stage, it’s a huge boys club. Any comedy is, but certainly, in the improv world, it was a huge boys club. I was very young when I was first starting out. I dropped out of theater school when I was 18 or 19 and started taking improv classes. Very quickly I learned the boys will bully you if you let them. I started playing harder. I used to say to other girls at the time, you’ve got to play with your dick out. As crass as that sounds, it’s like men never make any apologies for the choices that they make, or the volume of their voice, or the brashness of their comedy. So why should we? Why should I?
You have to have a certain level of confidence. I wouldn’t use the word fearlessness because I think there are tons of times, I was terrified, but you do have to have the ability to fake it. I think over time of course, as you can garner people’s respect, I think it can change, but certainly, when I was first starting out, absolutely it was a huge thing. I have a lot of close female friends, especially that I made during that time, that I’m still friends with. We would do a lot of shows together because it was just like, ‘Oh man, it’s tough,’ you’re vying for whatever, a laugh, a moment, whatever you want to call it, and yeah, you’ve just got to play with your dick out.
I’m stealing that for when I need to give myself a pep talk before a pitch meeting. Justin Spitzer is the creative genius behind this show. He also helped create The Office, another great workplace comedy, and when Superstore first premiered, there were plenty of comparisons between your character, Dina, and a main character on that show, Dwight Schrute. Now that we’re a few seasons deep, how do you feel about that?
I always dodge this question. I have for years. I’ll tell you right now why. I actually never watched The Office.
Oh no, Lauren.
I was obsessed with the British Office. I just didn’t get into the American one. There’s no shade, there’s no real reason, it just didn’t happen for me. So, when those similarities came out, I was like, that’s so funny because I’ve never seen the show. I’m sure that they’re correct, but I also didn’t want to go around, screaming from the rooftops, that I hadn’t watched the show. What I’ll say is this: Dwight is such a beloved character that it was always an honor to get compared to him. Now, of course, I’ve watched some episodes because I was like, I have to rectify this situation. He’s hilarious, and of course, I can see the comparison. I would love for some world where we can have Dina and Dwight be in an episode of Superstore together, I think it would be hilarious.