Life & Culture

Jewish mother comics Ronna and Beverly are feeling The Heat


Comic duo Jessica Chaffin and Jamie Denbo are known for their roles as overbearing fiftysomething Jewish mums in the global TV, stage and podcast live chat show, Ronna and Beverly.

But now the garrulous Los Angeles-based actresses are taking on Hollywood with their film debut alongside Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in The Heat, released here this week.

Paul Feig, who helped launch the Ronna and Beverly series on Sky Atlantic in the UK last year, directs Bullock and McCarthy as mismatched cops in a comic battle to rescue Boston from an unknown drug lord.

Chaffin and Denbo respectively play Gina and Beth — two extrovert, scantily-clad and heavily-accented Boston women. Take away scantily-clad and the traits are not too dissimilar from their stage persona since 2009.

“Sandy and Mel [Bullock and McCarthy] had never seen Ronna and Beverly,” says Chaffin. “So Paul hosted a screening of the show at his house and we all went along. Sandy really responded to it.”

“We loved playing two dirt-bags from Boston,” adds Denbo from under her hotel room bed covers in Montreal — they are on a global promotional tour for the movie — as we talk over Skype. “The Boston role is the other end of the spectrum from the Jewish mum. Ronna and Beverly are archetypal upper middle-class Jewish yentas.

“Ronna represents the awful matriarch and Beverly is all embarrassment — that woman of a certain age who can say and do whatever she wants.”

To Chaffin — who was raised as Jewish after her mother converted — the characters they portray “are women that we’ve grown up with. They still make us laugh harder than anything else.”

And to those who find playing on the stereotype offensive? “Jewish men of a certain age are sometimes offended but they just have battle scars from their time growing up with their own mums. They just can’t handle it.”

Chaffin and Denbo’s 15-year friendship is obvious. They finish each other’s sentences and stop for conversations mid-interview. “She’s super cool and I’m completely safe with her,” Chaffin says of Denbo. “I get her and I think it’s vice-versa.”

“I feel the same — it’s great to jam together,” Denbo responds. “We both work in different ways and we know each other well enough just to play off each other’s reactions.”

And they are unrecognisable from their characters, which is hardly surprising given that they are actually in their thirties. “That’s the beauty of playing people that look like that,” Denbo laughs. “We’re sixes — but take off our wigs and we go up to a 10! My advice to young actresses is don’t glam it up — play it down.”

The duo will be in London at the end of September to perform at the launch of the Jewish community centre in Finchley Road, JW3.

“UK audiences love watching people take the p*** out of each other,” Denbo says. Chaffin adds that “with TV and a podcast you tend to get the feedback later. But with the stage you get it right there from the audience. We’re very excited to come to JW3”.

Denbo closes with a “mazeltov to Will and Kate. When’s the bris?”

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