August 10, 2021 update to the original September 2020 post – Quibi went belly-up and “Mapleworth Murders” has been MIA on streaming since October 2020. Just this week, The Roku Channel announced “Mapleworth Murders” would join the second wave of Quibi orphans to reappear on the service. I’m curious to see if Roku cuts the short episodes into more conventional sitcom-sized chunks.
I’ve lived and worked in Orlando since late 2000, so it’s always satisfying to see what performers pass through Central Florida on the way to national success. Right now, Paula Pell has a new show on Quibi and just debuted season three of “A.P. Bio” on Peacock. Before that, Paula was a “Saturday Night Live” writer from 1995 to 2013 – including two seasons as co-head writer. All that started with theme park work and commercials in Orlando.
Paula moved to Orlando as a teenager, graduating from Longwood’s Lyman High. After Seminole Community College and the University of Tennessee Knoxville, Paula came back to Orlando for acting work and was active in SAK, the same improv group that helped launch Wayne Brady, Paul Vogt (“Hairspray” on Broadway), and Aaron Shure (writer on “The Office” and “Everybody Loves Raymond”).
Paula created The Bingo Lady for both the Florida and Hoosier lottery TV commercials. Now, you’d think I could find at least one video on YouTube, but this promo pic is all I could scrounge.
At Walt Disney World’s Pleasure Island, Paula was the first to play Pamelia Perkins at The Adventurers Club. A troupe of performers would do written sketches and songs, but also wade into the crowd for improvised interactions. Again, you’d think I would find at least one tourist camcorder video of Paula on YouTube, but nope. Thanks to Kristian Truelsen who was also an Adventurers Club performer at the time who let me borrow a few photos from his online collection. Kristian now lives and works in Toronto.
I did find one YouTube clip of Paula Pell’s time at Walt Disney World, but it’s actually in Manhattan. In April 1992, Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner received a gold medal from the International Radio and Television Society. The ceremony was at the Waldorf Astoria and the night’s entertainment was a tribute to “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” Performers included Paige O’Hara and Jerry Orbach from the original movie cast, Lea Salonga from the upcoming “Aladdin,” and four performers brought up from Walt Disney World. Paula is the one in red.
Paula was part of a SAK sketch comedy pilot called “Chuckleheads.” The show didn’t go anywhere, but Lorne Michaels saw it and asked Paula to join SNL as a writer in 1995. Paula created plenty of characters you know including the Spartan Cheerleaders, Marty and Bobbi Culp, the Omeletville mascot, and Debbie Downer – whose first appearance was set back at Walt Disney World.
Occasionally, Paula would do the voiceover for an SNL game show intro or pretend to be an audience member for the opening monologue. I can’t seem to embed the NBC player, but here’s Paula with Lucy Lawless from 1998.
Since leaving Saturday Night Live as a full-time job in 2013, Paula’s been busy on both sides of the camera. She’s worked with Judd Apatow as a script doctor, including “Bridesmaids” and “This Is 40.” She co-starred in Netflix’s “Wine Country” and is back for season three of AP Bio, which just moved from NBC to Peacock. On the show, Glenn Howerton is Jack, a Harvard scholar who ends up teaching high school in Ohio. Paula plays Helen, assistant to Principal Durbin, played by Patton Oswalt.
Paula also has a new show on Quibi, the TV network that you can only watch (so far) on your phone. “Mapleworth Murders” is a comic riff on “Murder, She Wrote” Paula co-wrote the four episodes (12 if you count the way Quibi breaks everything into 10-minute chunks). She also stars as amateur detective Abigail Mapleworth. A lot of episodes include cameos from past SNL performers. The one “Mapleworth Murders” legally on YouTube includes an unbilled Tina Fey as a drunk and horny church organist.
So what’s Paula doing right now? She’s in Asheville, NC with her finance, comedian/writer Janine Brito, and all their cats and dogs. From recent interviews, they plan on staying there until at least 2021. Janine was a writer and correspondent on “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell” and I remember seeing her in 2013 when the Totally Biased stand-up tour came through Orlando. Here’s Janine is on Late Night with Seth Meyers in 2019.