Fran Drescher is, in a word, iconic. The Nanny, the sitcom she created and starred in, has remained a staple for young people since its debut in 1993, even though it’s even not officially available for streaming anywhere online. In 2017, her character Fran Fine’s over-the-top designer outfits could easily be sported by Rihanna; her quippy beliefs, like “The body doesn’t know” you’re eating two pieces of pizza if you stack them on top of one another, seem like they predicted Twitter memes 20 years in advance.
Now, Drescher hopes to funnel her seemingly unending fanbase towards her real life passion project: preventing and detecting cancer at its earliest stages. For the last decade, she has devoted herself to her nonprofit Cancer Schmancer, which she created after overcoming uterine cancer herself. Focused on more than simply fundraising, Drescher has organized a yearly Health Summit, which occurs today in Los Angeles, featuring a variety of doctors and speakers discussing everything from robotic surgery and biodynamic farming to the controversial method of using snake venom to “paint” and identify cancer cells.
I spoke to Drescher as a longtime fan, and had the truly life-affirming experience of hearing her signature nasally laugh on speakerphone. We covered a lot of ground, talking about everything from her anti-capitalist views, to her skepticism of Bernie Sanders, what it was like to have Donald Trump as a co-star, and how she broke ground for Jewish women in comedy. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
JEZEBEL: Hi, this is Gabby!
FRAN DRESCHER: You have such a young-sounding voice. How old are you?
Oh, 23, that’s good. Well, I’m like the last person to talk about anybody’s voice. Pot kettle black.
It’s such an honor to talk to you! I grew up watching you on The Nanny and it affected my sense of style and sense of humor. Just so many turtlenecks and leopard-print things.
Oh, that’s so great! You know, I’m taking meetings. I want to get interest in maybe doing a Nanny sequel for TV. I just don’t know if the networks are hip to the fact that people in the world still love it! And would totally watch a sequel to it. I’m talking to Sony, my parent company later today. So we’ll see what they say.
Have you seen there’s this Instagram account called WhatFranWore and it has hundreds of thousands of followers?
Yes, I’ve been in the business of Fran Drescher. I know everything! You know actually, Brenda Cooper, who won an Emmy [for The Nanny’s costume design] is on Instagram, too. So she should totally tag her every time she does it, so Brenda can get [credit]. Because it’s a great Instagram, fun, everybody loves it. So why not just credit the gal who sets the look so she can get a little kudos, too. Maybe someone can tell her.
We’ll link to Brenda’s Instagram in this interview.
Okay [laughs]. All right, so are we already doing it?
Yeah, so let’s talk about your Health Summit.
It’s called the Fran Drescher Health Summit. It’s the third year in a row that we’re doing it, and it’s gonna be just a mindblowing day. Like a masterclass where you come and you’re gonna get pads, you’re gonna get pens, you’re gonna take notes, you’re not gonna want to go to the restroom because you’ll learn so much, it’s gonna change your life. And you’re gonna go home transformed from patient into medical consumer. You’re gonna get a game-plan. You’re gonna stop being a mindless consumer and start being mindful.
Because at the end of the day, all the woes of the world are because of big business greed. That’s the systemic malignancy. For all the woes of the world, in terms of global warming, water pollution, industrial farming, you know, all this disease, immune problems, crime—at the end of the day, somebody is making a profit on it. There’s all this money to be made. There’s never going to be peace, there’s always going to be crime, and there’s never going to be cures. So we’re here to circumvent all of that because that’s the only language these dudes understand. Stop buying! We’re doing a teen, middle, high school, and college aged “Detox Your Life” video that’s hosted by Jamie Foxx and a bunch of kids and I’m in it.
You’re saying it now, obviously, but you’ve tweeted before that you’re anti-capitalist and see capitalism as the root of the world’s problems, right?
That’s right, but let me just clarify that because I don’t want people to get confused and think that I have a problem with people making money. There’s nothing wrong with making money. But if your quest to pray to the money gods supersedes all the things that are of true value to the planet, to humanity, to the natural world, then you’re a sociopath. And you’re becoming a cannibal. And that’s what has to be stopped and that’s the brainwashing and propaganda that came out of the industrial revolution. Look at some of the phrases, it’s like, “Dog Eat Dog?” “The Buck Stops Here?” “Greed is Good?”
I mean, really it’s disgusting and we have to start rebranding and start reinventing and modifying and realize that it’s unsustainable.
I’m wondering when you first started feeling anti-capitalist and what led you to this belief? Did you feel this way when you were the star of a huge network TV in the ’90s or is this a more recent development?
I have been saying for many, many years that capitalism has run amok and conscientious capitalism has to emerge. I say to people all the time, “Do you know what you’re investing in?” If they happen to be in the stock market, or know what the policy of that company is. Because if they’re not making policy decisions based off of how this is going to impact my workers, my customers, my community, and my environment before my shareholder, you’re part of the problem. If you’re buying, like, you know, a soft drink or water in a plastic bottle that takes five minutes to drink and then is on the planet for a thousand years, you’re part of the problem. If you don’t have consciousness and know how you personally are making and thriving the problem, then you are the problem. You can say young people this, young people that, but I’ll tell you the truth. All those Starbucks plastic cups with the straws in them. Straws are the freaking worst! Everybody should refuse the straw. I’ve made three businesses in my neighborhood either switch to paper or plant-based straws. It’s insane what we’re doing mindlessly. The plastic cups it’s like, what? If it’s not plant-based or going to degrade in no time, you can’t use it.
So I turn the onus more on the individual. So, each one, teach one. I guarantee that the individual, you, me, and everybody else has something they could learn because we are a part of the problem. And each time I discover something new, I could go even deeper. I could change even more. I can’t go to a restaurant without asking “What’re you doing?” I stopped going to some restaurants because they’re still serving Fiji water in plastic bottles. I would order mineral water in a glass bottle and you could make the money. But because you’re selling it in a plastic bottle, I am not going to be part of that problem. This is the kind of stuff each of your readers can participate in. Activism on a local level. Start with where you live. You, your family, your loved ones.
Everybody is getting sick. These commercials on TV selling you more prescription drugs. And then there are more drugs to help with the side effects of the other prescription drugs. And it’s like, what?! Has everybody lost their mind? And then somebody will say to me, where’s the research? And it’s like, where’s the research? To tell you that toothpaste that has a disclaimer that says, “Do not swallow or call poison control” is good for you? Who the hell is gonna pay for research that’s gonna cut into somebody’s profit margin? Your research is your inner voice. Get in touch with it. That’s closest to your creator. You already know what’s the right thing to do. You already know. Start listening to it and trusting it. Otherwise, we’re becoming drones.
What do you think about the recent efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act?
I’m thrilled that it keeps failing. Even though, look, when Obamacare was getting passed and they’re saying well, “This is wrong with it” and “That’s wrong with it,” I very wisely said then, get it on the books! I’ve spent a lot of time in DC—I was very instrumental in getting a law made by unanimous consent, which means all 100 senators said yes to Fran!
Then, what do you think about Bernie Sanders and his push for Medicare For All?
Again, I think that this [the ACA] is what’s on the books. There’s millions of people that are doing it. The more people that are signing up for it, the harder it will be to revoke. And I think that Bernie should try and propose a bill to help whatever weaknesses are in it. [Groans] Look, Bernie is not the radical he pretends to be. You don’t run as a Democrat if you’re really revolutionary, I’m sorry. And then when you see that Hillary is gaining all of the Democratic electoral votes, you don’t bank out. You switch to an Independent, which is what you’re supposed to be anyway. But nobody except very few people, except maybe Ralph Nader, had the balls to do that and risk being ostracized should the other party win. Which is what happened in the Gore/Bush election and people kind of blamed... what’s his name? Who did I just say?
Oh, Ralph Nader!
I’m like, “Oh, that’s before my time.”
[Laughs] Oh my god. But you know, that’s a true revolutionary. That’s somebody who doesn’t care if he’s gonna be Mr. Popular. He had something to say. And you say it whether you win it or not. Talking about Bernie, now he had something to say, he had a following, he had people who believed in him. And he bumped ‘em all into Hillary! Which is so typical. I saw it happening when it was happening. It’s happened over and over again. It happened with Jesse Jackson. They always pull out this kind of radical to gather together the novice voters, the more liberal people, and then in the eleventh hour, they tell that candidate, “You got to get everybody over to this one because they have a better chance of winning.” And it’s like the handwriting is on the wall. So when you ask me about Bernie, if you look at his voting record, he’s pretty centrist. And when you think about Vermont, even though it’s a great state and it’s beautiful. I know a lot of people that live there. And they’re you know, in a good space in terms of what they call the “Granola Generation?” And they fought Monsanto against GMOs. And all that’s good. Of course, that was the governor. But meanwhile, lest we forget, that Bernie is in a state that has a lot of military industry, too. You don’t go against those dudes and come out ahead, you know what I’m saying?
Donald Trump made an appearance on The Nanny. Can you tell me what that was like?
Oh, well back in those days, he was like “Mr. New York.” So we loved having famous New Yorkers on the show. We had people like Bette Midler, who was promoting “Keep Parks Green” in New York. We had Donald Trump on. There was just a whole side that was made to show New York. People were shocked to hear that we didn’t film the show in New York. When the show got popular, we got the budget to go there and shoot some footage in the streets. We had Rosie O’Donnell. You know, it was like all that? So he was very much in that realm to create.
I’ll tell you a little story with [Trump]. Because we’re doing a scene together. So I’m standing between him and Mr. Sheffield. And my line was, “Oh, all you millionaires are alike.” And after that rehearsal, we get a note from the Trump team that, “Mr. Trump is not a millionaire. He’s a billionaire. So can you please change the script?” And actually Peter, my gay ex-husband and writing partner, he still has that note [laughs].
It’s not like he was the only celebrity that had their own little request, so it’s not like we thought, “Oh my god!” But I didn’t want to change it to “billionaire” because that seemed, from a writing standpoint, too specific. So they asked him, “Would you mind if Fran says, ‘All you zillionaires are alike?’” That they didn’t mind. So that’s what ended up being in the episode. It ended up it was good because it sounded like a word that would come out of Fran’s mouth. We didn’t really mind. We never minded getting notes from anyone. The network, the studio, or a celebrity. I mean, we had an amazing parade of celebrities. Trust me, everybody had something to say. I mean, we were blessed to have Elton John do the show. He wanted red roses in his dressing room. No problem, baby!
Aside from her wardrobe being so unique and incredible, I think with Fran Fine you really nailed that likeable-but-flawed woman protagonist that still feels so rare in TV even though it’s been 20 years. Do you feel like you were ahead of your time?
You mean in terms of the way it was costumed?
I mean that, but also in terms of how her character was written. And the fact that you not only starred in it, but were also the creator.
I think in many ways we definitely broke ground. We were very, very blessed that everything came together. You know, the network, the president of the network at the time, all the people and just the timing—all the ’90s. You know, the ’90s was a very fruitful time. It was the beginning of the dot-com business, the stock market and everything. Everybody seemed to be more or less in a good place. People were making more money than they make now. I don’t know, it was just a really wonderful time. Loehmann’s was still in business [laughs].
I learned at an early age in my career, I was still living at home with my parents, that you got to take a shot. Carpe diem. Don’t get in your way because the feeling of regret for not putting yourself completely in something is much worse than maybe feeling a little scared or embarrassed. Just never compromise yourself. Always give 150 percent and make something happen. That whole show started because I was on a plane with the president of CBS and somebody else had said, “Oh my god, there he is. I wish I could go up and talk to him.” But they didn’t! I did! I did. I ran into the bathroom and as I’m putting makeup on, I’m saying, “Carpe diem! Carpe diem!”
Nothing would’ve happened if I didn’t try that. I convinced him that I wanted to pitch ideas for my own show. I said, “I’m too unique. Nothing that’s gonna be written is gonna fit me close. Peter and I know my own brand of comedy better than anyone. You gotta let us pitch something.” P.S., I didn’t even have that at the time! But he said, nine-and-a-half hours later when we landed at Charles de Gaulle, “When we get back to LA, call me and I’ll set you up a pitch meeting with the head of comedy development.” It wasn’t until I was on that trip that I came up with the idea. So you just never know when opportunity knocks and how to take hold of it.
Now, we get greenlighted to do a script of the pilot. Once we jumped that hurdle, we got greenlighted to film it. My one liner was, “It’s a spin on the sound of music only instead of Julie Andrews, I come to the door.” And that was all they had to hear! They saw the whole show right there. And that’s how you sell something. If you can say it in a sentence, you got it. So when we’re starting to do pre-production for the pilot, we get a call from the network that says, “Proctor and Gamble wants to buy the show outright, but they don’t want Fran to be Jewish. They want her to be Italian.”
Oh my god.
Can you imagine? And this was the ’90s! When a big company like Proctor and Gamble wants to buy the show outright, that kind of takes a lot of weight off of your shoulders because they already have the show presold. I said, “No way.” Because I knew that this was my big opportunity. Peter and I knew how to write my family and me with my brand of comedy. It’s a very fast medium, TV. So you really gotta know what you’re doing. If you don’t want it to be like broad comedy, but really rich in specificity, which is my brand of comedy, then you really gotta know what you’re writing about. And we’re not Italian!
But truth be told, I was the first Jewish woman actor to play the star of a series as a Jewish character, an openly Jewish character, since Molly Goldberg in the late ’40s, I think. If I didn’t make this happen for me, I would’ve continued to play the nutty neighbor and the banana. Because you know that’s all people were getting like me. But Peter said, “You’re too beautiful. You can’t play a third banana. It’s funny that you look like Audrey Hepburn and you sound like Judy Holliday. It’s a very interesting combination and we got to play that up.” So even everybody in Fran’s world knew she had a funny voice. We called it so everybody at home could just laugh with the characters and the cast.
I love the episode where she eats the wasabi for the first time and her voice becomes deeper for like a minute.
Oh my god, yes! And she sounds normal.
I always think about it whenever I eat sushi.
That’s so nice! Thank you!
So you’re guest starring on an episode of Broad City this season. In a lot of ways that show depicts a very different side of New York than The Nanny, but much like Fran, they’re always just getting themselves in weird situations that they have to pull antics to get out of.
You want to know something, those girls thanked me when I did the show for paving the way so that they could do what they do today. I never really thought about it in that context and it really made me so happy that they appreciate my contribution. I’m delighted to be distinguished that way. I had a fantastic time. They’re wildly talented. It was just a great experience and I look forward to doing more.
You’re in an upcoming movie that was just announced, The Creatress? Can you tell me more about it?
It’s a cool idea about this phenom who was 15 and wrote a bestselling book. Now at 25, she’s got her next book coming out and she’s stressed. I’m kind of a Bobbi Flekman-esque character [like the character in Spinal Tap] who’s her publisher and trying to make sure that she hands in the pages. And it’s about equality and I see that there’s money to be made on this chick, but I gotta focus her. So that’s my character and I loved doing it. They just released the first animation still for Hotel Transylvania 3 and I’m doing that again. And I do some animation here and there. I’m so, like, you know, on to the next thing as soon as I finish it.
I so don’t define myself or feel good about myself because of what I do. I just like to do a good job and I like to make my fans happy. I always like to give them a lot of bang for their buck. I like to be current so I can talk about Cancer Schmancer, which is a big passion of mine. It’s such a radical health company. We really partner more with environmental groups than other health organizations that are trying to find the next best chemotherapy. I think we’re ahead of the curve and there’s other people that are compatible with us and we kind of all are forging our own constellation to get people to really realize what the dealio is. We keep putting out a Health Summit YouTube from past health summits and also speaking engagements that I do and stuff like that. Come and see this live because it’s going to blow your mind and change the way you look at everything and, I think, wake you up.
I think people will certainly be woken up too just by reading this interview. I’ve learned a lot. Now I’m like, can’t use a straw ever again. Gotta invest in a metal straw.
You can’t even recycle them. There’s nothing you can do with them there’s no place to put them. We’re partners with the Plastic Pollution Coalition. I lent my celebrity because I’m passionate for what they’re doing and Iappreciate it. People don’t realize that plastic is hurting our health. Food in plastic. Plastic, ugh! We have to look at everything... microwaves. I don’t have a microwave anymore. I redid my kitchen and I said to the architect, “What’s that for?” and he said, “Well that’s for the microwave.” And I said, “I’m not gonna have a microwave.” And he said, “You should have one if you ever want to resell the house.” And I’m like, ugh.
You’re like, I don’t want the next owners to have a microwave either.
You know it’s the worst, microwaves. Even if you do everything right in terms of eating and meditating and yoga and you don’t litter and all. You drive like an electric car. Whatever you’re doing, if you’re completely surrounded by electro smog, you’re putting yourself at a crazy disadvantage if you’re not thinking about that because our energy field is in perfect harmony with the natural world and in disharmony with electronic smog. We gotta look at that, too. You know, Apple, what are you? They’re not trying to make anything ergonomically suitable or they’re making everything in China. For all the money they make, why not freaking start training people in the Adirondacks to work in an Apple factory? What are you doing? What are we doing? We’re part of the problem.
On that note, I’m on my iPhone.
Yeah you know, I’m a slave to it also. Except I don’t hold it to my ear. And I’m not rushing to get the next one so fast. I mean, if we took a moratorium on it and said, until you, [Apple], who wields a lot of power in China, get China to promote no more ivory black market sales, then what are you doing? Why are you even there? You’re not even trying to use your influence. We’re losing rhinos and elephants daily. Wake up! Stop killing all these animals for the stupid tusks. Again, greed and an industry being driven by rich people who want stuff at any cost even if it turns an animal as regal as an elephant into extinction.
Okay. I know this is kind of a dark note for us to end on, but I have to let you go! It was so great talking to you.
Oh, I’ll tell you something positive. Look outside. Look at the blue sky and be grateful because gratitude brings you closer to grace. You can connect it to your body, to your heart, you can connect it your feelings. Every move you make, every choice you take, make sure that kindness and compassion is your compass. There that’s positive. And I live by that! And it’s a daily process because it’s not always easy, but it’s good.
We’re all, all this is is nothing more than a big classroom for us all, on our soul’s journey of self refinement. That’s it. Everything that comes to you. All the people that are in your story are all offering up opportunities on your journey of self refinement. If you look at everything like that, you’ll see what is being presented to me and how should Ideal with it, to always take the high road and be a better person. Because it’s a test. We all pass or fail. [laughs]
Editor’s Note: Drescher’s husband, from whom she is separated, was involved in a lengthy legal battle with Jezebel’s sister site Gizmodo, and their former parent company Gawker Media. He was represented by Charles Harder, the lawyer who represented Hulk Hogan as part of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel’s secret campaign to bankrupt Gawker Media.
Gabby Noone is a writer and aspiring game show contestant. She’s trying to write a young adult novel, but don’t ask her about it. Follow her @twelveoclocke.