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Debra Wilson On Success, Snakes and Spirituality
by Diane West
When MADtv first hit the FOX airwaves in 1995, it breathed fresh, new comedic life into prime-time television. One of its most popular actresses, Debra Wilson (now Debra Wilson Skelton) kept audiences rolling on their living rooms with her over-the-top impressions of Oprah Winfrey, Whitney Houston, Condoleezza Rice and other well-known public figures, as well as a few unique characters like "Melina", a tough Latina teenager, and Bunifa Latifah Halifah Sharifa Jackson a high-maintenance lady with an attitude.
A South Ozone Park (Queens) native, the comedienne proudly refers to herself as Mrs. Skelton, having recently married "her perfect, beautiful husband," screenwriter Cliff Skelton. She's lived in Los Angeles now for almost a decade, working on a variety of television and movie project, including her current role "TV Watercooler" on the TV Guide Channel every Monday night. In addition to her husband, the actress shares her life home with 15 year-old boa constrictor, Lizzie--who has her own loft space--and two cats, Nala and Tabatha.
New York Tails: So you're a newlywed! Congratulations!
NYT: Describe your journey as a kid from South Ozone Park, Queens, to where you are today.
NYT: Then you were cast on MADtv from the very first season in 1995...
NYT: You outrageously portrayed some of mainstream culture's most recognizable people in an on MADtv. What inspired you, and did any of them ever call you and say, "Hey! What's up with that?"
No, none of them ever called me to complain. Oprah Winfrey has enough money to have me killed but she doesn't want to stain her reputation with that. And Whitney Houston would just beat me up-she's the only one I'm afraid of.
NYT: What about the more "composite" characters you've portrayed, like 'Bunifa Latifah Halifah Sharifa Jackson' and 'Melina', who are based on over-the-top Black and Latina stereotypes, respectively. Did you ever feel like you were pushing the envelope with such characterizations?
NYT: Tell us about Lizzie, your Columbian Red-tailed Boa Constrictor.
NYT: Do you have advice for people who may want to get an exotic animal just to be 'different'?
NYT: I'm sure you've been asked this question before, but, why have snakes for pets? (You've even kept scorpions!)
As for Solomon [her scorpion] I was curious, but deathly afraid, the first time I saw him. But I stood with him for three hours, and even held him. And there I was, thinking, I'm holding a scorpion! I became fascinated with their care. Giving them a good quality of life was a source of fascination and joy. Sharing an exotic animal with others is also a joy. Everyone you share them with comes away with a new way of thinking, understanding, and appreciation. They can walk away getting over a fear, or at least have a new awareness, of the animal.
My mother, for example, always thought snakes were disgusting. But three years ago, she saw me giving Lizzie a bath and she asked if she could touch her. It was one of the proudest moments in my life. She still doesn't like snakes, but she took a step forward. It was a powerful bonding moment in our relationship because she's the one who brought it up; I never try to force or push learning on people. I took pictures of her with the snake; they're my favorite pictures in the universe.
My family (mom and dad, two brothers and two sisters) are proud of me for just being a healthy, loving, creative member of society that is charitable and spiritual. You don't need to be famous to do that. Or rich to do that. You just need the desire to be a loving, healthy, human being and have respect for other life forms.
NYT: Planning to add any more exotic members to your family?
In addition to her commentary and reviews on "TV Watercooler", Debra Wilson Skelton is busy doing voice-over work for animated shows like "The Boondocks" and other shows on the Cartoon Network. She is also in the film, "If I Had Known I Was A Genius" with Whoopi Goldberg, Sharon Stone, Keith David and Della Reese. She narrated "101 Sexiest Celebrity Bodies" for E! and is the narrator for an upcoming Animal Planet special, "The World's Ugliest Dog", based on the famous contest held at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, California every year.