Kate Berlant’s Breakthrough TV Moment, Botulism Not Included

It was 9 a.m. P.T., and Kate Berlant had already encountered a “botulism moment.” The comedian-writer-actor never went to bed after her flight from London landed at LAX at 3 that morning, so she had enough time before our chat to convince herself that the can of coconut milk she left in her fridge posed a threat to her health. “I saw that it was expired and used it anyway,” she said. “It’s hours later, I’m alive.”

My brain was primed for a conversation about sealed food gone bad, since I’d recently watched Berlant talk about it—this time in character, on Abbi Jacobson and Will Graham’s forthcoming adaptation of A League of Their Own. Berlant plays sheltered Shirley Cohen, a Rockford Peach bunking with Jacobson’s Carson Shaw. In one of the final scenes of the season, Carson enters their room to find her roommate hovering over a table of cans. “I’ve been eating from dented cans,” she says. “I don’t have botulism! Do you realize what a miracle that is, Carson?”

Shirley fears what she does not know. So when she finds out that Carson—a married woman whose husband is away at war—has a relationship with another player on the team, Shirley is shocked and eventually inspired to take a teaspoonful of God-knows-what and test if queerness is, as she believes, contagious. (It’s not.)

Berlant, an experienced stand-up comic who recently released the beautifully chaotic sketch special Would It Kill You to Laugh? with comedy coconspirator John Early, has her biggest TV role yet in A League of Their Own. Berlant talked with Vanity Fair over Zoom about playing the nervous Nellie of the Peaches, and how the show digs into the lives of the World War II–era ballplayers in ways the 1992 film didn’t dare.

Vanity Fair: The show is incredibly physical. How did you prepare for filming? Had you played baseball before?

Kate Berlant: I had never played baseball outside of maybe swinging a bat or something. But we had proper baseball training. And it was just so fun to bond together. There definitely was a period of time where I was learning how to swing and it’s trippy. It’s just a world that if I weren’t involved with the show, I would never be playing baseball or have an opportunity to learn how to hit a ball.

Have you gone to watch baseball since shooting?

We went to a Pirates game when we shot in Pittsburgh. That was really fun. D’Arcy [Carden] threw out the first pitch, and it was also the first time I’d ever tried White Claw. I was really excited about all the free food because we got fancy box seats. I was overwhelmed by the amount of free stuff. I think I only had two White Claws but I ended up doing a handstand. I fell. But I was fine.

You’ve said that you’re a fan of the original movie and you’d watch it a lot growing up. I was so intrigued when I first learned that this adaptation deals with race and sexuality. What were your reactions when you got the scripts and were uncovering the story?

The film of course is so great, but it’s definitely a homogenized version of what it was like for the women in the league and the women who were trying to join the league. So I was excited that this was a more nuanced portrait of that time.

In terms of filming, there’s a ton of group scenes. What was it like having to shoot those?

We truly all love each other. I know it’s a cliché at this point. I can’t believe I’m like an actress being like, “it was just so fun going to work every day.” But truly, this group was just so natural. It really did feel like sleepaway camp. We were just far away from home and in a city that none of us had spent much time in.

You have to know I’m a POOG fan, and I was listening as you filmed in the summer heat. It was huge when you got the Nutribullet.

Oh, my God, thank you for being a hag. I was blown away by the quality of the Nutribullet. I was like, this is a $100 blender that’s operating at the level of a much more expensive one. I paid out of pocket. It’s such a crime.

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