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A Resurgence Of 'Redneck' Pride, Marked By Race, Class And Trump

Linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the derogative words used to describe many of Donald Trump's supporters - words like hillbilly, white trash, and redneck, and what those words say about class conflict.


Other segments from the episode on September 6, 2016

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 6, 2016: Interview with Pamela Adlon; Commentary about words used to describe Trump's supporters



This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest Pamela Adlon along with Louis C.K. created a new comedy series on FX that premieres Thursday called "Better Things." It stars Adlon in a role drawn from her own life as an actress and voiceover artist who is also a single mother of three girls. Two of them are teenagers. So in the series, she's doing her best to maintain her career while trying to do right by her kids who often resist her and create mayhem.

Fans of Louis C.K.'s series "Louie" will know Adlon as his friend and sometimes girlfriend Pamela. Adlon was also a writer and producer of that show and played Louie's wife on his first series "Lucky Louie." She won an Emmy for her voice work in the animated series "King Of The Hill," as the adolescent boy Bobby Hill. She's also done a lot of other work for cartoons and played Marcy Runkle on Showtime's TV series "Californication."

Let's start with the opening scene from the premiere of "Better Things." Adlon's character Sam is at a shopping mall with her youngest daughter who's around 9. Sam is sitting on a bench looking at her phone and kind of ignoring her daughter who's crying and tugging at Sam's arm. A woman sitting at the other end of the bench is staring at Sam disapprovingly. Sam looks at the woman and says this.


OLIVIA EDWARD: (As Duke, crying).

PAMELA ADLON: (As Sam) Hi. Do you want to buy her the earrings? Because that's why she's crying because of $6 earrings that she has them at home already, but she wants them for right now so - you should go into that store and buy them for her because I'm not doing it - or stop looking.

OLIVIA: (As Duke, crying).

ADLON: (As Sam) You want hot dog on a stick?

OLIVIA: (As Duke, crying).

GROSS: Pamela Adlon, welcome to FRESH AIR. So...

ADLON: Thank you.

GROSS: ...I'm sure a lot of this series comes out of your life, and I'm sure, like probably all mothers, you've been in the position of feeling like you're being judged by somebody you don't know because your child is crying and they think that you're being cruel to her (laughter).

ADLON: Oh, yeah. It's - you know, that was just a fatal thing that happened to me when I was a new mom, and I just always was trying to, you know, compare myself to other people. And, you know, feeling insecure about, you know, my kids or what they were doing or how I was being, you know, looked at.

GROSS: And how did you get over that?

ADLON: I had two more.


ADLON: Survival and realizing that, you know, just I don't need to be a room mom every freaking year in school. It's fine.

GROSS: So, in a way, the audience for your show is going to be like the woman on the bench watching you and your kids or your character and your character's kids, and you're worried that we'll all be passing judgment on your parenting based on this series?

ADLON: That's funny. That's funny. No, I'm not worried. I'm not worried at all. I'm proud of it, extremely proud of it. And also I feel like it's inspiring when you see somebody do something that's complicated, so I feel like we're helping people. That's what I'm hoping for.

GROSS: So this series is a collaboration between you and Louis C.K. You're both executive producers. You've co-written some episodes. You kind of alternate who directs them. There's another director, too. So - in Louis C.K.'s first show "Lucky Louie," you played his wife. On his second show, "Louie," you played his on again, off again kind of crazy girlfriend (laughter) who's also a single mother in it. So how did he end up producing a show with you loosely based on your life?

ADLON: Well, it was several years ago. I was still working on "Californication" and "Louie" and doing, like, my animation stuff and, of course, raising my girls, and he said that John Landgraf, the president of FX had said we want to create a show for a woman. Do you have anybody that you'd like to pitch? And Louis said Pamela. And he told me, and I was like are you crazy?

GROSS: (Laughter).

ADLON: I can't do that. I'm doing this and that, and I got the girls and, you know. So, you know, it was percolating. And I would, you know, go through the days and do other jobs, and I would think I could do this. Like, I know how to do this and maybe create a show and run a show. Do I want to do it? And then the desire came in, and then, you know, having to take care of life and take care of other obligations, and then eventually I had to start saying no to certain things so I could pioneer this moment of my future which is right now.

And, you know, it took me longer than even just writing it because I got caught up in binge-watching "Breaking Bad" before the finale. So it totally screwed me time-wise. That probably took like six months or something. And...

GROSS: Well, you used to be roommates with Anna Gunn who was Bryan Cranston's wife on "Breaking Bad," so I imagine you had a very special interest in the series.

ADLON: We did. We lived in a house in Laurel Canyon. It - that's so funny. We did. She was my first lady kiss on stage, too.

GROSS: Oh, really? (Laughter).

ADLON: Yeah, but yeah - so I went through that and then just - we started the process of writing. I was trying to think of what would be a show for me - not my life. There's no way that that's something that I would do, and then I'm like, well, what am I going to do? Am I going to, you know, like work at a Jiffy Lube or, you know - this is my wheel house, so my life became, you know, the bones of my show, you know, the frame of my show. And then kind of it got fleshed out by the actors that I cast and the stories that I was able to tell. I'm able to tell some stories that are mine from my childhood and some of my friends' from their childhood and some are my own daughters'.

GROSS: You know how a lot of presidential candidates say before they decide to run for office that they have to talk with their family and take a vote in the family about whether they should run or not?

ADLON: Oh, [expletive]. I should have done that.


GROSS: Did you put this to a vote with your children about whether it was a good idea for you to play a mother with three children similar to the fact that you have three children?

ADLON: At first, I was being very protective of them in terms of what I was doing and the material. I was guarding the project, and I was guarding my actual children so that my kids didn't feel like they were being co-opted or that anything was besting them, you know?

But eventually they started getting involved, and they helped me cast the girls. And they put their votes in, and I would run material by them that was appropriate, and yeah. They - they're very much a part of it. The show is completely dedicated to them and all that they do, and the show really gives them a voice and their friends. You know, it's an incredible gift that I've been given.

GROSS: So let's hear another scene from the first episode of "Better Things." And in this scene, you're in the car with your oldest daughter who's 15. Her name is Max, and she's played by Mikey Madison. And so out of the blue, she tells you that she wishes you smoked pot.


MIKEY MADISON: (As Max) I wished you smoked pot, mom.

ADLON: (As Sam) What?

MADISON: (As Max) It would be good for you. Stoners aren't losers, mom, and it would mellow you out.

ADLON: (As Sam) I'm perfectly mellow.

MADISON: (As Max) Can I ask you something? You know what? Never mind. You'll just freak out.

ADLON: (As Sam) OK, you don't have to, but now you know you're going to.

MADISON: (As Max) Could you get pot for me?

ADLON: (As Sam) What?

MADISON: (As Max) Gaby Schuster's (ph) mom told her if she ever wanted to smoke pot, she'd get it for her. Like, don't you want me to have clean, organic pot? You should want me to have good nugs.

ADLON: (As Sam) Good nugs? I don't even know what to say. (Laughter) That's amazing. I don't know how to get pot. I don't even know where to get - Gaby Schuster's mom said that to you? OK, that's great. I can't even get gran pot for her arthritis. How about this? How about this? No. No, Max, I'm not going to get you pot.

MADISON: (As Max) It's so easy, mom...

ADLON: (As Sam) Sorry - oh...

MADISON: (As Max) You get a prescription. You just have to...

ADLON: (As Sam) Oh...

MADISON: (As Max) ...Be 18.

ADLON: (As Sam) Max, honey, can we just go back to the regular hard things, like school supplies?

MADISON: (As Max) You should be happy I'm honest with you. I could just get it and not tell you.

ADLON: (As Sam) Oh, yeah, well, that might be a little better.

MADISON: (As Max) Seriously?

ADLON: (As Sam) Yeah. These things are normal, but you should be ashamed of them.

MADISON: (As Max) Why? Your - Your my mom. I want you to know if I have sex or if I want to get high.

ADLON: (As Max) Ahh, no. Hide things from me, please.

GROSS: (Laughter) That's hilarious. So tell us about writing that scene.

ADLON: Well, that scene might not have been so difficult to write.


GROSS: Because...

ADLON: No names, no names - you know, it's - you know, in terms of telling these stories, developmentally, this is something that was going on with a lot of kids around my daughters and my friends' kids. And so I wanted to kind of, you know, show what happens when there is an open dialogue and maybe the parent doesn't want it to be so open (laughter). It's a little scary.

GROSS: I love the way the daughter is using both guilt and a sense of parental duty to try to get you, the parent, to...

ADLON: Works every time...

GROSS: ...To buy pot for her (laughter).

ADLON: Works every time. It's your duty to give me something that's clean for my body which I'm probably going to do anyway. No, no, please don't put that on me.

GROSS: You know, in this series, the daughters - the two older daughters - just really speaks so rudely to the mother. I mean, they insult her. They totally mess up the house when she's away and don't even bother to clean it up. So would you let your kids talk to you that way or get away with that kind of thing at home?

ADLON: Would I let them?

GROSS: OK, that's the thing, right. Can you stop them?

ADLON: Yeah. It's - you know, I used to say to my girls, oh, my God, if my father were here...


ADLON: ...And you were me, you would get - I mean, a belt, a spanking. And they just look at me like, are you insane? Do you think that means anything to me? It's just, like, such empty threats. When the kids are, like, fine, you know, put me in a time out, then they get too old for timeouts, what do you do? Take away their computer. You can't take away my computer, mom. I have so much homework, and it's all on my - on the Internet, which is true. I mean, they get you on every level.

GROSS: (Laughter).

ADLON: It's maddening.

GROSS: So - OK, I'm asking this as somebody who's not a parent. How do you stay in love with your children when they are mean to you and try to manipulate you and they behave thoughtlessly? How do you get over...

ADLON: Well...

GROSS: ...That emotionally, those periods?

ADLON: It's - I don't think - well, in the first place, you can go in and out of love and still love somebody, you know? You may not like them so much on the day, but, you know, it's - I can tell you that I don't think I've ever been so vulnerable or been so angry in my life, like, those two emotions, like feel so hurt or so enraged, as when you're dealing with your kids. This is just every single hot emotion you can tap into. And then the highs are incredible. You know, if you push through a particularly difficult time or situation, the gratification is staggering. It's staggering. But it - you've got to put a lot of currency into that bank for that to pay off. And that's called (singing) parenthood.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Pamela Adlon. And she co-created with Louis C.K. and stars in the new FX series "Better Things." And it premieres on September 8, which is a Thursday, on FX. We'll be right back after we take a short break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Pamela Adlon. She's an actress and voiceover artist, and now she stars in her own series which is called "Better Things." She co-created it with Louis C.K., and she played his on again, off again girlfriend in his series "Louie." And in the new series, she plays a single mother of three girls who is, like Pamela Adlon - is a voiceover artist and actress. So give us a sense of what the process was. When you and Louis decided to start this new series "Better Things," where did you start? Like, what were the first questions you had to ask yourself?

ADLON: Well, I found myself really just not being motivated to write for myself. You know, I'm kind of more like a team player and a supporter. So it was fairly easy for me to come up with ideas for "Louis," for his show and things like that. But, you know, when it came to me talking about my show, like I said, I was like, OK, let's make another kind of profession and maybe I have like a Chinese daughter and, you know, like a son from Africa. And...

GROSS: Were you just assuming that your own life was boring and therefore you can't draw from it? Other people's lives...

ADLON: Exactly. You know, it's just one of those things. You're like what? But, you know, at the same time, you know, my life is extraordinary because it's so normal. But it's so extra for some reason. You know, I always would get a sense like when my daughters and I are together and we're walking, it sometimes feels in my head like we're "Reservoir Dogs."

GROSS: (Laughter).

ADLON: It's just the four of us, you know, and I see it in slow motion. And, you know, and it - they're completely captivating - my daughters. And they're all individuals, and they're just incredible. And their story's incredible, and so interesting to me to tell the story about three girls at different stages developmentally, not really put into the conversation where's the dad? You know, because that's not really the story to me. The story is this family. This is what this family is.

And, you know, it's just this one woman who has no zone defense raising these three girls. And then there's the mom, you know, her mother who lives across the street. So coming up with that concept was, you know, kind of a lightning bolt, like, dummy, just write what you know. And then, you know, Louis and I used to always - and we still do writing exercises together - so we said to each other, OK. I said I've got an assignment. You write a scene that you think sounds like the voice of my show, and I'm going to write a scene. And let's call each other at the end of the day and read our scenes to each other. And so that's what we did, and he wrote a scene that was, you know, me in the park at soccer, and I pick up a kid in the van full of kids and we turn around and nobody knows who this kid is. And it was funny and everything.

And I wrote a scene for a bunch of my girlfriends, like a girls' night out, which really had nothing to do with - there were no kids in the scene, but there were mothers in the scene. And so we read them to each other, and he said to me that's it. That's the voice of your show. You keep going in that direction. And so I just kept writing scenes, essentially. And a thing that Louis always said to me is forget about story. Forget about story. Put that out of your head right now. You just keep writing. And, I mean, you know, I am the daughter of a writer, and, you know, and I grew up as an actor. But my writing voice was really nurtured and guided by working with Louis all these years.

GROSS: Why was he telling you to forget about story?

ADLON: Because it would be like, you know, instead of saying, OK, this episode is about Sam has a problem at the dentist, and then she goes to the thing and then her daughter comes in and says something. That's not the way we write. It's just about elements and details and then putting it together. And then when I have all these wonderful scenes and scenarios, then I put them together and a story becomes itself.

GROSS: Yeah. The child goes to the dentist and mayhem ensues is your standard blurb - episode blurb on an old-school network sitcom.

ADLON: Sure. Yeah, yeah. But it was very valuable. It was a huge thing for me to realize that, you know, I, you know - because I would say what happens here? What happens here? OK, just forget about that. What's the next thing that happens in her day or what's the next thing that happens, you know, to the kids? And this is the way this show got created. It's just - for me, it was a very organic kind of, you know, non-formatted way to create something.

GROSS: My guest is Pamela Adlon. She stars in the new FX series "Better Things" which she created with Louis C.K. It premieres Thursday. After a break, we'll talk about her voiceover work for cartoons and "King Of The Hill," and she'll tell us about growing up with a father who wrote and produced TV shows and wrote genre fiction including erotica. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Pamela Adlon. She stars in the new series "Better Things" which she co-created with Louis C.K. She co-starred in his series "Louie" and worked on it as a writer and producer. Adlon played Marcy Runkle on the Showtime series "Californication," and she's done a lot of voice work for cartoons. She won an Emmy for voicing the character Bobby Hill in the animated series "King Of The Hill." Adlon's new series "Better Things," which premieres on FX Thursday, is loosely based on her own life as a single mother of three girls who is trying to maintain her career.

Your character in the series is an actress and voiceover artist, and there's a lot of roles that she's passed up for in terms of acting because she's not considered, you know, glamorous or, like, pretty enough. She's kind of flat...

ADLON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...Chested, so, like, she's not...

ADLON: Thirty-two B.

GROSS: Have you heard that during the course of your career?

ADLON: Oh, my God. I mean, well, I would be in an audition and sitting in the waiting room with my sides, and, you know, going over my sides, you know, really concentrating. And, you know, once in a while, you get to a place and there's a very thin wall or door, and you can hear the people doing your same scene. And I would just, like, throw my pages in the air and say why am I even practicing? I got this, but I ain't going to get this. Like, it would just be - you know, because the person would be, like, cool and blonde and, you know, would maybe not be able to bring something that I would acting wise. But, you know, it's just - it's a part of the whole thing.

GROSS: Have you found your profession to be very frustrating in that respect?

ADLON: Well, it used to be far more - I think it's changed a lot, a lot. I mean, there's just so many different kinds of people and faces and things that are being represented now. But, you know, I grew up in a time that I started out and I went up for commercials. And basically, I booked a Barbie commercial, which I was out of my mind because Barbies were like Jesus to me. It was everything. I was so happy I can't even tell you.

And I get to the set, and my heart is racing. And it was for a Barbie perfume maker. And I met the director, and then there was this, like, cute blonde girl there. And I was like, oh, cool, we're going to be like chocolate and vanilla. Me and the blonde girl are going to be friends in the Barbie perfume maker commercial. So basically, I found out that they had hired me - the director said come over here. And he said, do you know how to walk like a Charlie Girl? You remember the...

GROSS: The Charlie perfume commercials...

ADLON: ...Ads for the perfume?

GROSS: Yeah.

ADLON: Yeah.

GROSS: It's, like, very...

ADLON: And I...

GROSS: ...Sophisticated and fashionable.

ADLON: That's right. And he said, so I want you to walk like a Charlie Girl. And I want you to pass that man, who's playing the mailman. He was dressed like a postman. And he's going to smell your Barbie perfume maker perfume, and he's going to be wow - he's going to make a face. And you turn your head like - and you toss your hair over your shoulder and you give him a wink, like, yep, that's my perfume. I made it. And I was like, no problem. And so I did it.

And the director was standing next to the blonde girl, and he said, OK, now you go do that, what she did. And so that was my job on that commercial. I was in it. I was the girl who taught the blonde how to walk like a Charlie Girl.

GROSS: That's really funny that you were the one who could act and had to demonstrate for her. But you didn't look the part.


GROSS: That's great.

ADLON: That's right (laughter).

GROSS: So I'll tell you one of the things I really love about radio is the invisibility. I don't have to worry about what I'm wearing or how I look.

ADLON: It's the best.

GROSS: Yeah, is that one of the things you love about being a voiceover artist when you do that kind of work?

ADLON: Oh, it's the greatest thing ever. I mean, I went through three pregnancies - you know? - and breastfeeding. You know, and I would be like, does anybody feel the need to express milk because I got to take a break. You know, and I would have no place to do it because, you know, we don't have offices. We just, you know, borrow people's places of employment.

And, yeah, it's truly incredible. I mean, I'm sitting in here, and I asked the guy to turn all the lights down. And it's just - you know, you don't have to worry about anything. It's the greatest.

GROSS: You've referred to your father being a writer. He was also a producer, right?


GROSS: And he produced what had been "The Dave Garroway Show," which became the "Today" show. He took you to the set when you were young.

ADLON: That's right. I grew up on all those sound stages.

GROSS: And we talked about that a little bit the last time you were on our show.

ADLON: Yeah.

GROSS: But what I think I did not know then is that he also wrote erotic fiction under a pseudonym (laughter). When did...

ADLON: You did?

GROSS: When did you find out about that?

ADLON: Oh, I found that out early...

GROSS: Yeah?

ADLON: ...Early on. He was - you know, he was writing dime-store novels and then, you know, soft-core porn books, which are, of course, probably nowadays, like, nothing porny at all compared to what's on actual television. But, yeah, he was writing comic books. He was writing serialized comics of television shows and all of that. He wrote everything.

GROSS: So do you think your father had the life that he wanted in terms of his writing and producing career?

ADLON: He was rediscovering things towards the end of his life. He died young. He was 60.

GROSS: And how old were you?

ADLON: Maybe 28 or 29. I don't even know if he coined the term reinventing yourself, but he took it on as his banner. And he started teaching workshops of how to - teach people how to write because he was at a place in his life where he - the work stopped for him as a writer, and he was fighting ageism in the industry, which was rampant then. Once he had his 50s, it just wasn't sexy to hire even a male writer so much then, particularly if you weren't firmly established.

And so he really was trying to do everything. He wanted to act. You know, then he started going out and doing these workshops and teaching people how to write. And he would cultivate people's stories and encourage them to put them down pen to paper, which is a huge gift to give to people.

GROSS: OK, I think we need to take a short break here. Let me reintroduce you. My guest is Pamela Adlon, and she is an actress and voiceover artist who now stars in a new series called "Better Things" in which she plays a single mother of three girls who is also an actress and voiceover artist. And she also co-starred on Louis C.K.'s his first show "Lucky Louie" and played his on-again-off-again girlfriend in his second series "Louie." We'll take a short break and be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is Pamela Adlon. She co-created with Louis C.K. a new series in which she stars. And it's called "Better Things," and she plays an actress and voiceover artist who is the single mother of three children. You've done a lot of voiceover work. When did you realize you could do voices? You've done a lot of, you know, cartoons as well as, I think, advertisements, you know, commercials.

ADLON: Yeah. I, you know, it's funny because I tracked it to one of the first times we came to California. One of my dad's like cronies had this recording studio, and he needed a little girl to do a radio spot for him. So he asked my dad to bring me in when we were here in California visiting, and I did like a little voiceover for something. And I played a valley girl which I didn't even know what that was, and then I guess I started to - I somehow got cast in a commercial. And I didn't have a commercial agent as, you know, I did when I was a little girl. But I didn't later in my teens and my 20s. And somehow, I got cast in a Jack in the Box commercial, and I ended up doing it. And I did one of those, you know - I coined a phrase in the commercial. It was like where's the beef? But I said - I told those guys do it with chicken.

GROSS: (Laughter).

ADLON: Now people are going to look that up. This sucks. So anyway, I was really excited to do it because William Fraker, the great cinematographer, shot that commercial. And so a man named Paul Doherty who's with Cunningham - CESD. I can't say all the names. He heard my voice, and he brought me in. And he said read this copy, and I said but this is for a boy. And he said just trust me. Read it. And it was a 7-Eleven spot. And I was to play this boy Kevin talking to his dad. And so he said, OK, you're great. I'd like to represent you.

And so he sent my audition out, and I booked it. And it was the first thing, and it was this 7-Eleven campaign that went on for several years. And I just worked in radio for a long time, and I knew about animation. But I just could not get my foot in the door, and then I finally started booking some animation jobs. And I just - that was heaven. It was heaven. I did a - you know, did a bunch of "Rugrats" back in the day, and I would look at E.G. Daily and, you know, Cree Summer and Chris Cavanaugh, rest her soul, and Kath Soucie. And I'd be like, oh, my God, this is my jam. I got to do this, and so I started doing animation. Then I could not get arrested in radio anymore. It seems like you either do one thing or the other. I don't know too many people who can crossover.

GROSS: When you say radio do you mean radio ads? Because...



ADLON: Exactly.

GROSS: So how did you find the voices that you're capable of getting for animation?

ADLON: There's something in my voice tonally that's like a boy, so, you know, I started, you know, being able to do boy voices and to be known as having a naturalistic boy tone without pushing it. Like, you know, like from the old days like, you know, like, the Rankin/Bass boys who would be like, gee, mom, I have a lollipop. Although, I do do some of those sometimes, but, you know, I just started to kind of - I would say they would call me the cleaner because, like, I would replace boys who were real adolescents, and their voices completely changed. And they couldn't do the voices anymore. And then, you know, it just - it was great.

It's just one thing led to another, and then I was, you know, at 20th Century Fox one day, and I walked in. And it was just a regular voiceover audition, and they handed me the sides. They said he's a 12-year-old boy from Texas. And I was like, man, I wish I watched "Badlands" last night or some reference, something in my brain, but, you know, I just I went for it.

And then, you know, I went back, and I remember auditioning for Greg Daniels, and there were all these sketches on the wall. And he said, I hope you don't think I'm rude, but I'm going to turn away from you, and I'm going to look at the sketch of Bobby Hill while I'm listening to you. And so that pretty much was it for me...

GROSS: This is Bobby Hill on "King Of The Hill" which...

ADLON: That's right.

GROSS: ...Was on for, I don't know, like 12 years or something. It was on a really long time.

ADLON: Yeah. We did 13. Yeah. And so...

GROSS: And your voice, as far as I could tell, kind of stayed the same during those years.

ADLON: Yeah. Well, I didn't go through puberty.

GROSS: Yeah, well (laughter).

ADLON: Been there done that.

GROSS: But voices do tend to get older.

ADLON: I went through pregnancies.

GROSS: Yeah. That's true.

ADLON: I went through three pregnancies as Bobby.


ADLON: Yeah. It's something else. It really is.

GROSS: Will you do a little Bobby voice for us?

ADLON: (Imitating Bobby Hill) Well, Terry, I just want you to know that I admire you so much, and I would like to take you to Benihana if you ever come to Hollywood.

GROSS: (Laughter). So what Texas accent did you find for that since you hadn't watched "Badlands" the night before the audition?

ADLON: You know, I just - (imitating Bobby Hill) I mean, I just came up with - I was just like, OK, you know, one of those.

I feel like, you know, in terms of dialects, my mother used to always - when she would tuck me in, I would ask her to do different dialects. Because she's English, she would do Scottish and English and Irish and Australian, and it was one of my favorite things that she would do for me. And she would say the name of the world's - the longest name of a town in the world which is like in Dublin or something, like (unintelligible), something like that. And she would just do things like that for me, and I am convinced now that that's what planted that seed.

GROSS: When you get the script for a character that you haven't done before, what kind of clues do they give you in the script about how the character should sound?

ADLON: Well, sometimes they will say, you know, we want natural. Don't do anything cartoony. And sometimes they want really crazy over-the-top. They want you to bring whatever you can to it. Sometimes they show you a picture of the character, and I'm like, that's not going to help me. (Laughter) I mean, well, one time I was like a space slug in, like, this one show. And I was like, OK, maybe, I don't know, I could do something there.

But most of the time it's - you know, they'll pull you in and they'll say, OK, you know, you're - Kath (ph), you're playing the mom and the baby and the daughter, and, OK, Pam, you're going to play the the son, the neighbor kid, the lady at the salad bar and an army guy because they know, like, what you can do, you know?

That's why sometimes people say it's so hard to break into. You tend to work with the same directors and performers, and people like to get in and get out really quickly. They don't want to make a meal out of everything. I mean, I feel like the people that I've worked with in animation and voiceover are so talented, you know, regular - some regular, everyday actors on camera cannot touch the people that I work with in voiceover.

GROSS: What cartoons did you grow up with, and what were your favorite voices on those cartoons?

ADLON: That's such a good question. I mean, I was obsessed with, like, the "Wacky Races" and Bugs Bunny and, you know, Snagglepuss. He was the first voice that I tried to start imitating. Like he, would go (imitating Snagglepuss) exit stage right. We'd been ousted, dismissed, fired even. And I would do that as a little girl. And, you know, oh, God, I was obsessed with cartoons and animation. I - I never knew that that was going to be my future.

GROSS: So when did you become a single mother?

ADLON: Oh, boy. How far back do I go? (Laughter) You mean when did I get divorced?

GROSS: You felt kind of single mother beforehand (laughter)?

ADLON: Yeah, sometimes, sometimes. You know, it's been since 2009.

GROSS: So how old are your kids now?

ADLON: They're all teenagers. Got a 19, 16 and 13-year-old girls.

GROSS: Wow (laughter).

ADLON: Not for the faint of heart. Do not enter. Enter at your own risk.

GROSS: So the three daughters in your series all have gender ambiguous names - Max, Frankie and Duke. Why is that?

ADLON: I just - you know, it just happened that way. I wanted my oldest to be Max 'cause that's a family name. I wanted the middle to be Frankie because that's a family name. I knew I was going to be Sam. That's a family name.

And then for the youngest, first, I was calling her Orlee (ph). And then I realized, oh, we all have guy names. I got to give her a guy name. I got to - and Felicia Fasano, my casting director who's my buddy, she's the one who named her Duke. She said, what about Duke? I was like, that's cool. And then I asked my mother to name my mother's character, and she said Phyllis, which was her mother's name. And my mother's mother, Phyllis, her husband called her Phil.

GROSS: Oh, wow, that's great.


GROSS: Well, I want to wish you good luck with the series. I think it's great. And...

ADLON: Thank you so much.

GROSS: ...I'm so glad you have it. It's been great to talk with you again...

ADLON: Thank you so much.

GROSS: Pamela Adlon stars in the new series "Better Things," which she created with Louis C.K.. It premieres Thursday night on FX. Coming up, our linguist Geoff Nunberg talks about the history of some derogative words that have been used to describe Trump supporters and what those words say about class conflict. This is FRESH AIR.

This is FRESH AIR. Our linguist Geoff Nunberg has been thinking about some of the derogative words that have been used to describe Trump supporters and what those words say about the class conflicts that Trump's campaign has brought to the surface.

GEOFF NUNBERG, BYLINE: Wherever you look, this is the year of white working-class males, or as Donald Trump describes them, the smart, smart, smart people that don't have a big education. Who are they, and why are they sticking with Trump, even as other voters are peeling away? Sociologists talk about the disaffected white underclass. Marxists talk about the lumpenproletariat or riffraff, which makes Trumpenproletariat almost irresistible.

But others on both the left and right have used more familiar epithets. A columnist in the New York Daily News calls Trump supporters bigots, bumpkins and rednecks. The New York Post calls them the hillbilly class and white trash Americans.

Back in 1989, the historian C. Vann Woodward said that redneck is the only epithet for an ethnic minority that's still permitted in polite company. He could have said the same thing about hillbilly or white trash. The fact is that Americans don't find class prejudice quite as shameful as racism.

College fraternities are thrown off campus when they hold parties with themes like Crips and Bloods or south of the border. But there's no surge of indignation when their members break out their mullet wigs and wife beater shirts for a white trash bash. Used in a loose way, those labels all call up the same images - the good-ole boys at Trump rallies wearing feed store caps and confederate flag T-shirts or the hapless Kentucky layabouts living on opioids and food stamps that C.D. Vance (ph) describes in his best-seller "Hillbilly Elegy."

To be sure, those aren't actually the typical Trump supporters, who turn out to be a bit more affluent than other non-college whites, not so much the people who live in the trailer courts as the people who own them. Even so, the words embody the long history of class contention that the Trump phenomenon has brought to the surface. Over the years, Americans have probably coined more epithets for poor whites than for any other group, even including blacks. Rednecks and hillbillies, white trash and trailer trash, Okies and Arkies, peckerwoods and pinelanders, crackers and clay eaters, mudsills and ridge-runners and dozens more.

Many of those terms are forgotten now, and others were only regional. But that multitude of labels also reflects a basic difference between class and race. Americans have always thought of race as an either-or business, a trait that's passed along in blood or genes. But we can define class in any number of ways, which is why we have so many labels for it and why their meanings keep changing.

White trash is older than any English slur but the N-word, and the two have always gone hand-in-hand. In her recent book "White Trash: A History Of Class In America," Nancy Isenberg traces the origins of the phrase to the early 19th century, when genteel Southern whites used it to disparage the poor whites whom they saw as a kind of human waste, ignorant, brutal and lazy.

Two centuries later, it still reeks of tackiness and turpitude. It's the most offensive thing you can say about a white person and also the most vulgar. Hillbilly and redneck both appeared later in the 19th century. Hillbillies were just the poor mountain whites. But to outsiders, the words suggested a caricature of slow-witted backwoods ectomorphs with a shotgun and a jug of moonshine - either the comic yokels of Al Capps "Li'l Abner And The Beverly Hillbillies" or the degenerate predators of the film "Deliverance."

Rednecks were originally the Southern white laborers. Their sunburn contrasted with the pallor of the Southern upper classes. But it soon became a label for uncouth working-class racists from any rural region. But all stereotypes are reversible when the people they're aimed at reclaim and redefine them and throw them back at their original users.

The era of redneck chic began in the 1970s, when the word became a badge of working-class patriotism and authenticity, as contrasted with the PC airs and affectations of the coastal elites. Country playlists were full of songs like Johnny Russell's "Rednecks, White Socks And Blue Ribbon Beer."

The other slurs were reclaimed, too. Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle wrote paeans to the hillbilly. And singers from Toby Keith to Eminem even made white trash a positive identification. As the labels became more popular, they also became more socially elastic. Jeff Foxworthy's you know you're a redneck jokes allowed New South audiences to laugh at the Old South stereotypes while still claiming the redneck label for themselves.

In his 1983 song "Redneck At Heart," Ronnie Milsap explained that wearing a suit and tie to your corporate job didn't disqualify you from being a redneck as long as you kept a copy of Field & Stream in your desk. Nowadays, everybody's eligible. A few years ago, Donald Trump, Jr. told an interviewer that his love of fly fishing and bowhunting made him a closet redneck. At that point, redneck isn't a class. It's a lifestyle choice.

But whoever's claiming the label, redneck pride is always infused with attitude. When you call yourself a redneck, you're not simply proclaiming your authenticity. You're calling out the scorn and condescension of the people who use the word as a slur. That's why the word always sounds a little belligerent and why it encapsulates the populist anger and resentment that the Trump campaign has stirred. As the Los Angeles Times columnist Gregory Rodriguez put it, you know you're a redneck when you're mad as hell and you just want to spread it around.

GROSS: Geoff Nunberg is a linguist who teaches at the University of California, Berkeley School of Information. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, a Jewish homeland with few Jews. In 1929, the Soviet government set aside a remote area, designating it an autonomous Jewish region. It turned into an absurd and tragic story. My guest will be Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, author of the new book "Where The Jews Aren't." We'll also talk about Putin and Trump. One of her earlier books is about Putin. I hope you'll join us. I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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