Born ca. 1970, in South Ozone Park, Queens, New York;Education: Attended Syracuse University.
Actress and comedian, 1991-; films include: Girl 6, 1996; Gridlock'd, 1997; B*A*P*S, 1997; Rubbernecking, 2000; Jane White Is Sick and Twisted, 2001; and Skin Deep, 2003; television appearances include: The Apollo Comedy Hour, 1992; Uptown Comedy Club, 1993; and Mad TV, 1995-.
After eight seasons of the sketch-comedy show MAD TV on Fox Television, Debra Wilson remained as the only original cast member from the show's debut season in 1995. In addition to her work on the Saturday night fixture, Wilson took on numerous film roles, including Spike Lee's Girl 6, the improbable farce Jane White Is Sick and Twisted, and the thriller Skin Deep. MAD TV viewers are most familiar with the actress through her outspoken characters such as the trash-talking Melina and the irascible Bunifa Latifah Halifah Sharifa Jackson. But Wilson's real life has been far more thoughtful. In addition to sending fans personal responses to their problems through the MAD TV web site feature "Ask Debra," Wilson has served as a volunteer and honorary board member of the Create Now! program, dedicated to helping at-risk youths find stability and personal growth through artistic programs.
A native New Yorker, Debra Wilson was born around 1970 in South Ozone Park, a neighborhood of Queens in New York City. She attended the prestigious Fiorello LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts. The school is perhaps best known as the model for the school depicted in the movie and subsequent television series Fame, and is the alma mater of performers such as Jennifer Aniston. After graduating from high school, Wilson majored in television and radio broadcasting at Syracuse University in upstate New York. As a performer, Wilson first attracted attention for her 1991 appearance in the play Passin', which was produced at the American Theatre of Actors in New York City. Featured in the role of Denise, Wilson earned plaudits from Jeanette Toomer of Back Stage, who singled out her "boisterous shenanigans" in an otherwise sober drama on race relations. In a prediction of Wilson's future career, Toomer also noted that the young actress "has the timing of a comedienne."
Wilson, who practiced her improvisational skills in various comedy venues in New York City, made her television debut on The Apollo Comedy Hour in 1992. The following year she appeared in Uptown Comedy Club, another showcase for her comedic talent. After small television roles in New York Undercover and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Wilson branched out into film work with appearances in Cracking Up, New Jersey Drive, and Blue in the Face. In 1995 she joined the inaugural cast of MAD TV, a new sketch-comedy show on the Fox Network.
In committing to MAD TV, Wilson and the other cast members were going head-to-head against Saturday Night Live, one of the most popular and long-running late-night comedy shows on television. "We were looking for funny people, but more importantly, we needed people who could act," co-creator/producer Fax Bahr told the ZAP 2 It web site, about the challenge of putting the cast together. "So we explored all casting avenues. Everything from going to comedy festivals to holding auditions. We looked in New York, L.A., Chicago, and Toronto. It was a long process, but we put together a great cast, so it was worth it." Taped in Los Angeles, MAD TV premiered in 1995 with a mix of topical sketches based on current events, parodies of television shows and movies, animated segments, and regular features with recurring characters. Two characters portrayed by Wilson became fan favorites: the young Puerto Rican diva Melina (paired with her equally brash partner, Lida, portrayed by Nicole Sullivan), and the outspoken meter maid with the memorable name of Bunifa Latifah Halifah Sharifa Jackson. In an on-line chat posted on the MAD TV Central fan site, Wilson mentioned that Melina was her favorite creation. "She's very brash and ignorant, but very true," the actress commented. In a profile by Cheryl Klein posted on the ZAP 2 It web site, Wilson further explained that the duo of Melina and Lida "have their own truth and live in their own world. Everything makes logical sense [to them] so you take chances without being embarrassed. You can say, 'This is what the character does' and you don't have to feel beholden as an actor to go, 'Ooh, that's wrong.'"
In contrast to her wild MAD TV characters, Wilson has earned praise for her thoughtful approach to using her talent and celebrity to help others. She is active as a mentor in the Create Now! foundation, which uses artistic pursuits to help troubled youth broaden their horizons and improve their self-esteem, and has served as an honorary board member of the organization. Wilson has also devoted numerous hours to answering letters from fans seeking advice through her "Ask Debra" link on the MAD TV web site. "The purpose of this site is not to tell people how to conduct their lives, but rather to lend emotional and spiritual support through similar experiences, tapping into situations that inspire us all to acknowledge our [own] power in decision making," Wilson explained on the web site. "Although some solutions you discover will not always be easy, my desire is that they broaden your path of wisdom and understanding and help you continue to take powerful steps on your personal journey of growth."
Wilson's stint on MAD TV led to numerous film appearances, including roles in Spike Lee's Girl 6 and the comedies B*A*P*S and Jane White Is Sick and Twisted. In 2002 Wilson continued in her eighth season on MAD TV as the only cast member left from its first season, and completed a major role in the psychological thriller Skin Deep, set for release in 2003. Making her home in Los Angeles, Wilson lives with Victor and Lizzie, two seven-foot-long boa constrictors, an Emperor scorpion named King Solomon, and two cats, Nalaa and Tabitha.
Cracking Up, 1994.
New Jersey Drive, 1995.
Blue in the Face, 1995.
Girl 6, 1996.
Sleeping Together, 1997.
Jane White Is Sick and Twisted, 2001.
Skin Deep, 2003.
The Apollo Comedy Hour, 1992.
Uptown Comedy Club, 1993.
Mad TV, 1995-.
The Mr. Potato Head Show, 1998.
Clone High, 2002-.