Comedienne and actress Debra Wilson has had a successful career in the entertainment industry spanning nearly three decades. Still, she’s perhaps best known for being the longest-serving original cast member on the Fox sketch comedy series “MADtv.”
Impersonating celebrities such as television host Oprah Winfrey and the late Whitney Houston, Wilson was also credited for creating some of the most popular recurring characters on the show, including the sassy Bunifa Latifah Halifah Sharifa Jackson. So when the 58-year-old left the franchises, it took many fans by surprise.
During a recent interview with Comedy Hype, the actress revealed that she quit the show after discovering that some of her peers who had joined the cast much later than she did were making significantly more money than they were even willing to offer her.
“I recognized that there were people who came in after me — I was a tenured cast member from the beginning, from pilot. And people were coming in after me making more than me,” Wilson, who had been on the show from 1995 to 2003, said. “And when I realized there was white male cast members who were coming in after me making more than me, I went, OK, ‘Can we talk about this?’ And the answer, essentially, was no.”
She continued, “What I wanted to do and what I wanted to create on that show did not hit a glass ceiling, but when I was told that all the things you want to create and be on the show has a monetary value and we don’t value it as much as the new people coming in, that’s when I left.”
The 58-year-old said she didn’t know if it had anything to do with race or gender. However, when she later learned of the salary amount that a newer co-star was making, which was higher than her salary, she tried to talk to showrunners about it, but her complaints fell on deaf ears. Wilson said she asked if she had reached her financial limits with the show and claims that she was basically told “yes.” Still, to the actress, the dollar amount was the least of her concerns.
Wilson said she felt Fox was “devaluing what I bring to the table and could continue to bring to the table.” Throughout her tenure on the show, Wilson was the only Black woman on the cast, specifically during her first eight seasons. She watched co-stars come in and leave, yet she remained.
To add insult to injury, Wilson said the network wouldn’t even offer her a raise, which ultimately cemented her decision to leave the show for good. “There wasn’t even a negotiation to raise where I was, let alone to match someone else,” she said. “Had they just said, ‘You know what, Debra? We’re going to raise your salary. It won’t match his, but we’re going to raise it,’ I would have stayed.”
After leaving MadTV, Wilson found success as a voice actress and secured roles in several projects, including “Hotel Transylvania 2,” “The Emoji Movie,” and “Ice Age: The Meltdown.”