Let me begin by saying that I love that this Netflix show exists. I love that yet-to-explode comedians are being given whole half-hour slots to make their art in a way that speaks to them. This concept is great and I sincerely hope that Netflix ushers in a new cast of characters every year. That all being said, I was more than a little disappointed by the diversity of the lineup, or rather lack thereof.
Characters features 8 performers: 5 men and 3 women. Of that entire lineup there is one person of color. One. Now, this is not a problem unique to Netflix, but after Master of None, Orange Is The New Black, and other stereotype-busting original programs that cast in a diverse way, I expected more. Netflix has held itself to a higher standard on many fronts, so why are they giving this kind of opportunity away in a way that doesn’t spread it across a broader spectrum?
The 5 men in Characters are all white. Every. Single. One. I have nothing against white men. I have a white male comedian for a father, he’s hilarious. I have a white male writer for a boyfriend, he’s pretty good too. I love Louis C.K. and Eddie Izzard and yada yada yada. But does make the straight-up lack of diversity on this show any less upsetting? No, it really doesn’t. Some would say, “But Kayla, the best person should get the slot. Don’t fight for affirmative action!” To that I reply, have you seen these episodes? If affirmative action did anything here, it got some pretty mediocre stuff produced by white dudes! Hell, we should all market ourselves as white dudes if the standards will really be that much lower! Also, there was light brownface in one of these guy’s episodes. How’s that for an illustration of the diversity problem?
I don’t mean to be mean, and some of these guys are really funny. Obviously. The producers couldn’t totally screw it up. Paul W. Downs made me laugh a lot. He’s a smart, talented comedian and I already adored his work from Broad City. His episode made my personal top 3. I also enjoy John Early’s acting, he’s a polished performer. Tim Robinson had some cool, fresh sketches. But even so, there’s still no clear dominance of the white male that accounts for the overall casting. Really, there isn’t.
There were some bright spots in Characters, spots that really justify the existence of the whole program. Beyond what I noted in the previous paragraph, Kate Berlant and Natasha Rothwell really brought it. Seriously, my life was a bleaker place before Rothwell graced it with her amazing performances and innovative sketches. I’m lowkey obsessed with her now. And Cecily Strong was in the (perfect) music video at the end of her episode? Are they friends?!? Can they please have a partnership sketch show?!??! Key & Peele is over, and that makes me sad, but Rothwell & Strong could sure help fill the void! But I digress, so here’s a fairly serious kicker to send us home:
Google “diversity in improv” and you’ll see a slew of articles detailing the issue. Many are written by comedians of color who are trying to work their way up the system in the “traditional way” but can’t stand the underlying prejudice that still exists. There is no lack of talented, diverse artists. There is no reason not to have an equal number of male and female comedians highlighted. There is no reason that there shouldn’t be room for trans and genderfluid and agender comedians at the table. There just isn’t. To pretend any of that’s true is silly. In the sad way, not the “ha ha” way.
Support the works of female comedians, comedians of color, and LGBT comedians. It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but producers only want to back the people who they believe can make money. If you’re gonna spend on entertainment, spend mindfully. Have your coin heard! And go see Louie C.K. too. He’ll rock your world. That’s all.