No Joke, This Actually Happened

Preview: A Not Unfunny Interview with Danielle Seid

Hi, subs! Long time, no see.

Fall TV is here! What are you watching? For me, it’s the usual mix of seasonal baking shows, slightly darker indies (usually queer- and trans-centered), the hottest “prestige TV,” and of course, new offerings on HGTV. I’ll have more to say about HGTV in my next post, in which I out myself as an HGTV superfan!

For now, though, I want to talk about comedy.

I recently participated in an interview about comedy and comics’ lives with John Zuern, my colleague, and Laurie McNeill. Both are life writing scholars who reached out to me to discuss a range of issues related to comedy and television, celebrity, and humor in the everyday.

The following is an edited version of the interview, which thanks to academic publishing timelines will take much too long to see the light of day and will not be nearly as sexy and media-rich as it is presented here.

I hope you enjoy this not unfunny interview!

LM and JZ: Can you tell us what brought you to your interest in comedy, how the topic intersects with your scholarship as a whole, and how you see questions about auto/biography fitting in?

DS: For me, my sense of humor and my interest in comedy stems from my experiences as a queer-trans woman from a working-class background. I was a so-called latchkey kid who, from a young age, watched a lot of comedy on television in my bedroom. In the early 1990s, FOX was coming up, and the primetime sketch comedy show In Living Color (1990-1994) followed by Martin (1992-1997) and Living Single (1993-1998) was probably my favorite lineup on television. I also watched a lot of MTV, VH1, talk shows, soap operas, game shows, cooking shows, and fashion TV (this was a time before reality TV). In my freshman year of high school, by chance, I discovered the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous (BBC, 1992-2012), a show to this day I return to whenever I need a pick-me-up. You could say I’ve always had promiscuous tastes in television programming! At the same time, I grew up with a strong interest in film. My grandfather, who lived at home with me, dedicated his life to film and for decades imported films from Hong Kong that he exhibited at a local movie theater in San Diego. Chinese Americans from all over southern California flocked to the theater on the weekends to see them, and I hung out, or cruised, the projectionist’s booth, the lobby, and the actual theater. As a teenager, I discovered indies, mostly of the New Queer Cinema variety, and foreign art house films. Some of these films, like the films in Gregg Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse Trilogy, really shaped my sense of humor. Obviously, not all queer and trans people, or working class people, are funny or interested in comedy, but for me comedy became a lifeline and part of my critical stance as an outsider on many fronts.

Patsy and Edina work through an existential (or just aging?) crisis on the bathroom floor in Absolutely Fabulous.

Comedy intersects with my work as a scholar and teacher in many ways, but usually in an oblique manner. First and foremost, I approach comedic topics and genres as a fan. I appreciate stand-up and am willing to give pretty much any stand-up comedian a chance to make me laugh; in my opinion, anyone who does it is brave! I also love sitcoms, which have inspired a course I’m teaching this semester. My sense is that, overall, comedy and comedy writing are greatly underexplored in academic scholarship. We could all afford to take comedy more seriously, not only for the ways that certain forms of comedy, as well as television itself, came to the foreground of our lives under Trump, but also for the ways that comedy has made or continues to make certain lives livable, or perhaps tolerable. Quinn Miller’s book Camp TV: Trans Gender Queer Sitcom History is a great example of reading sitcom history and seemingly throwaway jokes and minor TV characters as incredibly rich archives of queer-trans survival. The work that Black comics do is also about survival—surviving in a white world. Comedy touches on so many issues that scholars, at least in the humanities, care about: power, violence, vulnerability, trauma, race, class, gender, sexuality, and more. For media scholars, comedy is also crucial to questions of genre, industry, and celebrity.

In the future, perhaps, I’ll try integrating more comedy into my research and writing, although academic genres are not a natural fit for comedy! To date, a lot of my academic writing incorporates elements of life writing, but I have not yet incorporated comedic styles or forms in my work, in spite of how important comedy is to me personally. My current book project is on Asian/American women who performed on U.S. television during the network era. Aside from Margaret Cho, the celebrities I examine were not known for being funny. I like to imagine, however, that the actor Anna May Wong, famous for her dramatic roles as an Oriental femme fatale, for instance, had a great sense of humor. It would be nice to remember her not simply as a tragic figure and victim of Hollywood racism, but as someone who told and enjoyed jokes. This example underscores a challenge to studying comedy as/and auto/biography. Comedy is a personal and very often a private experience performed in a casual manner. In addition to studying comics’ lives, which are by their nature public, I wonder how we might also attend to comedy as/and auto/biography in more private settings, as intimate encounters that are an essential part of daily life.

Anna May Wong measures her hair. Was she funny? I bet she was!

LM and JZ: What do you see as the work of comedy, now? What makes it a good vehicle for introducing topics or conversations that might challenge the status quo – or what are its limitations? Do you see differences in what comedians are doing now in their shows, versus in the past—or even differences in what comedians we are seeing? What’s your perception of the current conversations about comedy itself, among comedians, the public, and/or scholars? Who gets to take part in those conversations?

DS: I think the biggest conversation happening today about comedy, at least among comedians, and the public, is around so-called “cancel culture.” On the one hand, thanks largely to the Me Too movement, there has been a reckoning with toxic behavior in the comedy world. Obviously, I’m referring to comics that are known to have committed sexual assault or harassment like Bill Cosby and Louis C.K., but I also have in mind Ellen DeGeneres, who recently announced the end of her long-running, popular daytime talk show following a series of controversies surrounding her show’s toxic workplace environment. Does that mean Ellen “cancelled” herself? Perhaps. More likely, though, she is partaking in that oft-satirized PR strategy of temporarily laying low and moving herself out of the spotlight before her reputation suffers any more damage. Meanwhile, Aziz Ansari, accused of coercive sex by someone who dated him, has been keeping a low public profile and has made his cowriter Lena Waithe’s character the focus of the latest season of Master of None (Netflix, 2015- ), which had previously been more of an autobiographical comedy series based on Ansari’s life. The public has a large part in these conversations, since, ultimately, we decide who gets to have a comedy career and tell what kinds of jokes, which in turn reflects what we see as the work of comedy.

Generally speaking, I don’t think comedy is up to the task of tackling many of the biggest crises of the day, like climate-change catastrophe, poverty, and endless war; that said, the feeling of despair induced by the wide-scale, compounding crises we face, without even mentioning the pandemic, is certainly inflecting comedy. Me Too continues to spawn a lot of stand-up comedy, and I’m heartened when popular comedians like Nikki Glaser address toxic sexual behavior within the comedy industry in their acts. I’m also thinking of the Comedy Central docuseries Dark Humor (2021), which brilliantly calls attention to sexual harassment in the comedy world, the struggles of Black comics, and more. At the same time, comedians themselves are clearly concerned with and regularly discussing so-called PC culture. On the left, we’re often too afraid to talk about or even use the term “PC culture” because it can feel like we are ceding territory to the right. This strikes me as a mistake. We should be talking about “PC culture,” but framing it around discussions of comedic speech, genre, representation, and audience sensibilities. Since many, though not all, comics push against boundaries of class, taste, and norm-making, they become important mediators of cultural change. Increasingly, comics do receive blowback, usually online, for their comedy when audiences feel they cross the line or demonstrate “bad politics.” As scholars, we should also be thinking about the gendered and racialized dimensions of these exchanges in ways that invite discussion of cultural norms and yet still uphold the importance of comedy in our culture.

Recently, I watched season two of Tiffany Haddish’s Netflix series They Ready (2019), which is a project Haddish developed to capitalize on her career success in order to give other comics, primarily Black comics, an opportunity to shine and be seen by a larger audience. In “The After Show” episode (S2E7), the six Black comics from the season form a roundtable to discuss a range of issues including managing a comedy career, the Chitlin’ Circuit, religion, sexism in the comedy world, and mental health issues. At one point, Haddish asks the comics if they are experiencing their work differently today than say ten or fifteen years ago. One of the comics, Barbara Carlyle, decries what she views as an increasingly sensitive culture that is making comedic possibilities narrower. What she said after that struck me: “people are hurting now… and they really need us.” This comment, as I see it, highlights some of the major tensions in comedy right now.

Although I would prefer not to be discussing Hannah Gadsby in 2021, I feel like so much discussion about the “state of comedy” today goes back to Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special Nanette in 2018. A “breakout” comic of the last few years, Gadsby clearly tapped into the feeling of outrage that MeToo helped to unleash, but she also, propped up by critics, made a big statement about, or diagnosis of, the problem with comedy. For one, it is worth being reminded that Black and brown comics, like Aida Rodriguez and Yamaneika Saunders, two of my personal favorite comedians, have long used comedy to discuss sexual trauma. Why then, in the era of Black Lives Matter, has the loudest and most hyped voice to address sexual trauma in the comedy world over the last few years belonged to a white person? Of course, Gadsby has every right to tell her story of trauma, but her “diagnosis” of the problem with comedy, which critics were more than happy to run with, strikes me as having major classist and racist undertones. Amidst all the hype around Gadsby and Nanette, NPR interviewed Gadsby and asked her about PC culture; she responded, “Comedians are too sensitive. If something as benign as political correctness can kill comedy, then comedy’s already dead.” Like many of the critiques Gadsby lodges in her comedy, this comment misses the mark, yet “benign” is an operative word here. In spite of all the hype about how groundbreaking and important Gadsby’s comedy special was, her actual comedy plays it extremely safe. At one point in Douglas, her post-“quitting comedy” special that followed Nanette, Gadsby named her core audience as “rich, white, entitled women.” I appreciated this moment of self-awareness, which underscores a larger issue in comedy—namely that comedy is still overwhelmingly white and for white audiences, who are curated by TV/media producers and often middlebrow taste-making institutions like NPR and the New York Times.

The brilliant Aida Rodriguez discusses intra-Latinx racism and her wild, traumatic childhood experiences.

In the same year that Gadsby became a comedy sensation, at least among a very white, upper middle-class, left-leaning audience, Mo’Nique and Wanda Sykes were calling for a boycott of Netflix because of the company’s racist pay structure (Netflix doesn’t release viewing data or compensation details, but there is no question Gadsby was offered many—many?—millions for Nanette and Douglas). As Yamaneika Saunders, Kimberly Clark, and many others remind us, so many Black comics, and Black women comics, never “get their shine” in the comedy world, a reflection of racial bias in our media and culture industries, still overdetermined by white, middle-class tastes.  We need to have more discussions about these issues and the fact that, in a highly segregated society and segmented media environment, which is being shaped by Big Data, we aren’t watching the same comedy! Millions of viewers watched, and presumably enjoyed, Gadsby’s specials, and I would guess that many of those left-leaning viewers would say they support movements for racial justice. My question for those viewers, though, is, how many Black comics have you watched recently and how do you support those comics?

This episode of Dark Humor highlights Black women in comedy, including one of my favorite comedians Yamaneika Saunders (or Yams as her fans know her); the episode is twenty-one minutes long, so set aside some time to watch!

LM and JZ: What do you understand as the relationship between the comedian and their content, in terms of our thinking about comedy (in particular, comedy specials) as instances of auto/biography? What do you think audiences are meant to expect or understand about the content—are we meant to believe it as “true,” or are we implicitly meant to engage in “suspension of disbelief”? Or does that depend on who the comedian is and what the content is?

DS: In general, I think audiences engage in suspension of disbelief when comics share the “truth” of their lives. The conventional wisdom that you hear from comics is that their comedy is successful when it feels true for audiences. I think whether or not a comedian’s auto/biographical content rings true depends a lot on who the comedian is and what their on-stage persona is like. There are many ways to accomplish this, and that’s what makes stand-up comedy so thrilling: the dynamic interplay between a comic’s persona, or schtick, and their material, which is so often framed as truthful auto/biography. In spite of the appeals to truth that comics make (you still often hear comedians say, “no joke, this actually happened” or “this is 100% true” in the setup to jokes), “truthful” comedy material does not necessarily mean audiences will find it funny. Whether or not comedians draw on personal experiences or tap into “truth,” the issue is always whether comedians have earned the laughter and buy-in from audiences. Audiences will go along for the ride and engage in suspension of disbelief as long as the comic has built trust and established a dialogue with their audience members, who are always ready to react with laughter, silence, or even booing, as is the custom at the Apollo in New York!

I am wondering, however, with Me Too and other aspects of so-called “call out” culture, if we might be more suspicious or paranoid audiences than we were before. I wonder if it will require a greater leap of faith for audiences today to believe in the “truth” of a comic’s personal material. Or, perhaps, for some of us, we are just so eager for comedy that we will set aside suspicions. Obviously, we have reassessed, even “cancelled,” comedians like Cosby and Louis C.K. Whatever auto/biographical “truth” we thought we were getting from them now feels like a lie, and I suspect there will be even more comics who in due time are “cancelled.” It is important, too, to keep in mind that what we can expect from or understand about a comic’s auto/biographical content has a lot to do with genre, media context, and celebrity making. Comedy specials, while fairly cheap to film, are still highly-produced media events— rehearsed, consulted on, and worked and fretted over. The genre even announces its “special”-ness, which in turn shapes our expectations and experience of the performance/material. Likewise, where comedy happens, whether on Netflix, Comedy Central, local comedy clubs, or Twitter changes our understanding of the comic and their material.

In the age of social media, we expect to be granted a large degree of access not just to comics’ lives but the lives of everyone who appears in our feed. Twitter, forever tarnished by Trump, telegraphs supposedly unfiltered, raw, and more honest comedy. My Twitter feed is mostly comprised of Gen Z and millennial comedy writers, many of whom are queer and trans and people of color; overall, I would describe their style of comedy as one of quiet despair, that the world is in so many ways falling apart before our eyes and that we are all deeply exhausted living under late capitalism and, in the U.S, a declining empire; many of the jokes begin with “woke up and…” or “literally…”, both appeals, in a casual register, to the “truth” of daily life. The gap between this kind of Twitter comedy and stand-up comedy can feel enormous, since, by and large, stand-up comics who are making a living at it, for one, often skew older, but secondly, and more importantly, they work within a different art form and medium that require audiences to engage differently. A great place to find this gap explored in fictionalized terms is the brilliant comedy series Hacks (HBO, 2021- ), which centers on an intergenerational female comedy odd couple. Ava (Hannah Einbinder) is a Gen Z comic whose Tweets went too far, Debra (Jean Smart) is a boomer and female comedy legend, and together they work on writing, and for Debra performing, auto-biographically based comedy. Ultimately, the show dives into how comics manage vulnerability and work with the “truth” of their lives in different genres and mediums.

The fabulous Jean Smart, who is currently having a big TV moment, reads Ava’s lez sartorial choices.

LM and JZ: You’ve been thinking about comedy in the context of sitcoms, while several of the essays in this issue focus on comedy in stand-up shows or in memoirs, and we’ve also been thinking about the nightly television show (Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, Chelsea Handler, etc.). How do you see form as shaping what comedy and/or the comedian does or can do in representing themselves and their experiences?

DS: This is a great question. Sitcoms have changed a lot recently in the direction of what we might call sitcom auteurism. Some of these sitcoms with auteurist sensibilities include Ramy (Hulu, 2019- ), Insecure (HBO, 2016-2021), Atlanta (FX, 2016- ), and the recently released Reservation Dogs (FX, 2021- ), produced by Taika Waititi and Sterlin Harjo. These auteurist sitcoms emphasize quality production and “indie”-like features that include on-location, single-camera shooting; hip, expensive soundtracks; and young adult characters finding their way in the world with the help of chosen family. For me, these shows represent an incredibly exciting moment for the sitcom form, which has evolved significantly over the last ten years or so to allow for different kinds of situations, characters, and expressions. Shows like Insecure and Ramy can lead with elements of memoir that feel a lot more personal and organic than representation in most “traditional” sitcoms, which historically have relied heavily on ethnic and gender stereotypes, from bumbling dads and loving housewives to nosy Jewish neighbors and sassy Black and brown friends and co-workers. In those more traditional sitcoms, the form’s vaudeville and minstrelsy roots were always close by.

As you know, I’m writing about Margaret Cho’s sitcom All-American Girl, which ran for one season on ABC in 1994. The show is considered the first Asian/American sitcom on network television. All-American Girl is an interesting case to study how sitcom form limits comedic and autobiographical expression. Cho got her deal for the sitcom at a time when TV networks realized they could use the sitcom as a vehicle for female stand-up comics. Beginning in the 1980s, there was a proliferation of women-centered dramas on TV, a reflection of the industry’s recognition that women, and upwardly mobile white women in particular, were a crucial TV demographic. With the deregulation of TV broadcasting that led to an explosion in cable channels and new “minor” networks, TV producers began to “narrowcast”—producing programming for narrower and highly segmented audiences. Anxious about competition from cable channels, ABC, one of the “big three” networks, crafted a lineup of women-centered sitcoms starring Roseanne, Brett Butler, Margaret Cho, and later Ellen DeGeneres. They hoped to capture a wide segment of women viewers, aimed, as network TV has always done, squarely at the center. The question, then, became: how would their comedy material and comic personas translate to the sitcom form?

In my view, Roseanne (1988-2018) and Grace Under Fire (1993-1998) were both successful translations of Barr’s and Butler’s stand-up material. Centered on working-class moms, these shows were genuinely funny, playing on and challenging stereotypes of sitcom moms and housewives. Cho’s sitcom, however, floundered; it lacked clear creative direction and played it too safe in its attempt to offer something for everyone, including Asian/American audiences. In her memoir I’m The One that I Want (2002), which Cho also toured and recorded as a comedy special, and on the DVD commentary for All-American Girl, Cho describes the comedy in the sitcom as “not unfunny.” That’s a fair description. Was the sitcom form not a good vehicle for Cho’s style of comedy? Perhaps. But the bigger problem, as I see it, was that ABC adopted the sitcom form, which could be found everywhere on mid-90’s network TV, not for an outspoken female comic but as a vehicle for middle-class respectability, triangulating East Asians in a racist white society reeling from the LA uprisings. Cho’s sitcom, of course, bore no resemblance at all to her deeply personal stand-up material. Instead, the series’ white showrunner, Gary Jacobs, took the sitcom form, which had for so long been dedicated to fantasies of white, middle-class suburban life, and effectively plopped into it a queer Asian woman from San Francisco who describes being raised by drag queens and who has a long history in the fetish/BDSM scene! In my sitcom class, I pose the question, highly relevant to this case: to what degree do traditional sitcoms have a white “racial form”?

Yes, Margaret, please use a cactus to teach us about BDSM!

If Cho had been allowed to actually write for the sitcom, I suspect the show would have had better jokes and storylines, but I’m not actually sure that would’ve redeemed or saved the show from being cancelled since the show would still have been squarely aimed at a white, middle-class, heteronormative audience. As a stand-up comic, Cho has always used her personal experience to appeal to countercultural elements, a tough fit for network TV, which has largely cast racial/ethnic “minorities” in otherwise white worlds and structures, including family structures.

LM and JZ: What do you see as the particular challenges for people working in comedy who draw on their personal experiences and, in some cases, their physical appearance to engage racism, ableism, homophobia, and other types of discrimination? What strategies do you see them adopting to address those challenges? Can you give some examples of comedians who you feel negotiate these pitfalls especially well (or poorly)?

DS: For any minoritized subject that speaks out about racism or other forms of oppression, there is always pressure to assimilate and to “tone down” their criticism for a mainstream audience. At the same time, as Black comics often point out, going mainstream can lead to performing in racially stereotyped terms for white audiences. A large part of the problem is that people of color, queer people, and disabled people are expected to always be speaking about and educating white, straight, able-bodied, and neurotypical audiences. I think the challenge for comics who draw on personal experiences, and even their own physical appearance, to engage racism, ableism, homophobia, fatphobia, and other forms of discrimination is always to maintain their critical stance and “edge” while still remaining funny.

Comics who draw on their personal experiences to address discrimination and structural oppression make themselves incredibly vulnerable in the process. Tony Woods, a comic featured in season two of They Ready, describes comedy’s “chemical breakdown” as being like a banana peel, in which someone always has to be stepping on the banana and slipping. Most often, it is the comics themselves who take the fall. This becomes especially tricky when comics play on their physical appearance. Unruly bodies—in other words, bodies that flout norms around race, size, gender, and ability—are such an important part of the work of cultural critique in comedy. For many women comics, sex-positivity is crucial to their work; we should also appreciate how comics like Yamaneika Saunders, a fat Black female comic, and Margaret Cho, an Asian woman whose body defies the media’s expectation for Asian women, draw upon their struggles with body insecurity and racism in order to launch their important sex-positive critiques.

Yamaneika Saunders tells a Halloween story, but one in which you can see her working through some difficult body issues and childhood experiences.

I have always been interested in “weird-looking” comics, and how their often deeply personal comedy develops over time. Joan Rivers, for instance, began her comedy career with biting and self-deprecating jokes that played on her “weird” ethnic appearance as a Jewish woman. The target of Rivers’s comedy was always WASP culture. Eventually, Rivers’ entire career came to center on comedy about physical appearance, with her E! red carpet gig, her jokes about the plastic surgery she regularly underwent, and her “shock” comedy directed at people’s bodies:

“I hate old people! I hate ugly people! I hate vegans! I hate children!”

Of course, her schtick was the disgruntled aging Jewish urban woman, a lot like Fran Liebowitz. As she got older, Rivers’ comedy became less explicitly auto/biographical and personal, and instead focused more on directing her frustration outward; that isn’t necessarily a problem, as self-deprecation undoubtedly takes a toll over time, but at times, she could be incredibly racist and vitriolic in her joke-telling. Unfortunately, her critique of WASP culture, which is always important to critique, left her own whiteness unexamined.

Kathryn Hahn will play Joan Rivers in The Comeback Girl

One comedian who, in my opinion, brilliantly navigates these challenges is the Black trans comic Flame Monroe. Monroe has recently experienced greater visibility after appearing in the first season of Tiffany Haddish’s They Ready. In her comedy, she really plays up her physical appearance as a “drag queen,” “fat bitch,” “transgender woman,” “faggot,” and “old queen” to comment on down-low culture, homophobia, racism, and LGBT identity politics. Her strategy is one of disarmament. She is completely unapologetic about who she is, and she invites audiences into her family life (even ending her set with a family portrait of her as a masculine-presenting father with her two children). She is queer to the max, and that is actually the source of the considerable criticism she receives, much of it from LGBT-identified people, since her engagement with trans identity and discourse flies in the face of contemporary identity categories and ideas about trans people.

A comic who takes a completely different approach to these challenges is Patti Harrison, a millennial Asian/American trans woman comedian who had a recurring role as Ruthie on the sitcom Shrill (Hulu, 2019-2021). Harrison eschews almost all personal details and auto/biographical content in her comedy material and simply performs as a weird, emo kid, often making dark jokes about killing herself. She definitely tests the limits of respectability and “taste.” Although she doesn’t often directly tackle transphobia, she, like Flame Monroe, makes no apologies for who she is. She does not seek to disarm audiences by offering personal details of her life, but rather to amplify millennial and Gen Z despair at the state of the world; in her comedy, her personal experiences are less important than the collective un-ease.

Patti Harrison being a weird emo kid (as usual!).

LM and JZ: How do you integrate comedy material into your classes? Are there some comedians whose work you wouldn't teach, and if so, why? We know you’ll be teaching a class on the sitcom: can you tell us about your objectives for that class? What shows will you be focusing on, and what issues do they raise?

DS: I never force comedy material into my classes. Mostly, I integrate comedy “material” through my teaching persona. Humor is a really important part of my pedagogy.

As teachers, we really have to create an environment for laughter in the classroom. One reason I enjoy watching stand-up comics practice their trade is that I see a lot of overlap between comics and teachers. In both professions, we make a living by performing for live audiences and doing “crowd work”—and there’s always a chance that we will bomb!

Whenever I begin a new class, I’m interested, even invested, I would say, in finding out what my students find funny. It is always challenging to get humor right in the classroom. In general, I don’t think there are comics whose work I would automatically rule out for inclusion in my classes. I have taught Bill Cosby and The Cosby Show (NBC, 1984-1992), though I’ve taken to making The Cosby Show recommended and not required viewing in my TV studies classes. Either way, framing and contextualizing comics and their comedy material is crucial, and so, too, are the “politics of citation.” In other words, when I teach Cosby, I assign Black media scholars’ writing (including Tweets) on Cosby’s significance and complicated legacy.

This semester, in my sitcom course, I want to include this stand-up bit by the queer Latinx comic Julio Torres, a former English major at the New School who went on to become a writer for SNL, and who created the delightful Spanish-language sitcom series Los Espookys (HBO, 2019- ). In the bit, Torres, in his usual quiet, awkward way, acts out a sitcom scene, which he reads from his journal, starring Tilda Swinton. He basically takes the sitcom form and marries it to the mother character (played by Swinton) in the severely unfunny film We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011). Essentially, the joke asks: What happens when a popular form collides with a “highbrow” indie star and aesthetics? This is what Torres does best: spinning queer fantasies drawn from a range of cultural referents. But if I had to guess, this joke won’t go over too well with my students! The humor might be too “out there” and obscure If, however, I do the work of setting up the joke well, and my students, by that point in the semester, really grasp sitcom form and have at least a little background on the rise of Hollywood indies over the last few decades, it might land.

Julio Torres discusses straight culture and does crowd work with “Brooklyn Brunch.”

In the sitcom class, I have two main objectives: to introduce students to both sitcom history and sitcom form, and relatedly, to ask to what degree the sitcom can be regarded as a genre. I also want my students to grasp how the sitcom has been wrapped up in dominant racial ideologies since its inception. We will view a range of sitcoms that include lily-white sitcoms of the 1950s like Leave it to Beaver (CBS, 1957-1958, ABC, 1958-1963), Black sitcoms of the 1960s and 1970s like Julia (NBC, 1968-1971) and Good Times (CBS, 1974-1979), women-centered sitcoms, animated sitcoms, horrible white people sitcoms, LGBT and working-class sitcoms, millennial sexcoms and sadcoms, Asian/American sitcoms, and Native American sitcoms. We will begin with the brilliant Reservation Dogs. To be honest, I won’t be surprised to learn that my students are not avid fans of sitcoms, although I fully expect there will be the usual smattering of fans of The Office (CBS, 2005-2013). Ultimately, not liking (or not openly liking?) sitcoms might be the best place to start. I hope they will come to appreciate the art form, to see its possibilities and limitations, and also to begin to see how the sitcom is still ubiquitous in our culture today, even on TikTok!