One of the boons of the new golden age of television is the growing number of female and POC show runners. Samantha Wan and Amanda Joy, who are both just a casual 27 and 26 years old, respectively, are joining the ranks by creating and starring in their own comedy, Second Jen (premiering tonight on City). The show follows two second-generation twenty-somethings trying to, y’know, figure out life, with the girls experiencing everything from the corporate takeover of a used-to-be indie workplace to a pap smear at the gyno. We went to visit the co-creators on set to discuss representation of people of colour in media, what it takes to make it in the industry and the YouTube powerhouses that helped pave the way.
In a sentence, what is Second Jen about?
Samantha Wan [co-creator/plays Jen]: Second Jen is about second-generation kids and their crazy immigrant families; it’s two best friends who are moving out trying to make it on their own for the first time.
Who are your characters?
SW: Jennifer is Chinese-Canadian, second-generation. We see all her firsts in the series: her first time moving out, first love, first everything. She has an innocence that’s undercut with a little bit of skepticism and fear.
Amanda Joy [co-creator/plays Mo]: Mo can be very anxious sometimes because her mom has instilled the fear of everything in her.
SW: She has a tiger/dragon mom; it’s the way that a lot of Asian parents show love. They tell you what to do, not because they want to be controlling, but because they care.
AJ: I play Jennifer Monteloyola. (We call her Mo, to keep things easy.) Her family is from the Philippines, and they move away at the start of the series, which is the catalyst for Jen and Mo to strike out on their own. Mo chats a lot with her mom via Skype, which is a really important form of communication in many immigrant communities, but especially in the Filipino community. It’s so that people still feel like they’re part of the family.
How did you come up with the idea for the series?
SW: It’s really just based on ourselves, and our families. Amanda and I wanted to see ourselves, and the communities we grew up in, represented on-screen. Second-generation citizens are approaching the majority nowadays; if you’re not second-generation, you know someone who is. And the fact that we’re not seeing that represented in media yet seemed crazy.
Why did you go for comedy rather than, say, drama?
SW: Sometimes the best way to approach certain subjects that can be touchy is through comedy. Comedy tends to be more inclusive. And also ‘cause the situations we have found ourselves in with our families is hilarious.
AJ: Sometimes when you tell a story through drama, the message is so clear that people automatically become defensive. I think that, when it comes to subverting ideology, the more effective way to do it is for the message to be hidden in a Trojan horse. Comedy is subversive, it’s satirical, it pokes fun at things so that people can look at society and question it in a way that won’t make them defensive.
As media consumers, do you feel underrepresented? How does that affect you?
AJ: I speak for both of us when I say yes, we’re feeling underrepresented. And there are many ways to be underrepresented. It’s not like there aren’t women on TV, but specific voices and experiences that are realistic, relatable, and authentic to being a woman are very rare on TV. And being a woman of colour, there’s even less representation. We tried to keep that sort of thing in mind when we were casting and crewing up: we’d ask questions like, what sort of roles do people of certain ethnicities not get? Why aren’t they seen this way? And then we’d actively try to fill those roles with certain kinds of people, or cast in ways that subvert stereotypes. It’s so important for people of colour to understand that they’re part of a cultural dialogue, and they’re part of society, and that their stories are important.
SW: I want a little girl who looks like me to be able to see someone that looks like her on TV. Amanda and I have talked about it, and that’s not something we grew up with. To know that a young girl growing up can see herself as normal, as cool, as a lead—it’s so important.
This is one of the first Canadian productions that is set around Chinese-Canadian and Filipino-Canadian characters. Why is specific representation important, rather than just general Asian representation?
SW: Filipino culture versus Chinese culture is so different. And I think the way you see that is by putting us together.
AJ: City has been very supportive of us starring in the show, so we were able to be very specific about details and differences. The Internet has opened the door for specificity, because people are curious about the details of other people’s lives, and it plays, and it works, and it’s popular.
SW: Asian-American and Asian-Canadian YouTubers who are really popular have shown broadcasters that there are audiences for this kind of content. As trite as it sounds, Asians have proven that we’re funny on the Internet.
Are there other ways that social media has improved representation?
SW: There are some really cool movements, like #StarringJohnCho [which features memes showing what it would look like if today’s Hollywood blockbusters cast an Asian-American actor as their leading man]. It was hard to catch that kind of attention before, but now people in casting are seeing how many followers are latching on.
AJ: One thing the Internet has created is a culture of taking back. Through the power of social media, all sorts of individual citizens now have a voice, and collectively, we’re taking back the narrative, and taking back the voice of our culture.
SW: And social media allows you to find your audience, too. It allows us to tap into specific niches.
What’s your advice to other aspiring actors/writers/creators?
AJ: Nike just do it.
SW: Try, try, try. You have to have a certain amount of failure before things work out. So don’t be afraid of failure; embrace it. And get a really good team, because they’re gonna be the people who are hard on you when it’s not good enough, who lift you up when it’s really hard, and who hug you at the end of the day.
AJ: And it’s important to look after yourself, too. Don’t run yourself ragged. And don’t be afraid if people tell you that your story isn’t important; trust your gut.