"They just remove all awkwardness from the teen experience. It’s an awkward time. You’re not this sexual dynamo."
February 29, 2012 6:35 AM   Subscribe

"The thing that is unique about [Britta Perry] is that she is never the subject of slut shaming. Like, she’s one of the only female characters that doesn’t ever get punished for having an active sex life." The Daily Beast interviews the female stars of Community (and one of its female writers).
posted by Rory Marinich (42 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
That's a great interview.
Brown [Shirley]: Female friends that are in my tribe, black girls, we all have stories about that. We find interesting ways to make [directors] tell us to be sassy because they know that it’s racist. I say, “Can you show me how to do that?” They don’t want to do a black version of sassy, so then they move on.
posted by Phire at 6:45 AM on February 29, 2012 [15 favorites]

[Brie begins to cry.]
Brown: Oh, Stinker, what’s happening? Oh, my girls. Oh, my little pumpkins.
Brie: This is so cliché for the women-of-Community interview. “Then they all cried.”
Jacobs: And they got their periods simultaneously!

I love these people so, so much. Just reading about them crying is enough to make me well up. But then I'm comforted by the fact that Gillian Jacobs' nickname is "Stinker".
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:54 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think that's Alison Brie's nickname, Capt.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:55 AM on February 29, 2012

You know who is subject to slut shaming? Eartha Kitt.
posted by schmod at 6:56 AM on February 29, 2012 [18 favorites]

I read it differently, Rory, based on the earlier reference:

[Jacobs begins to cry.]
Brown: Oh, it’s OK, Stinkers. She’s such a pretty crier. My God, she’s a pretty crier.

They can all be Stinkers as far as I'm concerned. I love them all.

posted by Capt. Renault at 7:04 AM on February 29, 2012

NBC, do not make Gillian Jacobs cry. Renew this show.
posted by foldedfish at 7:14 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I know there's way more to her character than this, but as a feminist icon (that was tongue and cheek, right?) britta's the worst. I totally identify with they "wtf do student activists do when they age out of the stereotype" aspect of her, but I feel like her "misguided feminist" trope is problematic. I feel like this somewhat reconciled by the fact that they've been emphasizing this season that she Britta's everything she does and feminisism is just another thing to be britta'd, but still.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 7:14 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I thought Yvette Nicole Brown just called people "Stinker" as a term of endearment. I thought she referred to both criers as "Stinker".
posted by maryr at 7:31 AM on February 29, 2012

Betty_effn_White you are of course using 'Britta' to mean 'make a small, completely understandable mistake,' right?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:40 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just re-watched the Dungeons and Dragons episode last night. When the show is on, it is really on. But I thought this was an interesting interview, especially their reaction to Chevy Chase's off-color joke.
posted by blahblahblah at 7:53 AM on February 29, 2012

That's a great interview.

I think Community's saving grace is that NBC is so terrible that even a crticially acclaimed, audience-ignored show that consistently pulls 1.6 (or whatever) is still better than a lot of their other options.
posted by codacorolla at 7:54 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Having watched all of Season 2 with commentary tracks on, I can confirm that "Stinker" was the cast's nickname for Gillian Jacobs.

That is all.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 8:04 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't cry stinkers! I don't know why, but I've never doubted that the show would return, and I don't doubt it will get at least one more season. I could of course be wrong, but that's always been my gut feeling, and no amount of low ratings has been able to Chang that.
posted by yellowbinder at 8:07 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by enlarged to show texture at 8:08 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

The interview built me up, then the link about the rape jokes on Two Broke Girls broke me down.
posted by gerryblog at 8:15 AM on February 29, 2012

The sassy thing is weird because of how sassy Brown's character is. Sure, she's not one dimensional, but she spends a lot of time being "sassy." No one has to ask you to do something you're already doing.
posted by OmieWise at 8:16 AM on February 29, 2012

For those of you who liked the interview, it's author (@televisionary) is one of the best things on Twitter.
posted by jbickers at 8:38 AM on February 29, 2012

Betty_effn_White, I agree with your concern about the "misguided feminist" trope, though I feel like Community does it about as well as it can be done. I think the key to those sorts of jokes is to have a variety of fleshed out female characters such that any individual one isn't automatically representing all women.

For example, take the joke on The Office a while ago (pre shark-jumping) where Kelly is being confronted about lying on some forms and she says she was raped, to which an unsympathetic Michael Scott replies "You cannot say 'I was raped' and expect all your problems to go away, Kelly. Not again." If Kelly were the only representation of women on the show -- my god, that would be problematic, not just in this particular instance but her character more generally, which is basically a showcase of every negative stereotype of hyperfemininity. But because she's surrounded by other female characters who vary dramatically and all have their own personalities and pecadillos, you get the sense that Kelly's character is a sort of meta-joke on the part of the writers -- that is, the writer's room isn't just a bunch of men saying "let's write an annoying female character!" but that there are women in there saying "let's make a joke out of the stereotyped hyperfeminine persona in American culture by taking it completely over the top in this one despicable character."

So anyway, I get the sense that the writers treat Britta with a sense of bemused sympathy -- she's over-the-top and other characters get annoyed with her, but at the same time her arguments are pretty reasonable and the other characters are being at least a little sexist/insensitive/whatever.

Of course, this doesn't change the fact that sexists watching these shows will take up the jokes as confirmation of their stereotypes. But uptake is a problem that subversive humor always faces.

OmieWise, I think that's a fair point, though I wonder if to some extent any time we see a black woman be aggressive or angry we interpret it as "sassy." I mean, what specifically does Shirley do that's "sassy"? if a white woman or a man were doing the same thing would it still seem "sassy"? The juxtaposition of 90% "sweet, uptight, high-pitched voice" with momentary breaks into "deep-voiced barely-contained rage" is a standard comedic trope, I think. It's not like Shirley is doing finger-snaps and waving her head back and forth while insulting people. I wonder if there's a way to write a black female character that won't be taken up as either stereotypical or whitewashed/unrealistic. (As I suggested above, I think there would necessarily need to be a more diverse media landscape in which tokenism is no longer a problem.)
posted by enlarged to show texture at 8:40 AM on February 29, 2012 [14 favorites]

The interview built me up, then the link about the rape jokes on Two Broke Girls broke me down.

To be fair, it now seems like Two Broke Girls' actual objective is to systematically offend every single segment of the population of Brooklyn. CBS has decided that straight up trolling is an effective ratings strategy.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:09 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with enlarged to show texture: I'd be a lot less comfortable with the way Britta is treated by the other characters if she weren't portrayed so sympathetically. Gillian Jacobs deserves a lot of credit for giving Britta just slightly more vulnerability than bravado, which makes her slightly more endearing than infuriating. But the show itself is consistently on her side: when Troy calls her the opposite of Batman, we're laughing at his overreaction, not at her.

I also like that the conventionally-beautiful Jacobs and Brie are also the best physical comedians on the show. I have never been in a mood so bad that it couldn't be improved by watching Britta's pizza dance or Annie deciding to "blow off standing" and flop around on the floor.

Six seasons and a movie!
posted by Zozo at 9:09 AM on February 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

Twelve seasons and a theme park!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:17 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh my god...that very last exchange. What an amazingly incisive, simply raw-funny commentary on the show and its cultural context. Once someone starts crying, you figure the surprises are done. But Community amazes me again.
posted by diorist at 9:17 AM on February 29, 2012

Zozo, don't forget Britta's awkward song, which is quite possibly the least sexy thing ever, between the full-body cameltoe of the brown unitard and the spasmodic dancing. (The interview linked to it, which I am eternally grateful for because I had only watched it once before and hadn't been able to fully appreciate its awesomeness.)
posted by enlarged to show texture at 9:17 AM on February 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think Britta is meant to be less of a failed feminist and more of a failed activist. She started off the series with all of these outspoken principles and as the show progresses both Britta and the viewer realize that even she doesn't believe 100% of what she claims to stand for, she just wants to stand for something (which is still to be respected and is super common among college freshman)

I think it's somewhere in the second season where a central american country is mentioned and Britta makes a disgusted face which shocks everyone in the group. She then tries to recover with "Oh, I mean, I can't wait to spend time with their rich culture and protect it from ....." and then doesn't even bother anymore. She then accepts that even she can't live up to her ideals all the time and becomes all the more human for it.
posted by slapshot57 at 9:20 AM on February 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

But the show itself is consistently on her side: when Troy calls her the opposite of Batman, we're laughing at his overreaction, not at her.

I love that we know Troy well enough to straight-facedly consider 'the opposite of Batman' a huge overreaction.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:37 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Zozo, don't forget Britta's awkward song

My wife still occasionally bursts into "I got a Christmas time for me! I got a Christmas time for a tree!" out of nowhere, and it's nearly March.
posted by Zozo at 9:40 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hello, whore!
posted by Talez at 9:43 AM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I totally identify with they "wtf do student activists do when they age out of the stereotype" aspect of her, but I feel like her "misguided feminist" trope is problematic.

I think it works in the context of the show. I mean, the idea is that they've all failed at something, right? So Jeff is a lawyer, but he's on Community, so he's a failed lawyer; Annie is a failed overacheiver; Troy is a failed jock; Shirley is a born-again Christian with a messy past; Abed's dad wanted him to be overachiever, but all he wants to do is make movies; Pierce is a failed human being; Britta is a misguided feminist.

Although her character is over-the-top, I don't necessarily think that strikes a blow to feminism. I mean, she's visibly embracing feminism, which is rare for a sitcom.

Anyway, I think the laughter directed at Britta is gentle laughter. I had friends like Britta in college -- I think a lot of people did. They were over-the-top and took themselves too seriously, but they were still our friends.

And I think it's that hint of truth that makes funny comedy funny.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:58 AM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

You know, at the very beginning of Community, it does start with most of the standard crap: if you go back to the beginning, Jeff and Britta are set up as the couple / sex objects, and the rest of the characters are their various sidekicks: a couple nerds, a jock, a black woman, the old guy. I was already steeling myself to the inevitable relationship malfunction / unrequited love which would be milked for Jeff/Britta sexual chemistry for years and years; oh thank god for being wrong. The show does start with a big pile of cliches and a standard formula - it's where it goes after that, that makes it remarkable. By the time you get to the paintball episode, you realize you are watching a completely different type of show. And now we can sit back and discuss how interesting and three-dimensional all the characters are; hooray for that.
posted by mek at 10:27 AM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just realized that Parks and Recreation will not be airing the first weeks that Community is back, so there will be no overlap among Community, Parks and Rec, and Archer.

This makes me sad (though I rarely watch all three the same night they air anyway). But also is probably a good thing because while I find all very funny, if I did watch them at the same time, it would be kind of jarring, as they are all funny to me in such completely different ways.

I guess that's why comedy is so hard to define or do. I can't tell you what works for me, just that it does.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:57 AM on February 29, 2012

Someone I know is convinced that Community and more than one of its characters are inspired by and based on him, his personality, and his life. I know. Crazy, right? But it turns out that he developed this theory based on the fact that, a couple of years before Community came out, he was working at a law firm in a position where people regularly assumed he was a lawyer, but he had left college without ever actually finishing his degree, so he left the firm and went to Glendale Community College to get the rest of the credits he needed. And, right around that time, he and his wife went to a small dinner party with Joel McHale, who seemed to think the whole situation was hilarious. And he was a member of a fairly well-known sketch comedy group in Hollywood. So maybe he's right.
posted by The World Famous at 11:24 AM on February 29, 2012 [12 favorites]

I'm a pretty strident feminist, and easily annoyed by cardboard shrill feminists on TV, but I find that I really like Britta both in the sense that she's a believable and fully realized character, and also in the sense that I would probably enjoy going out for a pizza with her and sometimes rolling my eyes at her. I think it's because I've had friends in the past who were way more passionate about what they believed in than thoughtful about why they believed in it. And I think it's because I find her so much more relatable than some of the Strong Woman Characters on TV, who alternate between being bad-asses and being just the right amount of vulnerable. She's allowed to have a life that is a mess. It's not because she's a feminist; it's just because, hell, who has a life that isn't a mess?

And I think it can be genuinely difficult to be an activist in a world that laughs at and dismisses activism, and it can make you shrill and angry and self-righteous, and it's hard to hold onto your ideals and still be a functioning member of human society.

I'm hard pressed to think of any show, except for Parks & Rec, that genuinely likes its characters as much as Community, even when/because they're losers. And that goes a long way toward redeeming Britta's character for me.
posted by Jeanne at 11:29 AM on February 29, 2012 [14 favorites]

I'm hard pressed to think of any show, except for Parks & Rec, that genuinely likes its characters as much as Community

I just watched the Valentine's episode on PVR, and couldn't believe how badly I wanted to give each character a big hug by the end of the episode. Especially Ron Swanson.

Re the FPP, don't hate me for saying this, but the article actually gave me peace about the idea of Community not coming back. It has made its statement. Its legacy is (hopefully) secure. Having said that, 30 seasons and a porno!!

Counting the days until March 15th.
posted by dry white toast at 11:52 AM on February 29, 2012

@englarge I totally agree. It's done as well as I could be, but and properly turned on its head. It becomes less problematic the more britta evolves into clutz and less the hot one.
posted by Betty_effn_White at 12:29 PM on February 29, 2012

I read this interview yesterday and enjoyed it, but I was surprised by the comments the cast made that Britta isn't slut-shamed. She is. Shirley has taken a bunch of digs at her; two I remember without having to go looking them up is "godless hippie skank" in Remedial Chaos Theory and a several-sentence exchange about Britta's condoms in Cooperative Calligraphy. The latter plays into us seeing how hypocritical Shirley can be, but it still starts with Shirley slut-shaming Britta, and is then used by Britta as an excuse to turn around and slut-shame Shirley right back for being pregnant by her ex-husband.

Similarly, Jeff has made a number of remarks about Britta sleeping around.

I'm probably more aware of these incidents than some viewers, because I hate slut-shaming and I especially hate slut-shaming when male characters are doing worse and it's considered charming, but I'm surprised none of the cast remembers them. Megan Ganz, the writer interviewed for this piece, actually wrote Cooperative Calligraphy.

Great interview, though.
posted by Georgina at 2:25 PM on February 29, 2012

Georgina: "I read this interview yesterday and enjoyed it, but I was surprised by the comments the cast made that Britta isn't slut-shamed. She is."

I think there's a big difference between a character on a show slut-shaming another character and the show itself slut-shaming the character.
posted by minifigs at 4:11 PM on February 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

WTF is it with slut shaming, anyway? I <3 sluts. Some of my favorite people in the world are slutty... and most people, frankly, would benefit by being a little sluttier, just so long as they were safe about it. For many, sluttiness is liberating.

We need more nuance on this issue, as there can be appropriate times to call people sluts. (In the middle of something particularly slutty, while you're pulling their hair, for example.)
posted by markkraft at 5:37 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first unmarried female tv character who was allowed to have sex without being punished for it was Roz from Frazier. I think. Any advance on Roz ? Anyone ?
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 7:08 AM on March 1, 2012

I make no claims to her being first, but Diane on Cheers had sex with any number of people without ever being punished for it.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:15 AM on March 1, 2012

Wasn't Diane hated by everyone, though?

Murphy Brown comes to mind, though she was over 40 and a divorcee, so the standards are slightly different, I presume.
posted by enlarged to show texture at 9:22 AM on March 1, 2012

Wasn't Diane hated by everyone, though?

Not for her sexual exploits, is the point. She's never slut-shamed.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:35 AM on March 1, 2012

Also, though it was later, I think Elaine Benes was pretty much allowed to be as sexual as she wanted to be, and that she was made fun of for other personality aspects.

Britta Perry is my favorite character on TV right now, and I'd say that they're walking a tightrope with making her character work as well as it does, except that I think that Harmon, and Ganz, and Jacobs just are so firmly in love with her and in the right mindset with her that they don't really risk going wrong.

There's a way to mock hyper-liberals and make it funny, but I think it generally has to come from people pretty near to that end of the spectrum themselves. Arrested Development did it by making Lindsay a total attention-seeking hypocrite, and that worked, but Britta is something different. We're never given the idea that her principles are wrong or misplaced, but rather that she uses them as a crutch, as an assumed identity because her life is such a mess.

It doesn't mean that she's insincere about them - not at all - but as the show has gone on, she has let down her tough-girl guard more and more and her friends know who she really is and love her for that, so the frustration directed towards her is of friends angry that their friend is reverting to old and unneeded habits.

I think it's crucial to compare Britta to Meg Griffin. (And I say this as someone who actually still likes Family Guy.) Meg is a likeable enough character, and her being made the Butt-Monkey is a running joke, that she is hated for no real reason that we the viewer can discern. Britta is different, in that we get why she gets the "you're the worst!" comments all the time, and while they are funny, they are also seemingly meant to sting a little. Britta is someone we love because we've taken the good with the bad and it has been worth it. Don't hurt her. Even if she deserves it kinda.

It's what made her revelation that she was going to major in Psych so simultaneously perfect and sad. We all know this is the wrong choice for her, but she so desperately wants to help people, and to be the "Helper," that we want her to go for it anyway. She is, in some ways, a mirror image of Shirley, both being good people who annoy the others with their insistence on their own methods towards being "good," and in another way the epitome of what the show is about. Britta is a failed idealist who has no idea where her life will or should take her, but who genuinely cares about others, and who continues unabated in her crusades no matter what shit she takes for it, but who also lays her soul a little more bare each episode for possibly the only people who have been willing to take her as she is. Community is a show about disparate people coming together in a bad situation and helping one another get through it all, and each character represents that in a unique way, but Britta is the most poignant, to me.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:43 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

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