Alex is a normal med student. She has a boyfriend, a goofy queer roommate, and oh yeah, she’s never had an orgasm.
That’s the start to Sideways Smile, a new series making the festival circuit this year. In this short series, we get to follow along as Alex learns not just how to love her pussy but understanding fetishism, racism, bias, and the true nature of diversity.
The crew behind Sideways Smile was made up of 95% women, femme, non-binary, trans and/or POCs, and the actors are mostly POC, Asian Americans.
We use comedy to tackle some relevant and serious topics like anti-blackness in the Asian community via a Scarlett Johansson talk show, the white man/asian woman phenomenon via a Get Out parody, destigmatizing sex work via historical references to Saigon bar girls in the 1970s and overall an arc around queerness, identity and representation.
Laughter is Intersectional
One of the things that puts me off most modern sitcoms is that the joke is someone. While critically lauded and celebrated, The Big Bang Theory leans heavily on ‘nerds are funny because they’re different.’ Sometimes they delve into ‘Penny is funny to nerds because she’s not a nerd.’ But at the end of the day, their one and only queer female character existed to be a one-shot foil to Raj, in the shape of an arranged marriage.
That’s the sort of joke that has a potential to be funny, when being a lesbian isn’t the joke. They could have built a whole season arc around Raj finding the perfect woman who is smart, and funny, and then have a mid-season reveal be ‘oh she’s a lesbian.’ Instead, it was one episode, and the rest of the ‘lesbian humour’ is Amy being in love with Penny.
In order to make laughter sustainable, to give it that deep payoff that kicks your funny bone, you have to make the laughter come from some place authentic. When a joke is ‘you’re funny for being different’ it loses anyone who is perceived as different. But when a joke is ‘we all have funny moments’ you can let down your guard and laugh with the jokes. No longer are you being laughed at.
And it’s that magic that Sideways Smile delivers on. Be it a hat tip to Get Out or a sex-positive party gone sideways (as it were), the joke isn’t that Alex is Asian or Charlie is gender fluid. The joke is everything that made us believe the world was only ever two things when it’s really a gingerbread person of possibilities.
I promise that’s a joke that makes sense when you see the series.
My point is that Sideways Smile pokes fun, sometimes dangerously but never cruelly so, at our preconceived notions of what is and isn’t ‘normal.’ It makes us rethink who we are while we laugh. And that? That’s the kind of comedy I can get behind. The joke is humanity, and we’re laughing all the way as we try to find our place in this insane world.
Where to Watch
Of course, the downside to all this is the series is not (yet) available to watch everywhere. So if you’ve been holding off going to virtual filmfests, this is your reminder: You will absolutely get to see madcap series like this at them!
There’s still time this year so go (virtually) to one of the upcoming screenings and be prepared to laugh and learn for an hour.