Sep 12, 2016 Theatre
Above: Ally Xue, JJ Fong and Perlina Lau.
Flat3 Productions are back with a brand new comedy web series, Friday Night Bites. Ahead of the season’s launch on TVNZ OnDemand this Friday, its creators JJ Fong, Perlina Lau, Roseanne Liang and Ally Xue describe how the New Zealand on Air-funded project came together, and what inspired it in the first place.
Friday Night Bites is a weekly comedy web series, following 26 eclectic Friday nights in the lives of three Kiwi-Asian women who flat together in Eden Terrace. Each episode is ‘snackable’, averaging four minutes. We make subversive comedy about issues big and small, from rape culture to quantum physics. The series itself came from the idea that Friday night is what happens when you’re making other plans. Our comedy mishaps cover the in-between, the awkward, the embarrassed, the conflict-averse, the opposite of glamour. It’s a very Kiwi way to be – in our experience at least.
This is a video of us trying desperately not to laugh at a period joke. We’d written this brooding Taxi Driver-meets-Carrie scene about the traumas of female adolescence and were aiming for Vietnam-vet style pathos. It was the last scene before lunch – we were hungry, our crew were hungry – we were pushing for time and everyone just wanted to get this over with. But even as we felt this tide of hangry irritation rising up against us, we shuddered helplessly with giggles. It was physiologically impossible to stop, like being tickled from the inside. We truly didn’t mean for this to happen. And we’re really not this immature. Swear to god.
We started this ride three years ago when we got weirded out in the audition rooms of Auckland and decided to take matters into our hands. It wasn’t that we were sick of racism as such – racism is such a strong word and we try not to ‘make it about race’. But in the audition room, we’d get a little insight into how the majority of screenwriters viewed people of our ilk. We were asked politely to dress like prostitutes, act more inscrutable, pretend we knew how to speak six languages. It was strange, fulfilling someone else’s reflection of yourself. But a job’s a job, and we did it to the best of our abilities.
In the meantime, we self-funded the first series of ‘cult-hit’ comedy web series Flat3 – a situational, absurdist comedy that just happened to have not one, but THREE Kiwi-Asians as core cast. We were described by reviewers as “Girls meets Flight of the Conchords”. That was cool. Second series, we were supported with donations from our most loving, staunch fans. Third series, we were able to secure taxpayers’ money from New Zealand on Air. We felt super lucky to live in a country that supports such things.
We gathered critical acclaim, international and local awards (including ‘Best Writing of a TV Comedy Episode’, without having graced a broadcast network)… and then sort of stalled. Our numbers were ‘modest’. Our cachet with advertisers or sponsors was non-existent. We’d get comments saying “Why aren’t you guys more popular than you are?”. Did we play the game wrong? Did we ‘not make it about race’, without realising that maybe the race card isn’t a card you play – it’s a sign that other people put around your neck?
Do some people look at the cast and go “nah, that’s for the Asians”? Are we the Kiwis who don’t look like no Kiwis?
There’s this ‘on-screen diversity’ rule, joked about in Netflix’s hit series Master of None. It goes like this: one ‘diverse’ character in core cast is progressive and laudable, but more than one and the mainstream start thinking it’s a diverse show for all those diverse other people. Do some people look at the cast of Flat3 and go ‘nah, that’s for the Asians’? Are we the Kiwis who don’t look like no Kiwis?
Friday Night Bites is a call to action. It’s a six-month comedy campaign to shout to New Zealand – we’re here, we’re actually good, and you don’t have to look like us to get us. We’re not just comedy for Asians. We’re not just comedy for girls. We’re straight up funny, and we have heart. This isn’t educational or academic TV. We’re not trying to be all high falutin’. We’re just a bunch of ladies trying to make good, silly, different comedy for discerning adults. Maybe you’ll laugh. Maybe you’ll feel weird. Maybe you’ll find yourself giggling uncontrollably while trying to keep a straight face.
If you’re a NZ taxpayer, you paid for this. Thank you, and also New Zealand on Air. We’re on your screens 24/7 and there’s a new one every Friday for six months of Fridays, on TVNZ OnDemand. If you haven’t already, do try us. You might like us.
Friday Night Bites streams on TVNZ OnDemand from September 16.