How Amanda Joy and Samantha Wan forged their own path in Canadian comedy
“Comedy is definitely and has historically been a tool to challenge society”
Amanda Joy and Samantha Wan met on the set of an indie horror film in 2016, both cast as Japanese school girls.
As the two women got to know each other on set, they realized that they both had upcoming auditions for the same role in another piece, to play a geisha. And before that, Wan had played the role of a mail order bride.
"I think that we both felt that we weren't going out for parts that were human. We were going out for parts that were based more on our race, than on us as performers," explains Joy.
Wan says she was growing fearful that this would be her fate as an actor, only being cast for stereotypical Asian roles.
This is when Joy and Wan decided that they had to do better, so they began working on the proof of concept for Second Jen, which they co-star in, write and direct.
Second Jen follows the lives of best friends Jennifer Wu and Jennifer Monteloyola, who are both second-generation millennials living in Toronto and trying to carve out their place in the world.
The show's third season airs on Sunday, February 14, having come quite a long way since it's initial inception and first season.
"We wanted to tell a truthful story, and we use this word a lot now but it wasn't being done as much at the time," says Joy.
Joy and Wan wanted to create a show that they saw themselves reflected in. One from the perspective of women of colour, that shared their view of the world and the stories of themselves, their friends and their families.
"The stories automatically become different, the perspective, the jokes. Everything about it becomes different," explains Joy about creating a show from the point of view of people of colour.
"We stop being the geishas that are rescued by white people and we start being living, breathing people with flaws and interesting experiences, with friends and lives of their own."
Second Jen not only has a diverse cast, but also an extremely diverse and female led crew. Production roles filled by women on the show include writers, show runners, producers, artistic directors and camera people.
"It was a very cool energy on set, because it was very presently female led," says Joy about the taping of their third season.
Wan points out that although there was some conscious effort put into hiring a diverse cast and crew, "It's not the huge effort diverse hire that it's made out to be, we all know each other and support each other already. It wasn't as hard as everyone makes it out to be."
The show's diversity is something that Wan and Joy consider to be one of its strengths, and having diversity off-screen, naturally leads to it on-screen they explain.
"When you have people of colour and women of colour calling the shots with casting like we were this year, I think you also see more diversity on screen. Because when your lives are more diverse, you are able to see a lot of performers in different ways," says Joy.
"You see them as leads automatically, as something other than their race."
Wan adds that "On other shows sometimes it feels like 'taking a chance' and for us it doesn't".
As Second Jen has grown, Joy and Wan feel that they have come into themselves, by writing more scripts and directing, in addition to starring in the show of course.
"I think our distinct and specific voice has become stronger and part of that comes from trust and part of that comes from experience," says Joy.
Wan also explains that being nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for best comedy series in 2019 was another reason they were able to more clearly define the show's voice in season 3.
"It empowered us to get more topical about things that are happening in the world and strengthen our voice," says Wan.
The show's six latest episodes cover topics such as female empowerment, corporate diversity initiatives, intimacy and relationships, and family therapy from a truthful and humorous point of view.
Joy and Wan always aim to root their episodes in truth, drawing from their personal experiences. They explain that these topics within the show, such as being a woman in the workforce aren't political, but rather things that happen to them and their friends in everyday life.
As the show is written by people of colour, it naturally takes on that point-of-view and allows its audience to look at the world through a potentially new lens.
"I think comedy is definitely and has historically been a tool to challenge society and that if we don't touch on sometimes difficult or sometimes uncomfortable topics then we're not doing our job," says Joy.