It’s the day before her big day, and I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with stand-up comedian/actress Michelle Buteau of the new Netflix Series ‘Survival of the Thickest’ airing Thursday, July 13. Not only is Buteau the lead in the series, but she’s also the Co-Producer and Executive Producer. The show is inspired by her book of essays, which is quite an amazing memoir also titled ‘Survival of the Thickest’ published in 2020 by Simon & Schuster.
I was curious to know how Michelle was feeling, with it being so close to the release date and she began to share “I’m overwhelmed, you know there’s not even a word to describe how I’m feeling because I’ve never had my own show come out. So, I can’t even describe what I’ve never been through!” She went on to share her excitement of getting to this point! After all, it’s not every day a girl has a chance to live out her dream and passion in such an incredible way!
Michelle went on to tell me her book was taken from real interactions and occurrences in her life. She said “when I wrote the book it was just meant to be short stories and essays of some of my most wild, most favorite, and my most painful moments in my life that didn’t necessarily fit into stand-up. But I really wanted to share it.” She said “you know, I’m not a TV executive and I didn’t write this book to get it on TV. My aim wasn’t to try and get it renewed for another season. I just wrote the book to take something I always wanted to do off my bucket list!” While Buteau had no intention or expectations of her stories being turned into a show, she knocked it out of the park!
She spoke highly of Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, co-producer and showrunner who saw something in her book and thought that it should be made into a show for TV. She was flattered and blown away by the mere suggestion of it.
I told Michelle I was so incredibly impressed with the show, that I had already watched the series twice. While it may not have been her intent to create a show, she had done so in an amazing fashion. It was so moving to see how humbled she was receiving accolades for her work. Her energy was infectious! ‘Survival of the Thickest‘ is done well – it’s thought out and the true stories resonate because they’re relevant.
I asked her what it means to have a series that addresses diversity and being inclusive, but in a way that is very intentional and genuine? She said it was so important that she had people that were represented from other communities because she wanted it to be authentic. It needed to look like you would expect New York to look, having the representation of the different ethnicities and different backgrounds. It was essential to have the LGBTQ+ community in the storyline. She mentioned, “every family has someone who is gay; whether it be that uncle who comes to Thanksgiving dinner every Thanksgiving and he’s single, but they don’t talk about why.” Michelle wanted to address issues that we might not talk about, she wanted to make certain everyone was represented in the storyline. I believe she did that very well.
I asked her what it was like working with fellow comedian Tone Bell and Tasha Smith, who is a comedian and actress? She said she loves to work with comedians; just being able to have that creative energy and feeding off the back-and-forth dialogue is everything! She spoke of comedians Liza Treyger (who plays Jade, her quirky roommate) and Usama Siddiquee (who plays the guy with the family-owned store). She was happy creating a space for them to get an opportunity to be seen. Her concern was that many who work as stand-up comedians in the underground scene in New York, may get just $100 a night/per gig. But they’re really doing their thing, so they deserve for people to see who they were.
I wanted to know what she was hoping the audience would take away from the series and she said “LOVE!” She emphasized the importance of people identifying with love and whatever that love is to them. It could be love of relationships, friendships, self-love and self-realization. She wanted people to identify with what is true to them. Michelle wanted to convey that loving one’s self is essential. Her hope is that someone watching, who is not sure of themselves; whether it be binary, non-binary, transgender, black and brown, white; will have that self-love. They will feel empowered. Michelle went on to share whatever clothes you want to wear to make you feel good about yourself, wear it and be passionate about who you are. We are better when we love ourselves, whatever size we are, whatever background we come from. LOVE is the takeaway!
I can honestly say, I could feel the love in this series. I could tell that the love for these relationships and these characters were fully supported and intentional.
By Bernadette Holder