It’s been said that comedy is much harder than drama for actors, and the same must be true for writers. One writer with a reputation for getting it right is Tina Fey, who has been bringing laughs to everything she touches on small and big screens alike. Her latest series venture was Netflix original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which Fey packed with proved comedic talents from all over. Of course, the most daring comedy is certain to offend at least some viewers, but Tina Fey is done worrying about the reactions of her audience.
In an interview with Net-a-Porter, Tina Fey had this to say about the way viewers responded to one episode:
We did an Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episode and the internet was in a whirlwind, calling it ‘racist,’ but my new goal is not to explain jokes. I feel like we put so much effort into writing and crafting everything, they need to speak for themselves. There’s a real culture of demanding apologies, and I’m opting out of that.
The episode in question is the third of the series, entitled “Kimmy Goes On A Date!” It sees rich housewife Jacqueline reveal her Native American heritage. As Jacqueline is blonde, blue-eyed, and played by Jane Krakowski of 30 Rock fame, the Native American revelation was… surprising. Even more surprising was how the episode dealt with Jacqueline’s heritage: she was ashamed of being Native American and had taken major steps to conceal where she came from, even refusing to contribute to her son’s homework assignment of a family tree.
“Kimmy Goes On A Date!” was not the first and would not be the last time that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt took a rather politically incorrect turn, and it’s no surprise that it made some uncomfortable. Still, despite the story that probably would have been grossly mishandled in lesser comedic hands, Tina Fey treated it with the right amount of ridiculousness to make Jacqueline the punchline rather than Native American culture. Jacqueline was ashamed of her past and went to extreme lengths to conceal it; Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was not saying that she was right to do so.
Tina Fey choosing to opt out of explaining the intentions behind the jokes is actually rather brave; celebrities can be bombarded with demands for apologies for every slight gaffe or slip. Fey being called out in an age when celebrities are more visible and accessible than ever thanks to social media comes with a lot of pressure for an apology. As her comedy can often rely pushing boundaries, Fey refusing to cave to that pressure is a move without a ton of precedent. She may have alienated some by not delivering an explanation or apology, but an episode of a Netflix series about a girl who lived in an underground bunker is not likely to affect mainstream media in the long term. The jokes will be forgotten; Tina Fey's reputation will not.