The new British TV comedy series “Chewing Gum”, which premiered today on England’s Channel 4, does something that I’ve always wanted to see: a black woman comedian do really graphic, lowdown sexual humor.
Yes I know. You say that there are comediennes who do some naughty, titillating material. But I mean the real nasty, raw, offensive stuff. The kind that “goes there” if you know what I mean. Well, it looks like my wish has come true with the British actress, writer and performer Michaela Coel, and her new TV series.
It is based on her 2012 one-woman show, “Chewing Gum Dreams,” in which the 26 year old Coel played Tracey Gordon, a sort of teenage version of herself, relating her own past experiences growing up in the working class London neighborhoods of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, with her very religious Pentecostal mother, becoming very acutely aware of her own sexual desires, but rather confused about the realities of sex.
As Coel says, she wanted her show to reflect “the sort of life you don’t see very often on TV. Tracey’s sexual naiveté, for example, reflects [my own] celibacy between the ages of 17 and 22… I had a massive conversion to this very Pentecostal, demon-exorcising church. Getting to the point where I started to do not such a good job of being celibate, was awkward and horrible. So much guilt. Psychologically, I was in a whirlwind.”
As for Coel’s background, after winning a scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she was the “first black girl they’d had in five years and the only person in [her] year whose parents weren’t homeowners,” “Chewing Gum Dreams” was originally conceived as her graduation piece, but after it became a smash hit at local theater, the play moved to the more prestigious National Theater in London.
Shortly afterwards, Coel was approached about turning it into a TV series, however she was reluctant at first of her abilities to play the role on television. But after appearing on another Channel 4 TV series, “Top Boy,” the positive responses she got for her work on that show convinced her that “Chewing Gum” could work as a series.
However, Coel doesn’t see “Chewing Gum” as simply about a young back girl trying to find her way to adulthood. She says the overarching themes in the show are about “class and community”.
“On my estate, everyone’s different racially but economic circumstances give people a particular culture. I know Tower Hamlets is one of the poorest boroughs in the UK, but I’d rather write about all the great stuff than the misery. I wanted to make the estate a place where people would want to live. I loved my estate!” she exclaims.
However, would a British show about a clueless but sexually curious young black woman who lusts constantly for sex, though she has really no idea what’s it all about, succeed in the States? True, those regional British accents are too difficult for the most part for our domesticated American ears to understand. But the whole graphic nature of the dialogue on the show, I can see African-American audiences being put off by. We’re still too puritan. We like our “Empire” with its supposedly “shocking” stuff, but most shy away from the hard core stuff.
Then, of course, there’s always the fear that some American producers discover the show and make their own very watered down version of “Chewing Gum,” thereby ruining the whole essence of it. And I can also see producers and casting directors casting someone *lighter* in the lead role, with the mindset that they would be more “acceptable”.
Anyway, take a look at the trailer for the show below, which admittedly doesn’t do it justice, and instead makes it look like some wacky screwball comedy, when in fact it’s a somewhat more laid back, satirical show.