It took years of working in network television, but Julie Miller finally created the rarest of media opportunities: An insurrection.
“RIOT is an uprising,” said Miller, who serves as creative director for the YouTube channel, which is backed by Refinery29. “It’s a space for women to make comedy for everyone and not feel like they have to skew male.”
Fifteen years ago, Miller was double-booked as an intern at Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central. “I was interning for Tina Fey at Weekend Update, and I spent the other half of the week at Comedy Central assisting Jessi Klein in development,” she said. “I came to New York and immediately worked for two of the best female comedians, so the stakes were really high.”
In those jobs, Miller saw firsthand what content cable networks bought — and didn’t. She views RIOT as a place for niche content better suited for a web audience. “We offer an opportunity to create a show that there isn’t another sensible home for,” said Miller. “Women are really crushing it in comedy right now, and there hasn’t been a digital destination for female content creators in the comedy space.”
Miller pitched the comedy channel concept to Refinery29 after consulting for the site. The lifestyle website had recently moved into the digital media game with narrative web series like Jessie Kahnweiler’s “The Skinny” — co-produced by Jill Soloway’s Wifey.tv — and “The Walker,” which boasts Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan in recurring roles.
Miller’s April deal with Refinery29 was ahead of the curve; yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Turner Broadcasting will invest $45 million in the site.
Miller works closely with creators to develop RIOT’s original programming and maintain a consistent brand. Each series tackles taboo topics such as hating your friend’s baby shower or “How to Weep in Public.”
Last week, RIOT launched its latest series, “Expecting,” a sketch comedy about pregnancy from filmmaker Shaina Feinberg. Feinberg’s debut feature — which Feinberg filmed while pregnant — was the closing-night selection for the Lower East Side Film Festival this year.”The Babymooners,” co-written by Feinberg and Chris Manley, is a series of vignettes recounting one mother’s reluctant journey to motherhood in a video letter to her son.
One of RIOT’s most-viewed videos,”Baby Shower Rebellion,” clearly struck a nerve with women. Tessa Hersh stars as The Truth Fairy, a self-appointed singing adviser who flies into social situations to say what everyone wishes they could.
And Miller tapped Jo Firestone and Aparna Nancherla — two of the fastest-rising comics in New York — to make “Womanhood,” a cheeky riff on Comedy Central’s “The Man Show” from the late ’90s. Shot in faux-VHS with tracking lines and cheesy music, the two comics sit with beer steins in shoulder-padded blazers and discuss topics like puberty, masturbation, and menopause.
Other series include Pheobe Robinson’s “Woke Bae,” in which she and a guest crush out on straight male celebrities who have good feminist and racial politics. Set in an ornate brownstone, Jacqueline Novak’s “How To Weep In Public” feels like a 1920s salon for anxious women. Guests have included Lena Dunham and Julie Klausner (“Difficult People”).
RIOT’s first live event was a reading by Jessi Klein from her new book of essays, “You’ll Grow Out Of It.” Klein is now the head writer for the Emmy-nominated “Inside Amy Schumer,” and a creative consultant on “Transparent.” She appeared in conversation with Vanessa Bayer (“Saturday Night Live”).
As Miller proudly introduced her former boss to the crowd (and Facebook Live audience), she explained RIOT to those that might not know. “RIOT celebrates women’s voices that are both radical and relatable.” Miller then took her seat and enjoyed the show.