Actor Brett Gelman and director Jason Woliner wanted to put together a program that would cast a light on the racial violence and discrimination that has escalated in recent years. The question: How to cover a topic in a manner that makes serious points but doesn’t come across as preachy.
“It became very clear to us that we were as responsible for these things happening as anyone else because if you are a white person in this country, whether you know it or not, you are benefiting from racism,” Gelman says. “It’s a way different life for us than an person of color. We wanted to hit that head on and find some sort of satirical context to put that in.”
Their solution was the third installment in their “Dinner” series of half-hour specials, which are presented in a comedic and often absurdest way on Adult Swim. The latest, “Brett Gelman’s Dinner in America,” is an exploration of the racial problem in this country. It is done through an often awkward roundtable discussion in which Gelman tries to discuss with four actors the topic of racism.
His often uncomfortable guests include Loretta Devine (“The Carmichael Show”), Shareeka Epps ( “Half Nelson”), Joe Morton (“Scandal”) and Mack Wilds (“The Wire”). The conversation doesn’t quite go the way Gelman wants.
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All of the guest actors understood immediately what the creators were trying to do.
“All of them asked us what made us want to do this. We told them we care about this problem and also we made it clear that there are points in the special that aren’t funny,” Gelman says. “We don’t think lynchings are funny. We don’t think oppression is funny.”
Both Gelman and Woliner wanted to do something a touch more serious with this production.
“At the same time we realized as two white men this was a shaky situation to try to discuss this topic especially putting words in the mouths of actors of color,” Woliner says. “Part of what we did was take a look at the urge to do good among white people and liberals and what’s really good in putting money where your mouth is.”
The takeaway from the production is that just talking about a problem does very little. It is important to take action to make changes.
Both bring a lot of comedy experience to the project. Gelman’s work ranges from the comedy-action series “Eagleheart” to the NBC comedy “Go On.” Woliner was a writer/director on “Eagleheart,” plus directed episodes of “The Last Man on Earth” and “Parks and Recreation.”
“Brett Gelman’s Dinner in America” airs at midnight Friday, July 1, on Adult Swim.
Interviewing young actors can be a hit-or-miss situation. I was extremely impressed with 13-year-old Neel Sethi when we talked about his playing Mowgli in “The Jungle Book.” He’s a very articulate young man.
What I found in 12-year-old Ruby Barnhill, star of “The BFG,” was an honesty I didn’t expect. A lot of young actors get coached as to the proper way to answer questions. But, it’s obvious after only a few minutes with Ruby that she’s a very independent person.
Ruby plays Sophie, a girl living in an orphanage who doesn’t seem to understand fear. Even when she’s grabbed out of her bed and taken to a far away land by a giant, Sophie shows no real signs of being terrified.
A question about what in real life scares her gets an honest answer.
“When I was about 8 years old, and it lasted until I was 10, I had this really bad thing where I had a dream about someone kidnapping my sister and me,” Ruby says. “Every night for two years I would lie away for hours and hours and have to go to my mum and dad. I eventually managed to get through it. I still pray every night and say ‘Please don’t let it happen.’ The dream was so horrible it literally made me so scared.”
If there are ill effects of the nightmares, Ruby’s doing a good job hiding them. That may be because she landed a role that thousands wanted. It’s a big accomplishment for Ruby as “The BFG” is only her second professional acting job.
The lack of experience didn’t stop director Steven Spielberg. He was in Berlin filming “Bridge of Spies” when he saw a video audition by Ruby. Spielberg had her flown from England to Berlin so they could meet and that was the start of her entering into the land of the giants.
Magical: The new season of the CW Network’s “Penn & Teller: Fool Us,” with new host Alyson Hannigan, will begin at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 13.
Around the world: ABC’s “The Chew,” returns to Walt Disney World Resort this fall to broadcast five shows from the 21st Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. The shows will air Oct. 10-14.
Casting call: Brian Austin Green (“Anger Management,” “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) has been cast in a series regular role in the upcoming second season of “Rosewood.”