Last year, America got one hell of a Valentine. The web series Kam Kardashian debuted in 2012, which follows the life of "Kameron," a fictional queer Kardashian sister.
Now at the beginning of its second season, the show has attracted the noticed of the Tribune, IndieWire, Queerty, The L Stop and AfterEllen. Starring the increasingly prolific Fawzia Mirza, a Chicago actress who also works with Catharsis Productions, the show has been called "smart, quippy and self-lacerating" and the Tribune particularly noted its crossover potential. It's designed to blow up.
Before she gets famous, I got the chance to sit down with Mirza, the brains and the hair behind the character. We met to discuss Kam at the Argo Tea on Randolph before her new Goodman show, The Happiest Song Plays Last. Did I also mention she's a Goodman regular? I wasn't kidding about that prolific thing.
Windy City Times: How did you come up with the concept for Kam Kardashian?
Fawzia Mirza: I had an audition where I had to do a series of characters. I wanted to do one queer character. A friend suggested that I do a gay Kardashian. After that, we started improvising ideas back and forth and it snowballed from there. By the end of the night we had a bio and a name. After the audition, I connected with my friend and collaborator, Ryan Logan, and we decided to put Kam on camera to see what happened. The response was really great to episode one, and we enjoyed it so much that we made more.
WCT: You've talked about how Kam relates to your own experiences as a brown, queer woman of color. In what ways is the show commentary? What parts of yourself are in there?
Fawzia Mirza: As a person who wears so many layers of "minority status," I'm aware that as a woman, as a person of color, as a Pakistani, as a Muslim, I often feel like I have to be my "best self" at all times. It's not easy nor is it realistic to always be the perfect and polished minority. It's a lot of pressure and it also doesn't allow us as human beings to be in our most natural state, which is flawed. Kam allows me to be perfectly flawedand unapologetic about it. A person who makes mistakes, who can be a good person, but also gets into predicaments from time to time. She is rough around some of her edges but is also loveable. And at her most simple and vulnerable, she is a girl just trying to live up to the expectations of her family.
WCT: For a performer, why do you like exploring the dark sides of yourself? What catharsis do you get out of seeking the darkness?
Fawzia Mirza: I love the darkness in me. I mean, I'm a brown girl. Seriously, though, I'm from a culture where I was supposed to be the perfect Pakistani daughter and wife. I was raised to be the heroine out of a Bollywood movie. The opportunity to play someone who drinks a little too much whiskey, who swears, who makes mistakes, who loves a woman and not a man, who might wear last night's clothes to a job interview the next day, but is still a good person, so fun and freeing.
WCT: As a send-up of the Kardashians, Kam is refreshingly non-judgmental. How do you hope to change the conversation why we have on them? Where do you think that the criticism and scrutiny of Kim Kardashian and her sisters comes from?
I don't hate on the Kardashians; in fact, I hate on people who hate for no reason. Ryan [Logan] and I have no desire, intention to be mean to people in our web series. We go out of our way to avoid the stereotypical negativity spewed at this family. We didn't set out to make a series that changed the conversation on the Kardashians, but it has been fascinating to see the kind of systematic woman-hating, bullying and meanness that people think is justified to this family, just because they are famous women.
I think people hear the term "Kardashian" and want to tune out what comes next. But if Kim Kardashian has more Twitter followers than Obama, whether you like her or not, she is someone who has a lot of influence. The Kardashians, on numbers alone, can influence national or global issues, conversations and agendas.
WCT: As someone with a global influence, if she were to have a queer sister, what kind of impact do you think that would have?
Fawzia Mirza: If the Kardashians did have a gay sister like Kam, that could be a great step forward for a global gay community. Kim Kardashian can send a single tweet and a person or a label or a food can gain popularity. If she had a gay sister, whom she supported, she could potentially influence people across planet earth to support gay people as well. Sometimes the gay agenda is so deeply focused on marriage equality, which, of course, matters. But, all over the world, in some cultures and countries, many gay people can't even hold hands without going to jail or being tortured or being killed.
Being Muslim and Pakistani, I relate to the basic need to have your community and your family accept you and consider you "normal." Being the target of recent anti-gay hate speech over twitter, it reminded me that I can live in the United States and have a girlfriend, I can live in a big city and kiss my girlfriend at dinner. But that won't stop people from other places from calling me names, telling me gay people should die and that I am a disgrace to the Muslim faith for supporting the gay community.
I would love a gay Kardashian sister. I think she'd have a far-reaching impact.
WCT: Something I enjoy about Kam as a character is that she's allowed to be flawed and make mistakes. As a woman, why do you think that creating female characters who aren't perfect is important?
Fawzia Mirza: Women are still held to a higher standard than men. To be play "real" on TV, you still have to look a certain way. How many TV shows do you see where the man gets to be funny, has a big belly and dresses like a slob, but his wife is a supermodel?
For example, we see gay couples on television now, but they are still depicted as really funny or rich or cute and approachable. Lesbians on television have to have long hair and be extremely hot or have a certain look to be "real" TV lesbians. I, personally have been told I should grow my hair out to be on TV.
The goal of Kam was to defy these unwritten 'rules'. Kam is a woman, of color, queer protagonist. Kam has short hair. Kam is brownish. She is flawed. And she is not hypersexualized. Our series is not about eroticizing lesbians to satisfy the fantasies of the male gaze. We want to write good comedy with real characters and create a fun world you want to watch every week.
WCT: Within the show, there's an incredible diversity in the cast, which you've mentioned is a priority for you. Why do you think that representing the diversity of the community is so important? What is the power in representation?
Fawzia Mirza: Representation equals truth. Truth equals power. People want to place you in a box. So one of my goals is to defy that.
Part of the overall casting process is to cast women and men based first and foremost on their personality, on their talent, on their authenticity to the character. We cast diversely, in terms of race, sexual orientation, age and type.
For example, in season two of our season finale, we cast a woman who is 100-percent Guatemalan to play Kam's Latina love interest. This woman was so excited because she but never gets called in for Latina roles because she is told she isn't "Latin enough." She is for us. She is for Kam.
WCT: One last question: If the Kardashians ever commented on the show, how would you like them to respond? What should they take away?
Fawzia Mirza: If the Kardashians responded to our show, we would want them to respond however they wanted. We love our show, and we strive to allow our characters to be honest and to be exactly who they are. For us to expect anything less from the Kardashians would be hypocritical. I do know that the Kardashians could watch our show and recognize that our message, our goal is different than that of OK! or US Weekly.
The web series is at http://www.youtube.com/user/kamkardashian.