Yassir Lester – Making History
By: Lisa Steinberg
Q) Why do you think “Making History” has become a fast fan favorite show?
A) I think it’s kind of a mix of everything. I think when people saw commercials for it they kind of didn’t know what to expect. I think the commercials, because you want to get the greatest and broadest audience, are made the marketing towards that. When you see the show, you realize it is much more of a nuanced comedy in ways that people weren’t expecting. It’s smart, has something to say (feminism, racism, the society we live in now, etc.) On top of it, it is really, really funny. On the surface, you can see this line after line and piece of dialogue after dialogue is a joke. I think not that people expected nothing of us, but saw trailers and were like, “Okay, I’ll give it a try.” Then, they saw the show and were like, “Oh, this is what I have been waiting for.” We don’t take ourselves seriously though we speak about serious issues.
Q) These shows are quite timely. We need an escape as well.
A) Weirdly, when this show was filming it was during the election cycle. So, this whole time all of it was being filmed we were discussing if either candidate won and this and that. The writers would come to us with ideas, which is the standard process of a TV show. It now resonates even more because of the way the election way – on either side. Whoever you voted for I feel like it resonates with now in building and recognizing a perspective outside your own. Also, this claiming of American values that gets touted so much as a void. You kind of see where that comes from and how it is grown past, essentially a new colonist saying, “We’re proud of where we’re from. Let’s defend it,” from this dangerous nationalism. I think that on all fronts and both sides of the political aisle the show just kinds of turns a mirror to each political party and every person has a strong belief one way or another in hot button issues be it racial, gender, immigration, etc. I think now people seeing it, it kind of opens their eyes a little bit.
Q) FOX offers their shows great support in going there and pushing the envelope.
A) We’re pushing the hardest so far in the comedy realm! So much so that we couldn’t even exist in the year. We had to go to different years to push. We have run out of years to push! [laughs]
Q) How was your character, Chris, originally described to you?
A) When the pilot was originally written the character description I read was “cool, young, hip professor; everyone wants to be his friend and loves him.” On paper, he was this amazingly suave guy. What they got to from me…it would be like if your original character was Boris Kodjoe and then by the time you ended up casting you got a talking broom. That’s what happened. [laughs] He was described as this amazingly suave character and then I came in…I am literally the opposite of suave or anything that they described, but the fun about Chris is not about how he reacts in these times. It’s more about seeing how having this time machine kind of changes everything for them. This is someone who has studied history essentially their entire life and now they have access to a time machine and he is seeing that things aren’t quite what he learned. OR these people he is encountering in context now outside of the accomplishment that have been written in books and seeing it in person will change a lot of the direction of his beliefs and life in general. Seeing the transformation of him throughout the season is going to be really fun!
Q) How enriching has it been to play that arc for him?
A) It’s been bonkers! And I mean that in the best way possible. I came from writing and I still do it, but I’ve always been a part of the process on the writing end. So, every other show that I’ve worked on by the time something goes to air or to shoot I know everything that is going to happen – or the purpose or the intention I should say. This, I wasn’t a writer and as scripts came in it was the first time seeing anything. It was fun and it was exciting. It wasn’t the a-typical straight man stick in the mood. You really see Dan (Adam Pally) and Deborah (Leighton Meester) with it, too. These are people. I know the world is crazy in which they exist, but you are watching three real people exist in extraordinary circumstance. It was just fun. You just kind of lose your mind.
Q) You mentioned your background in writing. What nourishes your creativity?
A) I think the pretentious answer is “the world in which we live” or “the colors of the sky in an Autumn night.” At the end of the day, I personally think I’m most influenced by the absurdity of life or in serous situations one funny thing that happens. Let’s say you see a couple arguing in public and they are breaking up. As one of them is going to leave they trip and fall. I live for that moment and those kinds of moment. For me, writing is like trying to think of moments like that which most likely won’t be as funny as the real thing because the real thing is always funnier. It’s the absurdity of these little moments that happen to us constantly. A perfect example is I lived in my apartment for eight months and every time I turned in the hallway to go into my bedroom I miscalculated and would bang my shoulder into the doorway – every single time without fail. The first ten times I did it I was losing my mind. It was, “I can’t be this stupid.” Now, I just laugh because it is this funny that I just never learn to walk properly. Those are things that I like. They bring me so much joy. The same feeling I get from these kinds of moments I want other people to experience and hopefully they experience them through things I have thought of or something I acted in.
Q) We’re in the final season of “Girls” now and you worked as a writer on the show for a year. What do you hope viewers take away from it?
A) I guess what I want people to take away most from it (and this being outside from if you’re a young woman of any background there is nothing to stop you in your endeavors be it creative or otherwise. Lena, again, at twenty-four years old or twenty-five years old created a show that resonates with everyone. I think that being the first big thing. Secondly, I guess I would want people to see the show and know that it is okay to grow up. It’s okay to mature. It’s okay to start processing things in your life as an adult. I think this season especially deals with that wonderfully. I’m thirty-two years old and everyone that I am friends with or hang out with or even my brother and sister (we’re four years between each other) are in the same bracket. We’re all of the same generation. But there comes this fear that comes creeping in you at age thirty or right after thirty that people try to cling to youth in whatever way they can, whether it be in the way they dress or act or still going to night clubs (which seems psychotic for any person of any age). This season and the show “Girls” in general when the season ends and you go back and watch episode one you’ll see the actual growth of a person. I think that’s why people love it so much because there is a lot of growth of Hannah in so many of us. She’s almost the id speaking for our generation.
Q) What was your fondest memory or what you took away from working on “Girls?”
A) Granted, I worked with so many amazing people like Jenni Konner, Lena Dunham, Sarah Heyward, Jason Kim, Tami Sagher, Max Brockman, Murray Miller and Bruce Eric Kaplan. The whole staff was amazing. On top of just being a family, you really do spend so much time with these people. The people I think I learned the most from were clearly Jenni and Lena. Also, Murray Miller and Tami Sagher. I am forever indebted to them. I think it was more about seeing the process. And I’ll never tell the process. That’s for Lena to do as the show ends. Seeing their process versus other shows I have worked on was really quite interesting and cool. I’m so glad I got to be a part of it!
Q) With so much going in our climate, how do we continue to see ourselves in series?
A) That’s a quite interesting question because I feel there are a lot of answers, but I’ll give you my simplest version without talking for ten minutes. Especially now with the internet and the age of information, if one person says something on Twitter it can be retweeted a hundred times. And a hundred thousand people will now have this piece of text burned in their brains. Let’s say it is false information or let’s say it is something true like about the incarceration rate and how disproportioned it is about colored communities versus others. You hear someone say, “The world is garbage now. It sucks. Everything sucks. The world is going to end.” Truthfully, the world isn’t going to end. Statistically it will not. I read a lot. I know the Doomsday Clock is the closest it has been to midnight since the Cuban Missile Crisis, but at the same time that is a group of people also leaning towards the mindset that things are bad. Yes, things are bad, but at the same time we (not just as a service to ourselves but as a service to others) to make the things you want to make still. Weirdly, as much as the President hates SNL they can still make it each week. They can still make fun of him each week. They can still make fun of Sean Spicer. They can still create moments of satire. Everyone in entertainment, be it authors or even the press still who may get banned from the White House can still report the news as it is happening. What I would say is don’t exist in this realm of “things are bad and there is no hope.” The truth of the matter is there is tons of hope and the truth of the matter is we can still make the art and create these things that we find to be funny and everything in between. At least for right now, until that stuff is taken away from us, we as everyone just need to push it all out and get as much of it out as possible. Art is clearly the most subjective thing in the world so you need to at least make it digestible to others. I think it is so easy to tell people “this is what I believe in short film” and then it is just like a pretentious piece of art of like someone boiling an egg. I just think that people need to stop being so obsessed with the negative and focus on making things that are good and that will disseminate among the population and that will motivate people to go out and do more or be more political or volunteer or whatever that is.
Q) Is there anything else about “Making History” that you want to be sure fans know?
A) I would just say that in conclusion that this show will satisfy and also defy expectations. If there is one takeaway about the show specifically is that. It satisfies, defies and then moves on past that. I think it is really great. I think it is really special. I think families can watch it together. It’s not cynical. It is a fun show that is informative…to an extent. [laughs] I think people will really enjoy it.