Comedian Jerah Milligan grew up loving three things: Power Rangers, Batman, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. By all accounts, that makes him a certified geek, one who fits in rather well with our Fan Creators series here at SYFY WIRE. And Milligan, a Comedy Central-starring comedian, co-host of the comedy podcast Black Men Can’t Jump in Hollywood, and co-creator of an upcoming IFC genre/comedy sketch show, does what he does to bring people just a little bit of happiness.
“For some reasons, humans love to hate. Sometimes, the only way to get people to unite on something is to get them to hate one thing,” Milligan told SYFY WIRE. “But I’d rather focus on joy than sadness... I think there’s way more power in loving something rather than hating it.”
While chatting about his upcoming IFC show and its Black Mirror-esque message, Milligan insisted the series will have a light-hearted lilt. Like the best genre, though, it can’t help but dig into societal issues — the racism and classism Milligan knows are so inherent to our real world and how we can go about changing that.
“People always see things from their own bubble. So if something doesn’t bother you, it’s probably not reaching you,” Milligan says.
Whereas genre films like Black Panther blew the world away by showing just how much pull black stories have, Milligan says he would love to see a non-exceptional family of color in a movie. The family just wants to buy a house and live their lives, go to work, and feel safe. Until that becomes the norm, he says, and people have the same blase reaction to a black superhero as they did to “Chris Hemsworth, a blond guy, being cast as Thor,” the world still needs some work.
That’s where Milligan, his friends, and their various self-made video series and comedy sketches come in.
How did you get into comedy?
Truthfully, I always wanted to get into film, and I just figured if you don't go to one of those prestigious schools like Harvard or Juilliard and you weren't a child actor, the easiest way for a black person to get into TV is through comedy and stuff like that. I mean it really is. Unless you're like a British white guy, the easiest way is to be a comic... But I've always loved comedy, and I've always been a little bit scared of it, because I think comedy is one of those things that people really don't understand. It's honesty. The things you're laughing at, self-deprecation or someone's observation about what's going on. Also, when you're doing comedy just by itself for the most part, it's hard to make people from all walks of life laugh at the same thing. So, I mean I love it, but it's definitely a thing that's filled with fear. And a lot of people like it because it's filled with fear, which is very weird.
Do you consider yourself and your work geeky?
It's so funny, because I haven't before, but now me and my comedy partners are developing a show with IFC which kind of uses The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror-esque stuff where it's sketch comedy, but everything has to have a horror or fantasy kind of slant to it.
So everything in that will be in the realm of "geek," if you will... Every sketch has to be genre-based, so it's fun to work on that. And we're kind of making that sociopolitical as well.
Science fiction and fantasy is sociopolitical a lot of the time anyway.
I think it is. And I think when you have something... I don't believe in making fun of people or looking down on people, and I think that one thing comedy can do is connect, is put everyone on the same plane. And with sci-fi and fantasy, those are things that people mainly like, whether it is something more whimsical that is, a lot of the time, more fantasy-based or has that Lord of the Rings vibe, you find them preaching and hammering down on alienating people, and I think that is the fun part about the merger we're doing [between comedy and genre].
Is that what you liked so much about science fiction and fantasy?
I grew up with a superhero thing more than anything. It's funny, because now I think we know the world is very divided, very difficult, but as a black kid growing up, I've always found that. With superheroes in particular, it's nice to see someone overcome something and does something genuinely nice for other people, even at the detriment of themselves. You look at Spider-Man and he's broke, he's usually always out of money and can't eat.
He's hurting because he's helping other people. He's doing it because he feels that one of the responsibility to do something nice for other people who can't do them themselves. I've always thought of risking everything for someone else, even if the other person doesn't know it's you who did it, and I think that's such a cool concept.
A lot of the time, [sci-fi and fantasy] stories are about revenge or exploration. I just really like superheroes because, in their heart, they want to do the right thing.
Is Spider-Man your favorite hero because of that?
No, honestly, Batman is my favorite, but I gotta say I've always liked Dick Grayson. He's happy. Even when things are bad, he still gives you a one-liner. He enjoys it.
I like Batman and I like Dick Grayson because I think of them as kind of a yin and yang, and I like that a lot. With Spider-Man, it's because he's a New York cat. Sometimes it's just, "Ah, I don't wanna do this, but I guess I gotta." I really dig that vibe.
I'm curious about the show that you're developing right now. Could you tell me a little bit more about it?
We're working on a sketch show that's not just going to be a general sketch show. We want to do something different. You know, we want to have one of those messages that Black Mirror has about social networks and technology. I really don't like social media at all. What would you do if you had a show like [Black Mirror] that you could add jokes into, but it didn't have to be ha-ha funny every minute and it didn't have to be overly dramatic every minute?
What would their regular human lives be like? Because I think even in trying times, if someone passes away, there's sadness, but then a moment later there can be a joke if you have a [funny] memory [of that person]. We wanted to balance that and touch on different issues without talking down on people and just having a little bit of fun.
I miss having fun. I miss just watching movies like Austin Powers, where it's jokes. It may have a message to it, but it's just jokes. I'm tired of talking about how bad our president is all the time. I get it. The world gets it. I think his voters even get it now. Let's just try and find some type of joy, and I think that's the point of our show.
You're just trying to keep things lighthearted and bring some happiness into the world.
I've tried. I think there's levels to everybody... I think reaching out [is important]. Everybody can help take away some of that darkness. And I really think trying to focus on other people other than yourself — it sounds like a utopia, but I really think that's the crux of everything. If you really focus on how you want someone to treat you and you treat someone with the same respect, everything will be forgiven. You won't have to worry about so much hate, so much racism, so much classism, because you all want the same thing.