In This Episode
“Rutherford Falls” writer and actress Jana Schmieding joins to talk about Indigenous humor, being a “person of size” playing a romantic comedy lead, and the best way to make fun of podcasters, racist, snobs, small-town reactionaries, and academics. And on “With Adorables Like These” our first official two cat segment – featuring Laszlo, Jackie and their human Alison Falzetta.
Ana Marie Cox: Hi, I’m Ana Marie Cox. Welcome to With Friends Like These. Now the history of Indigenous people in this country doesn’t seem like an obvious place to mine humor, though Indigenous people have been doing just that for decades, mostly outside mainstream popular culture. No more. The sitcom Rutherford Falls on NBC’s streaming platform Peacock starts with a debate over taking down a statue, and ends with a meditation on who gets the right to tell their own stories. And it is hilarious. Jana Schmieding, our guest this week is one of the reasons that it is. She and Ed Helms lead the show and Schmieding is one of the many Indigenous people involved in the show’s creation, including Sierra Tellor Ornelas, the showrunner. Now, that level of representation would be groundbreaking all on its own, but the show goes even further than that. It’s filled with commentary on gender, size, sexual orientation, and the emotional labor of marginalized people. But that doesn’t make it serious. Just seriously funny. You don’t have to take my word for it either. Schmieding has been called a breakout star, and the show is expected to dominate at the Emmys. And of course, you can hear for yourself.
[clips from Rutherford Falls]
Ana Marie Cox: Jana, welcome to the show.
Jana Schmieding: Thanks for having me Ana.
Ana Marie Cox: So I can introduce you kind of like professionally. Like I can say you’re an actor and a podcaster and you’re on this particular show, Rutherford Falls—but, I think I’d love it if you could introduce yourself as you would like to be known.
Jana Schmieding: Yeah, no problem. My name is Jana Schmieding, I am Mniconjou and Sicangu Lakota Enrolled Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux Tribe, and I play Raegan Wells and was also a staff writer on the Peacock Show, Rutherford Falls.
Ana Marie Cox: All right, cool. So I want to try a little experiment that might not work, in which case we are going to start the interview over. But I’m going to risk it.
Jana Schmieding: Great.
Ana Marie Cox: OK, I’m going to do a very general kind of summation of the plot arc of the show, trying not to spoil any.
Jana Schmieding: I love this.
Ana Marie Cox: OK?
Ana Marie Cox: OK. All right. Now it starts sort of with these two best friends, you playing Regan Wells, Ed Helms playing Nathan Rutherford. You are both historians of your communities in this show.
Jana Schmieding: That’s right.
Ana Marie Cox: And what starts out as a dispute over a statue turns into a wide ranging exploration of who gets to tell whose stories.
Jana Schmieding: That’s right.
Ana Marie Cox: OK, you’re nodding, but now I want to ask you, did I do what the show doesn’t want me to do? [laughs] As a white person? How did I, how did I?
Jana Schmieding: No. [laughs]
Ana Marie Cox: Did I miss—I’m actually genuinely curious. Like, I don’t, if what stood out to me, if my lenses mean something stood out to me, that didn’t, wouldn’t stand out to others.
Jana Schmieding: No, I think that, I think your summation is absolutely accurate. It’s not biased toward one side or the other. And, you know, I think the show is absolutely trying to avoid those historical biases that we carry or you know. I’ll just add to your, to your sort of logline by saying something that we, as the writers, were really interested in, is this psychological phenomenon called the backfire effect. And it’s this thing that happens, and I think we’re seeing it happen pretty widely right now in our culture, where when someone’s philosophical beliefs about the world, like a deeply held philosophical belief about our world is challenged, the response is more likely to be to dig our heels in and double down and find ways to justify that belief. As opposed to, to grow and change and evolve with a new narrative. Human people are just more likely to like to find ways, even despite facts being provided, to really just dig our heels in and have this backfire effect, which causes a person to really evolve in the opposite way.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, you dig in. We did a series on conversion experiences and that was kind of a part of it, like confirmation bias and how—yeah, it’s also a sunk cost thing, which is that I’ve already put my identity into this thing, so I don’t want to, that shouldn’t be wasted. And we’re not spoiling anything. All of this is a huge part of the show. [laughs]
Jana Schmieding: Yes. Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: You mentioned you were a staff writer, and the show is pretty groundbreaking in terms of representation, both in front of and behind the camera. And I wonder if you could talk a little about that, because it’s not all maybe obvious to people.
Jana Schmieding: So, yeah, well, of the 10 writers on the show, five of us are Indigenous. And we—and the non-Native writers are also a very diverse group of people. And within the Native, the five Native writers, we all come from different tribal nations and different backgrounds and different experiences, and so what we’re bringing to Rutherford Falls is sort of an amalgamation of a lot of our different experiences in this sort of colonized world. And, yeah, our show runner, Sierra Teller Ornelas, is Navajo and Mexican-American, and she is, she has been working in this, as a comedy writer for over a decade now. And so, yeah, it’s a really important, I think it’s important. I mean, sometimes I get scared of calling it important because I feel like that adds an element of pressure on some the show that, like, doesn’t need to be there [laughs] but I think it’s very meaningful, and it’s meaningful to Native people, and also we have been seeing that in terms of the response to the show from our Native audience. People have been like, oh my gosh, I am Raegan, or have that sweatshirt, or like I know these jokes, I know these phrases like I know these experiences. And so sort of this, we’re having this experience, I think, more widely where for the first time, one of the first times Native people are seeing themselves on TV and in comedy. And also as writers, we were, in terms of the world building of a show, we brought in a lot of Native people into the costuming and the music is co-composed. We brought in formerly A Tribe Called Red, but now called Halluci Nation, and so there’s Native people on a lot of different levels of the design process. And we as writers also contributed to our thoughts about some of the design and the graphic design and the elements of the show. So we’re really building a world that reflects our own experiences in our own world as Native people.
Ana Marie Cox: I was going to ask you about those details, because some of the ways that the diversity behind the camera shows up in front of it are pretty obvious, right? Like the casting being the primary one. But like you mentioned, some, I guess, inside jokes maybe, and some details and design. What are some of those things that are really important to you that stand out to you in the show?
Jana Schmieding: Well, I mean, I guess all of it has importance, I think when you’re, when you have this many Native writers, you’re really able to build a world and I’m not saying that if you only have one Native writer in the room, you can’t, but Native people have a really unique lens, a really unique lens on whiteness and settler culture and I think that we are not always tapped as writers to be cultural critics, but we are and we were raised like that. We were also raised, a lot of us are raised as little historians. And when history is something that you have to protect your entire life and you have to defend actively in all of the spaces you occupy, you’re really good at making jokes about that. [laughter] And so I think that’s how we should show up for the audiences. We’re just telling jokes that are honestly normal to us as Native people, but it’s never seen on TV. This is the first time we’re seen on TV. And also as a, as a per—I’m a beader, I’m a Native beader and I have a whole community of people who are jewelers, Native jewelers and so I made it a goal, but like in every episode, Reagan will wear a different pair of jewelry by a Native jeweler. And so I worked with the costume department to facilitate the purchasing of Native jewelry, which is its own culture in itself. Like the, like it’s like a high, high pressure—
Ana Marie Cox: [laughter] I was just like waiting for that next word, like it’s high, it’s high, it’s—please.
Jana Schmieding: It’s like it’s like these pieces of jewelry that are highly in demand. It’s like a very cutthroat world of like purchasing Native jewelry because it’s handmade and it’s like there’s only a few pieces and they make these earring drops. Anyway, I had to teach the costume department about how to acquire Native jewelry and like get them involved. And so, yeah, it’s not only, so not only is it indigenizing Hollywood in a way and teaching them about our ways and getting them involved, but it’s also bringing Native people into the process so that they have experience and exposure to this industry, and can see where one might fit in to the industry. So it’s really like . . .
Ana Marie Cox: It’s kind of addressing that pipeline problem sometimes it called, right?
Jana Schmieding: Yeah!
Ana Marie Cox: Like when people say, oh, I can’t hire any native writers because they don’t go to Harvard—although I’m sure many do. But like—
Jana Schmieding: Yes or the excuse that there’s just not enough of us.
Ana Marie Cox: That sort of what I meant, is like it’s not in the comedy pipeline.
Jana Schmieding: Right.
Ana Marie Cox: Which passes through these Ivy League schools for some reason. I don’t know.
Jana Schmieding: I don’t know.
Ana Marie Cox: I don’t know either. I’m really glad you brought up the diversity among Native people, because I will tell you one of my very favorite scenes in the entire series— and I’m going to try to keep it real general to not spoil it too much—is when Nathan is asked to dress as the Mickey Mouse of this proposed quasi Colonial Williamsburg thing.
Jana Schmieding: Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: And he does this rant where he’s like, well, this cravat is from this culture and this wig is from this culture. And these boots are taken from a pirate.
Jana Schmieding: Yes, exactly. Like that’s something that we as writers, as Native writers were excited about was sort of flipping this experience on to our white character and seeing how they deal with the reality that Native people have to exist in, and especially in Hollywood I’ve seen so many, I mean, I just, for a podcast I reviewed this movie called Buffalo Dreams, it’s on Disney. It’s like an old, like weird, but from the ’80s, no it’s the ’90s, from the ’90s and there are actors in it that are Native actors but there’s, and it takes place in Navajo country. And it’s about this white kid who comes to Navajo country and, but there’s this buffalo element in—it’s called Buffalo Dreams—and they have to protect this buffalo herd on Navajo lands but it’s like, and they have a Navajo actress, Geraldine Keams is in it, and I’m just like, the entire, they’re wearing Navajo clothing and jewelry at times but like even the element of buffalo, like buffalo is a Plains Nation’s situation. Like, Navajo are sheep people. [laughter] How could you?! How could you oversee that huge glaring cultural touchstone? It just makes no fucking sense.
Ana Marie Cox: How could they? How? How? [laughs]
Jana Schmieding: How could they? It’s just like these—and to make these actors like it, to make a Navajo actress portray this, it also speaks to the fact that in terms of Hollywood and the many, many misrepresentations that we face, but when you don’t have Native writers crafting the story or Native producers? You know, having Sierra at the helm was major, it was completely, it changed so much. So she had to advocate on so many different levels and be like, no, no, no, no, we’re not doing that. Like even on the publicity end, making sure that nobody describes Michael Greyeyes as a stoic character. Little things like that. But having to having to really shift people’s perspective about us, and having the power to do so—when you don’t have those people behind the camera, what you’re asking of the actors is that, they act as not only performers, but as cultural consultants—like a lot of this work, this free labor. But quite honestly, they have people deal with that all the time. Like, they have to these.
Ana Marie Cox: Oh, I have questions about that. [laughs] Because there are about a thousand different conversations we could have that stem from the show, because it raises just so many interesting ideas about identity and about storytelling, who’s who, you know, identification. But I kind of want to drill down on the relationship between Nathan and Reagan, because this show is called With Friends Like These. And I swear, sometimes I feel like Nathan’s a little bit Friend Like This to Regan. You know? He puts a lot of emotional labor on her. She takes it on, you know, but there’s a pretty unequal division.
Jana Schmieding: Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: And he’s kind of insensitive sometimes, right?
Jana Schmieding: Yeah. I would say a lot of the time, essentially the entire first half of the season. [laughs]
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] I was just trying to be like, they are friends. Because one thing I want to put up front is that the friendship is believable in the sense that you were both very warm to each other. There’s a good chemistry between you. I have, watching the show, I never doubt that the friendship is real.
Jana Schmieding: Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: But I wonder why. Which to be fair, people ask that of Regan.
Ana Marie Cox: I think that yeah, this is a question that’s coming up a lot in the show. And a lot of questions, especially from white people, have been why would she be friends with this guy? This makes no sense. And my response is always like, makes perfect sense to me. I’ve had Nathan Rutherfords my entire life. I’ve had men who have leaned on me and asked me to de-center myself for their thing, a million times. I think as Native people, particularly Native women, this is a really common experience for us. And it has to do with this historical de-centering of our narratives and of our value in all ways of our life, our ways have been devalued by settler culture. So we have, we have an entire cosmologies and religious beliefs that were illegal until the 1970s. We have ways of being in this land that have been completely erased. And also more interpersonally, we see what happens when she starts to center herself. We see the effect of that, which is their friendship implodes. It doesn’t fare well under those conditions. And I think that these are two people who are sort of this idea of write or die, they’re really write or die friends, they support each other through all their stuff. And Nathan is sort of this, this character, this sort of Trojan horse character that leads us through this, this backfire effect. And we see not only how that manifests interpersonally with his friendship with the Native woman, but also how the, how it sort of reflects the systemic de-centering of a white narrative and the re-centering of a Native history in this town, and the ripple effects that we see among everyone. So, of course, he, I think it’s really like rad, in my opinion, that Ed decided to take this on. You know? Like to take this character on and to be like, sort of take the fall as Nathan.
Ana Marie Cox: You’ve got to ground it in a really likable character. Right?
Jana Schmieding: Exactly. I mean, he’s a well-meaning liberal white guy.
Ana Marie Cox: He’s a well-meaning white person. Which is, by the way, the main audience for the show, being a well-meaning white person myself, you know? And you totally called me. Yeah. As the white person. I’m like, wait, what? Although, yes, something that’s come up on the show before is the fact that a lot of people of color, like, that’s your friend. You know?
Jana Schmieding: Yeah. I think that’s also a reality that we understand to be true. And, you know, there was another, there was, I think it’s interesting, you know non-Native and Native people have had that feedback about their friendship a lot. You know, like, I would never be friends with this guy, or whatever. And that’s fair. Like, I, it’s, it’s also a comedy show. You know. In order to make it comedy, you have to heighten things, you have to make them more in your face, more grandiose than they probably actually are in reality. But listen, in the last year or two, I’ve had several friend breakups with white people.
Ana Marie Cox: Interesting.
Jana Schmieding: And it’s a reality. Like it’s just something that I think we as people of color, as nonwhite people are going to have to deal with in our lives, as Native people become more centered in our culture that just means that white narratives have to take a backseat, and people who cling to those white narratives are also maybe going to have to take a backseat too, in our lives. I’m ready for it, personally [laughs] but it’s also hard. It’s so hard. It’s tense, and it’s stressful and it’s heartbreaking in a way, because I love my friends. I love my people.
Ana Marie Cox: Yeah, I was going to ask you, so have you had a friend like this? You’ve already just said, lots.
Jana Schmieding: Oh, yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: And it’s, it is, it does seem like a no-win situation. Like so many situations for people of color, in that there’s emotional labor involved and just taking it, and not saying anything. There’s emotional labor involved in trying to educate.
Jana Schmieding: Oh, yeah, and I’ve been educating my entire life. You know. I was a kid who grew up in a Conestoga wagon-loving Oregon, rural Oregon [laughs] white culture. So I, I was one of very few Native people, Native families in my small town growing up and so I was very used to my grandparents and parents telling us, you need to be able to talk about yourself. You need to be able to talk about your identity with your peers. You need to be able to create space for yourself, and here’s how we’re going to do that. And both of my parents were teachers, so we used to have like these Native awareness days, like Native American awareness days at my middle school where I would be giving like presentations to my own peers about my tribal identity and my, and like teaching them about our history. And it was like two days out of the year that we had this. [laughs] It’s like, the labor involved, but also the necessary labor involved so that it, I mean what it comes down to is my my safety, your kids safety. If you can educate people and you have people that will be willing to listen and learn, then you’re creating a more safe environment for your children. Especially in the educational setting where we are grossly erased.
Ana Marie Cox: Or misrepresented, basically.
Jana Schmieding: Or misrepresented.
Ana Marie Cox: I feel like those are the, the pie chart, those are, that’s a lot of that pie chart.
Jana Schmieding: Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: And there’s also emotional labor in the breakup, right?
Jana Schmieding: Right.
Ana Marie Cox: That’s also going to be really hard and, feel free not to answer this question, but I am curious if you can talk about maybe just in general these breakups, was there specific events? Is it just like I can’t do this anymore?
Jana Schmieding: I think they come along, there, they come along with events, and they come along with events where a white friend has really shown their true colors. And that I come, it’s like a simultaneously showing your true colors and your absolute ignorance in the face of all of the labor that I have provided for you as a friend. You know? It’s me becoming suddenly very exhausted by the fact that I have been open to you, I have brought you into my community, I have shown you who I am, and you still don’t see me. You refuse to see me. And that is where, like I have—and it’s honestly it’s taken a lot of therapy on my part to, like, draw those kinds of boundaries, because I also am a person who has always been a little educator. You know? And it’s hard to have those boundaries when you are like, well, I am also a tool of my own teaching. So I, as an adult woman, almost 40, I have to be like, oh, wow, this is where, I can actually draw a boundary with these people. Like, I don’t have to provide labor for them anymore, they can simply read a book. [laughs] And why don’t you? And also, you know, stop sucking the life force from me and do your own learning. And so that’s really where it comes, what it comes down to, is that, like, I’m just tired of being a resource instead of a friend, and being treated like a person where I can’t bring my full self to this friendship. Like, I can’t bring my full identity to this friendship.
Ana Marie Cox: Do you think that you would put up with less than Reagan does?
Jana Schmieding: I think now in my life, yeah. Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: She’s a very generous person. Let’s not, it’s—
Jana Schmieding: Yes! Totally.
Jana Schmieding: Part of the character.
Jana Schmieding: She’s a generous person. Yeah, she’s a generous person, and she also grows over the season. She is drawing, decides to center herself, and she decides that there’s a really important moment when they get into sort of this big argument and she says, well, why is your history more important than mine? And I think that’s kind of like the, that’s the boundary. Is that like, I, how come you can’t support me in this effort to preserve and like, showcase my history? This is, it’s painful for me that you can’t support me, you can’t see past your own issues. And yeah, I think in my own life I, I have certainly over the last couple of years, especially during this pandemic and since Native people have been taking up more space in journalism and in all industries, in the sciences and now in Hollywood—I am, I am able to more accurately draw those boundaries for myself, and see them for what they are. And I feel empowered to enforce them. And it’s taken that, it’s taken that long for me to come to this point.
Ana Marie Cox: And I just want to add in calling Reagan generous, I don’t think drawing boundaries is ungenerous.
Jana Schmieding: No.
Ana Marie Cox: I think it takes just some generosity to self, basically. You know?
Jana Schmieding: Yeah, absolutely.
Ana Marie Cox: Like being having some grace for yourself, in addition, whatever grace you might have for other people.
Jana Schmieding: Right. Right. Yeah, I would say that Reagan is, she is generous to a fault. You know. To her own detriment. And I know what that’s like. Hoo hoo! Unfortunately I really do.
Ana Marie Cox: Jumping in to take a quick break for ads.
Ana Marie Cox: So you mentioned the show’s representation of Native people. The show has another really interesting choice of representation, which is, as you said, you are a person of size. And you have a lead role. You have a romantic lead. And I feel bad bringing this up because I love it that the show doesn’t.
Jana Schmieding: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs]
Jana Schmieding: Yeah. I mean, it is something that can be discussed because of the, because the show doesn’t bring it up, I think that it’s like a really interesting thing that—you know, let’s hope that, like four shows down the line when fat leads can just be fat as we are in our real lives, that like, you know, we don’t have to bring it up. That’s the hope so that eventually it’s normal. You know.
Ana Marie Cox: I, I really loved it. I really, really did. I was like, I was sort of waiting for the, for the romantic lead to do that “I love a curvy lady thing” but no! No! He did not. Which is awesome. Which is like, he just, it’s just a, it’s just a romance. They’re just, they’re just into each other. No more needs to be said.
Jana Schmieding: Absolutely. Yeah, and not even just around the romantic aspect of it, you know? I think a lot of times we equate someone’s weight with their lack of being desired, so that is an important touchstone. But also Raegan, her character doesn’t struggle with it at all in the show. She doesn’t talk about herself. She doesn’t reference herself or her size, and there’s several eating scenes that she does.
Ana Marie Cox: I was going to mention that! [laughs]
Jana Schmieding: You know. And like, all of those things are, I think, really important for people to see and for us to culturally normalize, because I live in a world where a lot of my friends are people of size and I watch all the TV, and I think we are finally getting—and I have a podcast that talks about weight stigma and food culture, and all of the different intersections that come with being a fat person, and impressions that come with being a fat person. And so, yeah, I think it was a decision that I was really weirdly insecure about in the beginning, because I was, I didn’t realize playing Reagan that I had internalized all of these messages that I’ve seen on the media about, you know, fat women. And at one point I asked Sierra, I was like, are you, do you know, you understand the optics of this, right? Like, I was feeling insecure about the romantic aspect, you know, all of these things. And I was like, are we going to talk about it or whatever? And Sierra was like, she gave me the realist response, which was, we’re going to say something without saying something. And that has honestly resonated so much with the audience that like they’re seeing themselves in this character on so many levels. And a big thing for a lot of women is, yeah, she’s, she’s a fat woman and she’s also like ambitious and intelligent.
Ana Marie Cox: And stylish.
Jana Schmieding: And funny, and stylish, and has romance. And, like, she can snag. Like, this is a totally normal experience that we see all the time as Native people, and let’s normalize it.
Ana Marie Cox: I want to talk more about the intersectionality of Native and weight stigma, but I have to mention, because you mentioned about snagging—there is a lot of hotness in the show [laughs] and there is a lot of commentary of hotness on the show, of men. Pretty much only men. I have to assume that’s intentional.
Jana Schmieding: Um, yeah, I guess, I guess because it’s, a lot of the show I think is sort of through Regan’s lens, you know. It sort of starts again, like we’re seeing Nathan and we’re seeing Nathan struggles the first three episodes especially, and that’s kind of why I call Nathan’s character a bit of a Trojan horse. Because we go in thinking like, OK, something’s going to happen to this white guy, but like the balance, the lens sort of shifts and then we see, we see, I think, a lot through Reagan’s perspective, because she is sort of intermediary character between Nathan and Terry, and we are seeing the world through her eyes. And for that reason, yeah, we’re like commenting on hotness of men. She is a hetero lady.
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] I was going to say, josh’s body gets a lot of commentary. [laughs]
Jana Schmieding: Yeah, he’s centaur hot, um . . .
Ana Marie Cox: Shoulders. Everybody’s talking about his shoulders, and his tattoos, which of course I love, but—and he is very cute. Like, yeah. I mean, good job.
Jana Schmieding: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Way to go Reagan. [laughs]
Jana Schmieding: I love Terry. The, um—
Ana Marie Cox: I, you know, I guess maybe I just am not at the certain age. I’m still like NPR Williamsburg, like oriented, which is weird because I’m almost 50. But that maybe that explains it.
Jana Schmieding: Yeah. Well I think there’s like two things happening with Terry. First of all, Native women have been watching Michael Greyeyes throughout his entire career. So like we know Michael Greyeyes and we loved him forever. He’s such an attractive Native man.
Ana Marie Cox: He is. I mean. Oh, I swear to God. I mean, he is hot. I’m not like . . .
Jana Schmieding: Yeah, no. But I will say that also in terms of the online rhetoric, there is something really weird that happens with white women, like white, middle-aged women and Michael Greyeyes. Like I don’t know if this is appropriate for this podcast, so we might leave it at that.
Ana Marie Cox: Oh, I can’t wait to hear what you say next. Go for it. [laughs]
Jana Schmieding: There is some sort of like, weirdly fantastical, like fantasizing that happens about Michael Greyeyes. I mean, there was a woman who was like—just you could tell she was like a white woman in her 50s who was like: Michael Greyeyes, I would, I would fall to my knees.
Ana Marie Cox: No. No. Ok. You don’t have to . . .
Jana Schmieding: Just like the shit that women say about Michael, is like . . .
Ana Marie Cox: Does it go on from there? You don’t have to say what it does, but does it go from there?
Jana Schmieding: No.
Ana Marie Cox: OK. OK.
Jana Schmieding: It doesn’t say, it doesn’t explicitly say, But it’s like I would fall, I would fall to my knees for like Terry [?]. It just, it reeks of like savage Indian man busty white-woman cover of a romance novel that you would find in a grocery store. That’s the kind of vibes I get from people online about Michael Greyeyes. And I think that, I think that we’re really trying as hard as we can to make sure that, like the characters, every character, the response to stereotype is to give them a character, is to give them an inner life. And we did that for the Native characters and we even did it for Josh. You know Josh, he comes on the scene and it’s like, oh, he’s such a hottie, and everybody thinks he’s so cute and we think that maybe that’s going to be his primary function is just to be the eye candy in the show. But he actually ends up having a pretty meaningful relationship with Reagan. And helps her building out her cultural center. He’s like a caring, loving person. And in the end, he has a shift too. He has a little bit of a choice to make about how he wants to tell his stories. And so he’s a little more complicated than just the hottie.
Ana Marie Cox: And again, not to give anything away, but his journey is also a little bit about who gets to tell whose stories, but not necessarily in a context involving Native people, right?
Jana Schmieding: Absolutely.
Ana Marie Cox: Well, it does involve, but anyway, I can’t give away too much. But yes. Who gets to tell whose stories? And I just want to say about Michael Greyeyes, I read a review of the show that says this so I can’t claim it is my personal insight, but I thought it was great, which is that he acts as though he’s in a drama, like he’s, he plays it so straight. And it’s awesome. Like, it just makes his everything funnier, you know?
Jana Schmieding: Yeah. Totally.
Ana Marie Cox: Because he’s just so deep in that character playing it so straight. I, I want to compare him to Michael Scott, but only because of, only because I one time, like heard Steve Carell say that Michael Scott doesn’t know he’s in a comedy. Like . . .
Jana Schmieding: Yeah. Yes. Yes but Steve Carell is a comedic actor, so it’s hard for him to be—you know, who I would compare him to is the, I can’t remember his name right now, but he is a, like a classically trained Black actor who plays the police chief on Brooklyn 99.
Ana Marie Cox: Oh!
Jana Schmieding: Very serious, again, you could describe him as stoic, but like, that’s an intentional choice because, you know, it’s so funny to pair those straight people, straight man up with, like a goofier counterpart. It makes their jokes hit just as hard.
Ana Marie Cox: All right. Now, a very serious question: could you help me out with the word Indian, please?
Jana Schmieding: Sure.
Ana Marie Cox: I didn’t mean that to be that serious. It’s actually supposed to be funny.
Jana Schmieding: [laughs] OK.
Ana Marie Cox: Because, like there’s a scene, there’s a scene in in the show where the board of the casino really shake up the company that, their adversarial company, by continuingly calling them on using that word. It’s really funny.
Jana Schmieding: Yeah, yeah. Yes.
Ana Marie Cox: But the word is used in the show.
Jana Schmieding: Yeah!
Ana Marie Cox: So, like . . .
Jana Schmieding: Yeah, I would say that from, you know, I use the term Indian, but only for other Indians. And I don’t, I think that that’s sort of the joke, is that like when a white person says Indian, it’s like, a completely, the context is completely different. So, yeah, white people aren’t allowed to say it. I don’t know. [laughs]
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] Well then, forgive me. I should have, you know, I . . .
Jana Schmieding: No, no, no. That’s fine.
Ana Marie Cox: I was asking about the word.
Jana Schmieding: Yeah. The word has a lot of, you know, it has a lot of meaning and it’s reclaimed by Native people for sure. And I think used within community, and within community members. But like outsiders, using it is a little hairy. And so we have terms like Indigenous and Native for that reason. And I use Native when I’m talking to non-Natives and I use Indian . . . lightly when I’m with other Native people.
Ana Marie Cox: What more do you hope to do? Like this show’s done a lot, in terms of like the conversations that people are having. You know? Just the sheer raising of visibility.
Jana Schmieding: Yeah.
Ana Marie Cox: Um. I think that the writers’ room issue, hopefully is one that really resonates throughout Hollywood. It’s something people are discussing more openly. But what do you, what’s your, what are you looking at?
Jana Schmieding: You know, there’s so much that I want to do. I, there’s so much that I want to do. I mean, I want to continue writing, I want to write a feature film. I want to, I want to write historical drama. I recently watched the Underground Railroad and have been reading a lot of articles and listening to interviews with Barry Jenkins. And I sort of asked this question on Twitter, like, why haven’t Native people had our historical drama, like our, our series yet? Is it an access issue? Is it that it’s too painful? Is it that we, it’s already been taken by white people and told by white people with us as the performers, but we have no autonomy over the story. And I’m asking myself, I ask this question sort of rhetorically on Twitter, but a lot of the responses were: it’s an access issue, of course, we want to tell the story. And the thing that Barry Jenkins has been saying about the Underground Railroad is he hears a lot of the criticism that, like, no more pain, no more trauma, we don’t want to see the enslavement narrative on TV anymore. And I think that there is, and he, and Berry Jenkins’ response is: well, there’s still a lot of truth that we have to tell about our history. And I really want to take part in that truth, and I want to humanize our truth. And that really resonates with me. I think that there’s, I see my role right now as using my skill in comedy to bring joy to the world but I also want there to be space for us Native people to be able to creatively express our joy and our pain. And I think that also being able to tell our stories and tell our truths however we want to tell them, is a really important piece of our sovereignty. It’s a really important piece of our liberation that we are able to make rom coms if we want to. There is space for us. And it’s taken a long time to carve out that space, and a lot of hard work to carve out that space for us. And I feel like we’re in a really unique position right now to continue something that Sierra, our showrunner, has said, you know as an executive producer of Rutherford Falls she said, I look at my Native writers and I expect them all to become show runners one day. And that’s how it’s done, is you continue to work within the system, and tell your own stories. And so, yeah, someday I want to run my own show and have my own movies. And I want to continue performing and writing and collaborating with Native people and people of color and telling the truth.
Ana Marie Cox: Thank you Jana so much for coming on the show. This was wonderful.
Jana Schmieding: Oh, thank you so much for having me.
Ana Marie Cox: This week’s Adorables Like These takes you once again behind the scenes at Crooked Media. You’re going to hear from a development team superstar and her kitties, the orange-furred brother and sister dynamic duo of Lazlo and Jackie.
Ana Marie Cox: Alison, who are you?
Alison Falzetta: My name is Alison Falzetta, I am the manager of development here at Crooked Media.
Ana Marie Cox: And how long have you had your adorable companions, and where did you get them?
Alison Falzetta: I have had them since October of 2020, so relatively recently. They are a year old and I got them from a rescue close by me in Los Angeles called Sante D’or.
Ana Marie Cox: What are their names, and what are the stories behind the names?
Alison Falzetta: They were not named by me, but I kept the names because I happened to also love the names. Their names are Laszlo Cravensworth and Jackie Daytona, which are from a TV show called What We Do in the Shadows. And Laszlo Cravensworth in the show is a vampire, but his human alter ego is Jackie Daytona. It doesn’t quite vie with their personalities, but that is, that is what we call them.
Ana Marie Cox: So we do believe that all animals are emotional support animals. How have your adorables supported you?
Alison Falzetta: So much. I mean, I moved from living with a roommate to living alone in my apartment about halfway through last year. And it’s been so nice to have other creatures in the house with me. They’re very self-sufficient a lot of the time, but they do cuddle with me, and they seem to know when it’s a good time to jump up into my lap and to make a Zoom a very sort of, a more light-hearted experience for people. [laughs]
Ana Marie Cox: What’s the most you’ve gone out of your way for your adorable, or the biggest way you spoil them?
Alison Falzetta: They get spoiled not too much because I’m like, I’m afraid of going too far and then having to, like, come back. And then they’ll be like, why does Mother hate us? But I would say that when I, literally the first week I got them, I thought I was being paranoid and crazy, but they were acting weird. And I was like, I’ve known them for one day, but I just feel like they’re weird. And I took them to an emergency vet because I didn’t even have a vet yet, and spent a lot of money and ran around and spent like two days out of work. Turns out they did have like fevers and problems. So that made me feel better. And everyone was like, how did you know after like a day and a half of owning them? And I was like, I don’t know, they’re cats. They were hiding under the bed. It seemed weird. That’s probably the biggest way I’ve gone out of my way because I truly was like a week into cat ownership, and crying in my car outside of an animal hospital. [laughs]
Ana Marie Cox: What cause would your adorable support? If they have different personalities and would support different causes, you know, that too.
Alison Falzetta: That’s such a funny, good, hard question. I will say that everyone, I have a joke with my friends that my, that my cats are straight white men because their orange cats. Orange cats are almost always boys. They’re a little bit, they have like himbo energy, we like to say. I think Laszlo’s a bit of a, he’s kind of a jock, he’s not too bright—love him to death. Jackie is like a a science nerd weirdo, like shut in his room doing like AI. That being said, [laughs] I feel like Laz is actually quite empathetic. He probably would actually be like animal rights activist. I could see that for him, potentially vegetarian, like living his best life. I think Jackie would be into something really weird, and like heady and intellectual that doesn’t quite make sense to all of us. So he’d be like, we all have to go to Mars. And he’d be like very obsessed with like manning a Mars mission or something.
Ana Marie Cox: I love that. Last question: can you do the voices of your adorables?
Alison Falzetta: I don’t real—I mean, I could try. I like, I have like a horrible voice I speak to them in. I don’t really usually—like I do speak as them sometimes, and it’s mostly two things. Oh, my God, speaking of Jackie is um, he’s in the sink. I just heard him. But anyway—
Ana Marie Cox: They could say what cause they’re supporting, like, if you need something for them to say.
Alison Falzetta: The only thing I usually have them say is things like: mother, we love treats. [laughs] Like that kind of thing. And then I usually, like sometimes I have Jackie speaking French, because I call him frere Jaques. You know, I’m like, he’s brother Jackie. And they would be like: [with French accent] mother, we are not French. [laughs] That’s it.
Ana Marie Cox: [laughs] Well, that’s, that’s it. That’s the interview. Thank you so much. Now go get them. Now you have to go get them and show them on camera.
Alison Falzetta: Ok. I’ll go get them.
Ana Marie Cox: And that is it for the show. Thanks to Jana Schmieding and Alison Falzetta for their time. Jana’s show Rutherford Falls, is streaming on Peacock right now. The show is a production of Crooked Media. We are produced by Allison Herrera with assistance from Jordan Waller. Izzi Margulies books our guests. This episode was engineered by Louie Leeno. Now Whitney Pastorek’s dog Wally was named after the Stonewall uprising. And I know that Wally and the rest of us are wishing each and every one of you a happy Pride. Protect trans kids, meet people where they are at, and above all, take care of yourselves.