“I want to make a show with no white people,” is how Kris Siddiqi pitched his web series Bit Playas to CBC. The show follows Ahmed (Siddiqi) and Leon (Nigel Downer) as they spend their days chasing minor roles and commercial parts across Toronto, all the while dealing with racism inside and outside of the casting room.
Nerd culture is also heavily featured in Bit Playas; the show is jam-packed with pop culture references and even culminates in a rooftop battle between the protagonists as they come to terms with their crumbling friendship.
“Black folk and brown folk and Asian folk, we can all be nerds as well; it’s not just dominated by white bodies,” Siddiqi said in an interview with The Varsity.
Siddiqi began his comedy career while enrolled in film studies at U of T. Between classes, Siddiqi found himself drawn to the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse tea room, looking on as drama students performed movement exercises. However, “too cynical” for theatre, Siddiqi drifted toward comedy and improv and carved out a career for himself as a comedic writer as well.
A culmination of events inspired Bit Playas, including witnessing white actors clinching roles Siddiqi was auditioning for, and growing weary of “being a Canadian who constantly turned on Canadian television and only saw white faces on TV.” Siddiqi then decided to take action himself. “The only show I know how to make is a comedy show that’s filled with nerd references but that is specifically showcasing brown and Black faces and bodies,” Siddiqi said.
Bit Playas does just that. The episodes are short — approximately 12 minutes long — and for most of the series, they each tackle a theme associated with racism. These themes include cultural appropriation, white privilege, microaggressions, and the fetishization of race in the context of dating.
As the story arc nears its end, the show deviates from tackling the racism woven into Ahmed and Leon’s lives and instead focuses on their rapidly deteriorating friendship as they audition for the same role — “thug number four” — in a major action movie.
Should a second season occur, Siddiqi is hoping to shift from the characters dealing with external forces to their own internal thoughts and struggles, including “what it is to be racialized and what it is to have immigrant parents.” In addition, Siddiqi wants to get wilder on the production side of the show, including making an episode in Japanese anime style.
For up-and-coming Black, Indigenious, and people of colour comedians and writers, Siddiqi offers these pieces of advice: “Write, write, write, write, write, and do classes.”
“Take up that space, man; don’t be shy.”