When BYUtv was casting new stars for its flagship sketch comedy show “Studio C,” it deliberately looked for diversity. And it succeeded — four of the 11 cast members are people of color; five are women.
That’s up from one minority and four women actors (out of 10) in the original cast. The new cast members came from across North America — Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, Quebec, Tennessee and, yes, Utah. And, no, they’re not all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns Brigham Young University and BYUtv.
Cast members say they’ve had a great experience working on the show, which returns Monday at 6 p.m. MT. They positively gush about BYUtv, the university and the people there. But going off campus has been, at times, considerably less positive.
“I’ve had some experiences in private settings outside of my job ... regarding my race,” said Arvin Mitchell, an African American who grew up in Missouri. “And when I got to Provo, I ran into a few [problems] at the laundromat, at the gas station.”
Including a woman who “acted like she had never even seen a black person on television before,” who approached him while he was doing his laundry. “And she goes, ‘Well, you know, I grew up here. And first the Mexicans came and they would pick their fruit and then they would leave. And then you all start showing up.’”
Ugh. Mitchell didn’t want to get too specific about the encounter, but said he stood listening to the woman for what “seemed like a good five minutes, telling me about all these racial issues and whatever. And I was kind of paralyzed with it.”
Until the woman said, “‘Well, there was this black lady lived down the street from me. When she would bruise herself, her skin would turn purple.’ And I’m going, ‘I got to go. There’s only so much I can take.’”
Ugh. It happened not far from BYUtv’s studios on the BYU campus. “But I really don’t attribute it to Provo, I attribute it to the person who came to me like that,” Mitchell said.
“I’ve traveled the world doing comedy, and I really don’t let it bother me unless I feel like my safety is threatened,” he said. “I run past people who say some pretty ignorant things all the time.”
To be clear, however, Mitchell went out of his way to say that the bad experiences in Provo have been infrequent and isolated. He said people have been “extremely kind” to him, and he’s “never been made to feel more welcome.”
He added: “I question and I challenge people that tell me anything bad about Mormons or just Utah in general. I’m not that closed-minded and I kind of feel sorry for people who are.”
We can hope that the woman in the laundromat will sit down and watch “Studio C,” a funny sketch comedy show that now features a much more diverse cast. Maybe she’ll learn something while she’s laughing.
And, yes, the (mostly) new cast of “Studio C” is funny. After a somewhat, um, lame opening to the new cast’s first show, there are laughs — or, at least, smiles — in parodies of “Hamilton,” “Downton Abbey,” Rapunzel and soap opera actors.
The content doesn’t play off cast members’ ethnicities. They’re just a better reflection of America. BYUtv and “Studio C” deserve credit for not only recognizing that, but actually doing something about it.
And Mitchell deserves credit for his patience with that woman in the laundromat. I wouldn’t have given her 30 seconds, let alone five minutes of my time.
“Well, you know why I dealt with it for so long?” he said. “Because as she was telling me that stuff, I was writing in my head. I’m a comic. It was kind of a gift, because she gave me something to talk about.”