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September 2022 Feature: Jonterri Gadson

Emmy-nominated writer, comedian, and award-winning author, Jonterri Gadson has written for notable TV shows including A Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO, THE UPSHAWS on Netflix, and other projects for NBC and Adult Swim.

Jonterri Gadson is a former creative writing professor who chose writing/directing/producing TV & Film over seeking tenure. She currently writes for the upcoming EVERYBODY STILL HATES CHRIS. She has also written for HBO’S A BLACK LADY SKETCH SHOW (for which she is Emmy-nominated), Netflix’s THE UPSHAWS (Season 2), NBC’s MAKING IT with Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman, The Kelly Clarkson Show, and Adult Swim’s half-hour comedy Bird Girl. Additionally, she was a Comedy Consulting Producer on 12 Dates of Christmas (HBO Max) writing comedic host copy for Natasha Rothwell. She won Kevin Hart’s LOL Film Fellowship for a short she wrote/directed and premiered at the American Black Film Festival. She’s an alum of the NBC Late Night Writers Workshop, New York Stage & Film Filmmakers Lab, Refinery29 & TBS Riot Comedy Writers Lab, and the IFP Project Forum. She’s published three poetry books, including the full-length poetry collection Blues Triumphant (YesYes Books). Visit Jonterri's website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.



BLISS HOUSE


Written by


Jonterri Gadson


(click for PDF version)


INT. BLISS HOUSE RECEPTION AREA - DAY


STEVE holds open the door for ANGIE. He bows. She curtsies. They’re white. It’s cute. They approach DANIELLE, the receptionist. She’s black and her smile is beaming.


DANIELLE

Angie! Is this the infamous Steve?


ANGIE

Yes, I didn’t leave him at home to

watch the kids while I luxuriate

this time.


STEVE

I’m finally gonna see what all this

luxuriating is about.


DANIELLE

I won’t let you wait a second

longer. Angie, you know where to

go. Steve, you’ll change across the

hall.


Danielle holds the door open for Steve.


STEVE

Ooh, I feel luxuriated already.


DANIELLE

You two are the best. Welcome to

Bliss House.


INT. FACIAL STUDIO


Steve enters in his robe and slides into the chair next to Angie. She squeezes his hand. NAOMI, professional facial tech with flawless dark brown skin, leans Angie’s chair back.


NAOMI

The usual?

Angie nods. Naomi massages Angie’s face with her fingertips.


ANGIE

Now do you see why I never miss an

appointment?


STEVE

Looks like it feels amazing, Ang.


ANGIE

It does and you’re next.


NAOMI

Relax the muscles in your face.

Inhale. Exhale. Say it.


ANGIE

Nig-aaaaaaaah....


Angie relaxes into the chair. Naomi places a hot towel over Angie’s face. Steve’s eyebrows shoot up and stay there.


STEVE

I have your back, Angie. If anyone

wants to hit you, they have to come

through me.


Naomi SHUSHES Steve and points to a bronze plaque on the wall. It says:

OFFICIAL PC REFUGE

Bliss House is a certified refuge for people who feel oppressed by political correctness.


Naomi hands Steve a services list and sits him down. He looks at the list. It says:

Say “Retarded” $50

Say “Gay” but mean “Stupid” $50

Be Racist or Homophobic w/Good Intentions $100/$150 for both


NAOMI

It’s against the law to call anyone

out for not being PC in here.

Choose a service.


STEVE

No, I’m okay. I’ve gotten used to

avoiding confrontation instead.


NAOMI

The walls are soundproof. We sign

confidentiality agreements.

Angie takes Steve by the hand.


ANGIE

Remember the rap concert?


STEVE

I’ll never forget. I knew the words

to every song. I could say every

word. But one.


ANGIE

Everyone watched your mouth to see

if you would say it.


STEVE

I didn’t say it. It’s the hardest

thing I’ve ever done.


Angie hands Naomi $20.


NAOMI

Sing your song, Steve.


Angie nods at Naomi. Naomi changes the soothing music to:


SFX: GANGSTER RAP SONG


Steve’s breathing quickens, until he bursts out with:


STEVE

(rapping)

This is for my day one niggas/

those east side niggas/ those fuck

a cop, snitches get dropped type

niggas


Angie hypes him up and hands Naomi another $20.


INT. FACIAL STUDIO- LATER


Steve reclines with cucumbers over his eyes.


STEVE

So this is kinda like a safe space?


Angie SHUSHES Steve.


NAOMI

We don’t use the “SS” word here.


REVEAL: Angie with her hands all up in Naomi’s hair.


ANGIE

So exotic!

Angie puts $20 in Naomi’s hand.


INT. MASSAGE STUDIO


Steve lays on a massage table.


STEVE

You represent all black people,

right?


NAOMI

That’s the massage you paid for,

so, yes.

STEVE

So...I’m not racist, right?


Naomi leans in toward Steve’s ear.


NAOMI

You’re not racist.


Steve MOANS.


STEVE

A little to the left!


Naomi switches to Steve’s left ear.


NAOMI

You’re not racist.


Steve MOANS.


STEVE

Lower!

Naomi thinks for a moment, then gets face to face with Steve:


NAOMI

(deep voice)

You’re not racist.


Steve MOANS louder and longer than before.


STEVE

Ah, that’s my spot.


Steve hands Naomi a $20.


INT. MUD BATHS


Steve and Angie sit in mud baths next to each other. They look into each other’s eyes as one smears mud on the other’s face until they’re both in black face.

They wave at Naomi and Danielle who are restocking towels.


DANIELLE

They paid $250 to be able to do

that.


INT. BODY WRAP STUDIO - MOMENTS LATER


Naomi slathers cream on Steve, then wraps him in a steaming hot American flag. Steve MOANS then shouts:


STEVE

Not all white people!


INT. BLISS HOUSE RECEPTION AREA


Steve hands Naomi more $20s. Angie drags him away.


STEVE

Can I stay? I’m not ready to be

held accountable again. You’re

doing god’s work here!


DANIELLE

I’ll give the owner your feedback.


REVEAL: Owner’s picture on the wall: A black woman with a huge smile, holding huge stacks of money.


ANGIE

See you in two weeks for the white

history month special!


DANIELLE

We offer that deal every day.


Steve spins around before he gets to the door.


STEVE

Wait!

Steve inhales, then shouts:


STEVE (CONT’D)

I don’t see color! Witch hunt! All

lives matter! Do black people get

tan? I have a black friend! You’re racist for calling me racist. What about my feelings? Quit playing the race card! Not my flag! You’re so

articulate! O.J.’s guilty! If you

were nicer to cops, they wouldn’t

shoot you! #MeToo, more like

#MeBooHoo! Racism is in the past,

except reverse racism, that’s

called Affirmative action! Pull

yourself up by the bootstraps. All it takes is hard work and

determination.

White Jesus is the only Jesus. If

Oprah can get ahead, you all can.

What about my freedom of speech!?


He makes it rain on Danielle, clears his throat, tips a fake hat, then exits.

DANIELLE Goodnight!

Danielle locks the door. Naomi enters counting her tips. They look at the clock and their faces light up.


NAOMI DANIELLE (CONT'D)

Shift change! Shift change!

Naomi and Danielle rush through a door on the opposite end of the spa labeled: THE OTHER SIDE OF BLISS.


INT. OTHER SIDE OF BLISS LOUNGE AREA - NIGHT


Danielle polishes a sign that reads: OFFICIAL PC REFUGE for those who must insist on political correctness. Rejuvenate!


A WOMAN IN A HIJAB sips champagne with a BLACK BUSINESS WOMAN and a PERSON WITH A PHYSICAL DISABILITY.


INT. MASSAGE STUDIO


Business Woman enters in a robe and lays on Naomi’s massage table. She hands Naomi $20 and Naomi swats it away.


Naomi pours hot oil on the woman’s back. The woman EXHALES as the oil rolls off.


NAOMI

This is what it would feel like if

offensive things could just roll

off your back.


BLACK BUSINESS WOMAN

Ahhhh. Must be nice.


INT. BODY WRAP STUDIO - NIGHT


Naomi unwraps a FOOTBALL PLAYER’s legs, then she turns on a soothing version of the “Star Spangled Banner”. The Football Player rises, then he takes a knee. He gives Naomi thumbs up.


INT. FACIAL STUDIO - NIGHT


Someone reclines in a facial chair with a white towel over their face. They hand the List of Services to an unseen spa tech who removes the towel to reveal it’s Naomi in the chair.


NAOMI

“Nigga” is ours!


FADE TO BLACK.


###


The Interview


You’ve written for page, stage, and screen, and TORCH was honored to publish some of your early poetry in our 2009 issue. Did you always know you were a writer? When did you know you wanted to share your writing with the world?


I’ve known since 3rd grade that I was a writer. That’s when my short stories for school got me pulled out of class to work with a private instructor. In 7th grade, I entered my first poetry contest, so I guess that’s when I felt ready to share my writing.


You’ve published three incredible poetry collections, Interruptions (2014), Pepper Girl (2012), and Blues Triumphant (2016). Are you still writing poetry and do you think you’ll publish another collection in the future?


Sometimes I accidentally write a poem when I’m trying to write something else when I want to show and not tell. Poetry was my go-to for that. But, no, I don’t think I’ll write another collection. I feel like I said what I needed poetry to be able to say.


You were teaching creative writing when you started writing comedy and pursuing a career in screenwriting. What made you leave the classroom and move deeper into writing for television?


Starting the year after my MFA, I would apply for post-grad fellowships and jobs and TV writing fellowships. I was going to follow wherever yes led me. I kept getting teaching jobs and fellowships and being rejected for TV writing programs, so my dream of becoming a Creative Writing professor came true. Once I’d made it, I felt lost. Now what? Devote my life to students after being my own lowest priority for a lifetime? Tenure terrified me because it felt like it meant those years of following the yes were over. Becoming a professor was the yes I needed to follow to get to my next yes, which was comedy/writing for TV.


Your short “Bliss House” is hilarious and pulls back the layers of white fragility and politically incorrect desires. Do you see comedy as a tool to address challenging topics?


Absolutely. I’m funny… for a reason. Meaning I don’t write comedy just to be silly, I write it to connect with people who can relate and make those who think they can’t relate realize they might be wrong. By putting funny first, it’s easy to slide in something important without hitting people over the head with a message. I love that.


You’re also a stand-up comedian. Do you have any concerns about performing live with recent onstage attacks?


Nah. I’m not saying anything that makes people want to jump me. I’d like to think attackers want their impact to have an impact. I’m 5 foot tall and unknown. No one’s making a statement by tackling me.


Congratulations on your recent Emmy nomination for A Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO! What has your experience been like writing for the show? Has it been different from other writers’ rooms you’ve worked in?


Thank you. It’s my first Emmy nomination! Writing for the show is like a comedy writing boot camp. It’s the writers' room where I’m most myself because my kind of weirdness is most appreciated and valuable there. A majority of the rooms I’ve been in have been great and I’ve felt like my contributions are welcome and matter. I’m just more free in a room full of Black women comedy writers.


What suggestions do you have for others looking to build a career writing for television/film?