Following in the footsteps of Laverne Cox and Jamie Clayton, transgender actress Shakina Nayfack will soon be making her television debut. A performance artist and theater veteran, Nayfack will have a recurring role in the second season of Hulu comedy "Difficult People."
The series, about two best friends who are, well, "difficult people," was created by Julie Klausner and includes Amy Poehler among its executive producers. Klausner plays Julie Kessler, one half of the central duo, and Billy Eichner plays male lead Billy Epstein. Both characters are aspiring comedians who are having a hard time getting their careers off the ground.
Nayfack has been cast as Lola, a "trans truther" and "radical trans activist" who works at D’s Café alongside Billy and Matthew (played by Cole Escola).
“It’s funny, because she is sort of an inflated version of me,” Nayfack told NBC OUT. This, however, is not surprising given Nayfack helped create the role.
“Julie and Scott King, who is the showrunner, wanted to bring on a transgender actor who could help them develop the role, so I worked with them. They sent me copies of the scripts in advance, and then we had a discussion about the character,“ she added.
“When you are trying to create a comedic character who [is] in a minority position, you want to make sure that the humor is laughing with, not laughing at. We worked together to identify the right kind of language that would be cutting edge and progressive humor and not relying on stereotypes."
While the “Difficult People” team had Nayfack’s guiding hand in developing the character, she said Lola is just as flawed as the others.
“She’s just like everyone else on the show is, totally blind to their own ... narcissism. She sees herself as the political correctness police – except that she’s just as offensive as everyone else.”
Nayfack said she worked with the team to ensure the character of Lola was developed with appropriate knowledge of the transgender community and did not reinforce "old tropes of trans representation."
“When you are trying to create a comedic character who [is] in a minority position, you want to make sure that the humor is laughing with, not laughing at," she explained. "We worked together to identify the right kind of language that would be cutting edge and progressive humor and not relying on stereotypes."
Nayfack may be new to television, but she is a seasoned performer who has created or been a part of a number of productions, including three one-woman shows. Her latest is titled "Manifest Pussy."
“This one is the full picture. I had done two other ones – one was about my life leading up to transitioning, and the other was just about my time in Thailand immediately before, during and after the [gender confirmation] surgery. This show puts them both together, so you get the full picture.”
Her most recent show incorporates a new thread: spirituality. "I think it’s really important LGBT people feel welcome to a spiritual relationship when so many organized religions are excluding us from the conversation." Plus, she added, "there's nothing more subversive than being a tatted up trans woman talking about Jesus on stage."
In addition to being a seasoned performer, Nayfack is also a seasoned activist. When the North Carolina "bathroom bill" caused several musicians and theater productions to leave the state, for example, Nayfack decided on a different course of action. She crowdfunded a tour with her band and went straight for the Tar Heel State.
"When shows like ‘Wicked’ and ‘West Side Story’ refused their rights to be done in North Carolina, I thought it was adding insult to injury," Nayfack explained. "First LGBT people have to deal with a discriminatory law, and then these pieces of theater that could actually help change hearts and minds could no longer be done."
To see the seasoned performer and transgender activist in action, watch Nayfack's debut on "Difficult People," which begins its second season July 12 on Hulu.