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'Urban Teach Now,' Crowdfunding TV Comedy Pilot, Examines Class, Race

The currently crowdfunding series, the brainchild of Soojeong "SJ" Son and Ginny Leise," is based on Son's time in Teach for America.
SJ Son and Ginny Leise are currently crowdfunding a TV pilot called "Urban Teach Now."
SJ Son and Ginny Leise are currently crowdfunding a TV pilot called "Urban Teach Now."

The story of a privileged teacher going into a disadvantaged neighborhood and winning hearts and minds isn’t new, but "Urban Teach Now," a new project currently crowdfunding, seeks to flip the trope, examine racial and class issues, and find some comedy along the way.

"Urban Teach Now," the brainchild of comedians Soojeong "SJ" Son and Ginny Leise, centers on the character of Eunice Son, "an achievement-obsessed recent grad, who joins a non-profit teaching program after being rejected from her dream job on Wall Street,” according to the project’s Kickstarter page. The project is raising funds cover an on-location cast and crew and editing for a TV pilot.

The project is inspired by Son’s actual experiences working in New Orleans as part of Teach for America, a program that places recent college grads as teachers in economically depressed areas.

Son says part of the impetus for the show would be to showcase an Asian female character that was more than just a background actor.

“I want to see a difference in the way Asian females are portrayed, and in particular, what I’ve been seeing is the trope of the silent Asian female,” Son told NBC News. "And 'Silent Asian' — it’s not new, I’ve seen a ton of it before, and Asians who literally they cannot talk because [writers] think they cannot speak English."

The creators, who style themselves as the comedy team “SJ&GINNY,” have gained a reputation for creating subversive work. Last year, a video by the team that satirized street harassment went viral.

Leise and Son said they were also tired of the damsel-in-distress roles they were typically seeing in film projects.

"As women we don’t get to play much layered roles. I joke about it, but I’ve [played] a rape victim so many times and it’s really boring,” Son said.

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Son and Leise hope the show’s characters challenges stereotypes in more ways than one. According to Leise, the fictional Son will be flawed.

“I'm obsessed with seeing women play unlikeable characters, particularly protagonists [as] unlikeable characters. I think SJ had such a good idea of making Eunice so hatable, and lovable, relatable, all rolled into one, and I’m so excited to shoot this performance,” Leise told NBC News.

The project takes on a variety of themes and topics, including race, class, and privilege, but at it’s heart is about the growing pains of a young person thrown into a new, demanding locale.

"I just wanted to highlighted the comedy and satirize the funny parts of being a young twenty-something teacher,” Son said.

Son and Leise met in 2011 after taking comedy classes at The Pit in New York City. The pilot for the pair reflect a growing ambition to branch out into more polished work. But for now, the two are keeping their focus first getting "Urban Teach Now" made.

“Before we can even wrap our head slowly around the next step of where to bring it, what we want from it, we just want to make something fantastic," Leise said.

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