There’s entertainment–and then there is raw, authentic wit, that is unwavering and refuses to be watered down to meet the standards of the masses. Chandra Russell’s South Side is comedy at its most authentic. One of Comedy Central’s newest shows, South Side is a hilarious series set (and filmed) in Chicago’s Englewood community. Over the past several years a lot has been said about Chicago–most of it negative. Instead of internalizing the bad, Russell along with series creators Bashir Salahuddin and Diallo Riddle wanted to turn their lens on the city and all of its flair, depth and character.
For Russell a native of Chi City–authenticity above everything was paramount. Her character, Sergeant Turner, is a no-nonsense police officer who is about herself, her money and living her very best life even if it’s at the expense of her straight-laced Bolingbrook-raised partner, Officer Goodnight (Salahuddin). (If you’re from the suburbs you aren’t from Chicago. Full Stop.)
Sargent Turner is witty, unapologetic and Chicago AF–which is why Chicagoans have so much love for her and South Side. Ahead of this week’s episode titled, “Mongolian Curly” which was written by Russell–she sat down to chat with STYLECASTER about bringing her city to the small screen the right way and why “Mongolian Curly” is a love letter to Black women.
“We’ve certainly been burned,” Russell laughed reflecting on how Chicago has been depicted in Hollywood. “We’ve been burned before. I heard about [South Side] and got involved in the show in its infancy. When I first heard about it, I was excited. I was excited about the prospect of doing a show in Chicago. The plan was always to film in the city for real, not film in LA and call it Chicago–but to really be on the South Side. It was always just really exciting for me.”
It was important for Russell, Salahuddin, and Riddle as well as their writer’s room–that natives of The Chi could pinpoint certain landmarks and nuances that are uniquely a part of the city’s fabric. “There’s just certain things that are synonymous with Chicago, particularly the South Side,” the New York University alum reflected. “Harold’s [Chicken Shack], that’s an easy, quick one. You know people are going to want to see Harold’s. There are certain phrases like ‘juking’ that only we say. But in terms of keeping it authentic, I think what made it really easy for us was just making sure that the people behind and in front of the camera were from Chicago. The writer’s room was 90% from Chicago and primarily from the South Side, but there’s a guy from the West Side and a guy from the North Side. So it wasn’t really hard to be authentic when you have all these people who were steeped in Chicago culture, who are super excited about writing this show about a city that they love.”
With the texture and foundation the show firmly in place–it allowed Russell to step into Sargent Turner’s combat boots and soar. “I just wanted to create somebody cool who was tough,” she quipped. “I feel like a lot of Chicago girls– we are tough but at the same time– Midwestern. I wanted to do a character that had a bit of both. One of my favorite things about [Turner] is you’ll see Goodnight asks her over and over like, ‘Whose side are you on?’ And always, the first thing she says is, ‘Mine.’ And that was really important for me because I feel like as women–we’re always socialized to put everybody before our needs. I wanted to write a woman character that was like, ‘No, I’m doing my best to put myself first in a society that tells me I should not be doing that.’ Sargent Turner’s vulnerable and you see that as the season goes on. You see her faced with insecurities, but you also see her working really hard to sustain this confidence and this strength because that’s how she wants to present herself.”
In “Mongolian Curly,” the episode that Russell wrote, the audience learns a bit more about Sargent Turner’s past. “I really wanted to talk about [Black women],” she explained. “It was therapeutic for me because I wanted to talk about a space where I personally have had tons of insecurities. When it comes to beauty, it’s just exhausting because there are so many things to worry about. For me, hair has always been a major thing. I always felt like if I had thicker hair or long hair, this world of confidence would open up to me, and I would be this different, beautiful Amazon woman. That’s very, very dangerous. I think that episode definitely was born out of that space of insecurity. Also, I feel like the world turns us against each other as women all the time, particularly women of color. There’s a point in the episode where it’s like, ‘Why are we fighting over these dudes nobody wants anyway.’”
In addition to unpacking beauty and how it’s defined by Black women– “Mongolian Curly” also addresses the vast gentrification that is overwhelming Chicago. “The city is bleaching itself,” Russell explained. “Every time I go back, it feels like white gentrifiers are moving further and further South and West. People are getting pushed into suburbs that don’t have any public transportation– no jobs. And then when these people start to commit crimes and sell drugs, everybody’s going to be like, ‘It’s because they’re people of color.’ No, it’s because you put them in places where they have nothing else to do.”
Up next– Russell wants to continue to tell authentic and relatable stories about hometown, but she also has a female-focused project up her sleeve. “I definitely would love to do a season two of South Side,” she said. “That would be great … A lot more stories to tell in that area. Also, with my two writing partners that I went to NYU with– the girls that I did Downtown Girls with, we’re developing some stuff right now. I can’t really talk too much about it, because the papers are not signed. But I certainly want to do a show with those girls. It’s very, very woman forward and high comedy; I Love Lucy type stuff.”
South Side airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central.