Sarayu R. Blue is all set to crush the mold in which we’ve been seeing South Asian women on TV, especially in comedies. The actress plays the lead role on NBC’s “I Feel Bad,” which premieres this fall.
The plot of the show revolves around the overworked mom Emet who is honestly and humorously coping with the hardships of it all. The show feels both familiar to a global audience and yet — because it’s a primetime comedy with an Indian-American woman at the forefront — it is groundbreaking. It’s helmed by producer and writer Aseem Batra. Emet isn’t a doctor or an engineer or a terrorist. She plays a video game storyboard artist who is juggling her career, her (Indian!) parents, and her own kids. She’s empathetic, strong, and relatable.
Before “I Feel Bad,” Mindy Kaling was the only actress to lead a primetime sitcom when “The Mindy Project” aired on FOX before moving to Hulu. Tiya Sircar starred in ABC’s short-lived but excellent comedy “Alex Inc.” Hannah Simone played an essential role in “New Girl,” surpassing the best friend trope to carve her own niche. Jameela Jamil currently aces her role on “The Good Place.”
Now, Blue is joining these ranks and setting her stamp in the comedy world not just as a woman of South Asian descent but as a leading lady whose character or the show isn’t bound by her culture. It is reflective of the changing times and the need for diverse representation.
Her recent work in TV shows like “No Tomorrow” and “The Real O’Neals” and this year’s hit film “Blockers” prove she is ready to slay our screens come fall. We spoke with Blue about what connected her to “I Feel Bad” and playing Emet, the slow rise of South Asian representation on TV, and what inspired her to pursue acting.
The Teal Mango: Congratulations on “I Feel Bad.” I’m so excited for everyone to see the show! It’s the first time they are seeing an Indian-American mom as a central character on primetime television. Wow. How does that make you feel?
Sarayu Blue: I’m both excited and deeply grateful. On the one hand it’s about time we saw this kind of representation, and on the other, it’s an honor to get to be doing it.
TTM: I saw the pilot screener and I thought it was so funny. What attracted you to the role of Emet? What distinguishes her from some of the other TV moms we’ve all grown to love?
Blue: I’m so happy to hear that! Honestly the minute I read the script, I felt so connected to Emet. What I love so much about her is that she’s so blatantly human. She’s kind of a disaster, and ridiculous, and can’t quite catch up with life. She represents how most of us feel.
TTM: One of my favorite things about the episode was Emet’s relationship with her parents, especially her mother. It’s so good to see Madhur Jaffrey back on my screen! Could you relate to some of the things her and Emet share?
Blue: Agreed! She is brilliant. We’re lucky to have her and I’m kind of obsessed with her. I’m glad you said that because I feel the mother-daughter relationship is such an important part of our show. It’s a complicated relationship for many of us, and Aseem has done an impeccable job writing it. I don’t know much about future episodes, but one of the things you see in the pilot is Emet starts to worry that she’s becoming her mother. Again, it’s something many of us relate to and it makes for some brilliant, and very universal, comedy.
TTM: The show comes with a strong backing, it’s produced by Aseem Batra, Amy Poehler, and Julie Anne Robinson. How does it feel to be part of a show that focuses on inclusivity in every way?
Blue: It’s incredible and incredibly important. We’ve all seen the value of representation, the value of people feeling seen. We’re finally getting the opportunity to tell the stories that have been sidelined for so long. This experience has been wonderful, collaborative, and fun every step of the way, which I think is due in a large part to this group of smart, bright people who are entirely secure in themselves. There are no egos. We’re all in this together. It’s thrilling to work on a show that makes inclusivity a priority. It makes our show stronger in every sense.
TTM: South Asian representation on TV has been slowly increasing and thanks to actors like you, we’re getting accurate, fully formed characters. Why do you think it took us so long to get to this point and where do you see it going from here?
Blue: There are many moving parts that factor into what took us so long. What I can speak to though, is why I think the change is finally happening. With social media, for example, and someone like April Reign creating movements like #OscarsSoWhite, along with more opportunities because of streaming and cable, there’s much more of a call for inclusive and diverse stories. My hope is that this new trajectory we’re on continues to grow and grow and grow. I think an enormous part of that steady growth will be continuing to create the work together, and supporting each other loudly when the work gets out there, just like you’re doing with The Teal Mango!
TTM: Your recent work in films like “Blockers” and shows like “No Tomorrow” prove you’re a comedic force. Who inspired you growing up, especially to pursue work in this career, considering there might not have been many brown faces on TV before.
Blue: That is so kind of you. Thank you. It’s an interesting question because you’re right, there were not many brown faces at all. I think the inspiration really came from my parents. Both my parents are storytellers with stellar comedic timing, and acting has always felt like a version of that to me. The fact that I have so adamantly pursued this career likely comes from them too. We’re a stubborn bunch.
TTM: I know “I Feel Bad” comes out early October, but what are some of your other projects you’re excited about?
Blue: Well, I’m working on a top-secret animated series where I get to play the evil boss, which is pretty fabulous. But I’m not allowed to say what it is or who it’s for yet, so for now, I guess just “I Feel Bad”!
NBC’s “I Feel Bad” premieres on October 4 at 9.30/8.30c with a special preview set for September 19 at 10/9c.