We partnered with New Form Digital to celebrate the release of a new comedy-meets-sci-fi web series, Miss 2059, which you can watch for free on the go90 app. Read on for an interview with the creator and star, Anna Akana!
When I learned that I would be interviewing Anna Akana—comedian, actress, producer, YouTuber, and star of the new web series Miss 2059—a surge of anxiety wound its way up my spine and into the part of my brain responsible for, “WTF, I’M MEETING A CELEB!!!!” But sitting across from Anna in a restaurant booth in New York City, that nervousness disappeared. Anna cheerfully chatted with me about Miss 2059, which she wrote and stars in. It’s a sci-fi adventure set in deep space, where two polar-opposite sisters—the straight-laced space cadet Arden and the beauty queen Victoria, played by Anna—put their differences aside to represent/save humanity in an intergalactic tournament. With our tushes comfortably planted on Earth, Anna and I talked about fame, humor, trusting yourself and your vision, and how feminism has always been a no-brainer for her. —Alyson Zetta
ALYSON ZETTA: The subject of this series is the relationship between two sisters and how they tackle life’s struggles—and, you know, aliens—differently. Your character’s sister is very powerful, very strong—almost immortal. You’ve been very open about your sister Kristina’s suicide when she was 13. Has creating this series clarified any feelings about her, or given you a deeper understanding of her?
ANNA AKANA: A lot of the stuff I write is very sibling-based because of my past. It isn’t something I realize I am writing about until afterward, and I’m like, Oh, yeah, this is very obvious that that’s what I’m doing. If I had to look at the series in the sense of how much of me is in it, and how much of Kristina is in it, Kristina is definitely Victoria, and I’m definitely Arden. Growing up, I was always the oldest child, with responsibility to deal with many things and always listen to what I was told. She was the one who was always wandering off in a grocery store and no one could find her for half an hour. Or just going off and making friends with strangers. She was very comfortable with herself; she was beautiful and giving and generous and intelligent. Those aspects of her, specifically, I always really admired and wanted for myself. So, yeah, unfortunately, I am the Arden! [Laughs] Because Arden is such a stick in the mud. But the show definitely mirrors our relationship quite a bit.
I had this idea that maybe she was Arden?
No, unfortunately, that’s me. [Laughs]
The show has sci-fi undertones—or maybe I should say overtones. When did you get into the genre?
My parents are both gamers. My dad loves Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek, so I kind of just always had grown up watching that kind of stuff. We never really liked the same things. I was always more Star Wars, they were more Star Trek. I hated Battlestar Galactica. But I think being able to watch stuff through that lens made me realize that Oh, sci-fi is such a great medium to tell stories! And I love the makeup aspect of it. Spending half the day—six hours—to make someone look like an alien, is such a beautiful and crazy thing that you don’t really see anywhere else.
I am always interested to know how someone becomes successful at what they do; as in, the events leading up to it. What were you like in high school?
I was part of drama [club]. Our school was very segregated by race.
Yeah, shocking for it having been 2007 but it was still a thing! I was with an Asian group, I had my drama club people, I had a very close group of friends who I actually still see now every couple months. But it was weird. High school was very…disturbing.
Did you have any life plans at the time?
Yeah! I actually thought I was going to be a Marine Corps officer, for, like, my whole life. My dad and his dad were both Marine Corps officers. In terms of being the oldest, I wanted to keep the tradition. So, I always thought I was going to be a pilot in the Marine Corps, and it turned out that my eyesight [wouldn’t pass the eye exam]. So I thought, Maybe I’ll go into veterinary school? I took an organic chemistry class and was like, “I don’t like this at all, I’m gonna go be a comedian.”
As a rising senior, everyone loves to ask what I’m doing with my life, and I’m just like…[Shrugs]
Uh, living it!
When watching your YouTube channel, I couldn’t help but admire—and relate to—how you address feminism and those types of topics, but your channel isn’t wholly about that. Not that it would be a bad thing if it were, but I find it interesting how your casual mentions of it make it seem like being a feminist is a no-brainer. How were you introduced to feminism and what made you comfortable expressing your opinions on it?
Feminism, in particular, was always an ideology to me that was like, “Of course women are exactly equal to men.” It isn’t until, I feel, you grow up that you have all these illusions fall away in the world as you interact with people who are so much older than you. You can see that becomes a thing that’s perpetuated. But [feminism] was just a no-brainer. Especially growing up with a mom who was very strong and a good role model for me.
What did she do?
She’s a homemaker. I give her a lot of credit—I sit at home, taking care of my five cats for a day and I go CRAZY. I’m nursing a three-week-old kitten right now, and everyone who wants to be a parent should have to nurse a baby animal. It’s so demanding. Imagine raising three of these things? My mom is also a great artist. She did lots of arts and crafts with us. She always worked jobs on the side.
There’s a huge mystery surrounding the popularity of successful YouTubers—like how you gained that success. A lot of people look at you and think, “This person—the universe just gave them a million followers!” There’s also a discussion about how many people feel there is no point in creating, especially nowadays, unless they are going to have the kind of following that you have. Being at the top, how do you feel about that?
I believe the problem is that a lot of people want to create videos for results—the followers— which is the wrong way to go about it. When I started doing it, I had a bunch of failed channels before my current one. I simply wanted to do something while I was waiting for auditions. I got very lucky. I got shout-outs from some big places like Upworthy and Huffington Post when I needed to find my voice. And I was very consistent with it. If you keep trying to produce content for other people, it becomes exhausting. You keep draining yourself without refilling yourself, which leads to mediocre content. But even before then, people will burn out and not really push themselves and their boundaries. For me, it is about making content with the desire to get better and find my comedic voice because that’s going to be more valuable to me than any following.
And granted, we do live in a saturated market. It’s 100 percent true. A lot of times, with these new social media networks, the people who plant their flag first will build the following. To me, it’s never too late. Look at Broad City. They made a couple of series on the internet—not a lot of views, but now they are on Comedy Central. It doesn’t come down to how many numbers you have, but: How good is what you’re making? How clear is your voice?
You mentioned the saturated market. As a veteran YouTuber, how do you feel about that?
I do believe that we deserve better content. A lot of the content now is clickbait-y, controversial for the sake of driving views and attention, and with little substance. I have always been an advocate of comedy with a message. Whatever I’m watching, I just want to be able to take something with me. I love it when there’s a headline I read, and that is exactly what I get out of the article or video. Nothing makes me angrier than clicking on something and having it be misleading or clickbait.
There’s definitely content that is not for me and when it has 13 million views, a part of me does die a little inside. At the same time, I have to remember that there’s something for everyone. I might not get anything out of that. My brother might watch that and now instantly know how to beat the level that he has been stuck on for two hours. As long as someone is taking something away from it and getting a piece of knowledge from a content, that’s when I’m happy.