There’s a moment, forever stamped into history, when redheads became “gingers” and coupled with their pale skin and/or freckles, they became synonymous with being soulless.
November 9, 2005, South Park aired the now-legendary “Ginger Kids” episode. It was the shot heard ‘round the world for crimson-haired youths on playgrounds everywhere. Since then, they’ve had to fight extra hard to be accepted and put up with more teasing than the kid who crapped his pants on the monkey bars that one time.
Elisabeth Ness, creator of the YouTube series Redheads Anonymous is going to great lengths (and even better humor) to change your thoughts on redheads though — or at least, to give you reason to tease them less? As the star and co-writer of this acclaimed series, Elisabeth’s character Molly recruits her fellow coppertops to join her in a quest to find out what it means to be red. And the rest of us get to tag along for a ride that is both sharp and sweet.
Genuinely funny, the series also carries a serious note as it subtly reminds us that bullying redheads is still bullying. Recently accepted into the Raindance Film Festival and the Miami Web Fest, Redheads Anonymous should be a stop on your daily tour of the web. And because we’re just as guilty of making ginger jokes as you are, we decided to ask Elisabeth a few questions about what it means to be red. As it turns out, she has a pretty terrific sense of humor about the whole thing.
What’s the best thing about having red hair?
Elisabeth: Red hair is caused by a mutation of a gene called MC1R. So technically (although we try to keep this info under wraps) redheads are mutants – and red hair is our superpower!
Science has yet to figure out, however, whether that explains why we are so impressively represented amongst celebrities, historical power players, and angry comics. But I will say, it’s nice to be able to spot someone from across the room, or to tell a stranger you need to meet up with: “You’ll have no problem spotting me; I’m the redhead.”
How much did that infamous “Gingers don’t have souls” South Park episode set back the “redhead cause”?
Although I cringed at some of the jokes, I thought they did a terrific job of using an otherwise-innocuous minority as a way to illustrate how discrimination and dangerous demagogues can flourish. Comedy can be uncomfortable and scary sometimes – often when it’s at its most powerful. So we felt that the best thing for us redheads to do in response was to take ownership of the stereotypes offered, and put our own spin on them.
But seriously, did you have a lot of anger over that?
Well, you know what they say about a redhead’s temper…! A bunch of our website’s survey respondents expressed frustration with the insults and stereotypes that became popular after that episode aired. I’ll set the record straight right now: redheads do have souls. In fact, we earn a freckle for every soul we steal.
At what point did you decide that redheads needed a series?
Probably the point at which I realized that actors today are taking matters into their own hands and creating great comedic series – and that somehow, I rarely get to work with other redheads! (I even know of instances where a redheaded actress was informed that she would not be cast because another redheaded actress was already signed to the project in a different role, and that having two redheads might become confusing for audiences).
I started researching for possible redhead-related plots and found the Redhead Scholarship — which was just begging to be used in a comedy — and Tim Minchin’s “Prejudice” and Catherine Tate’s “Ginger Refuge,” which proved that one could make deeper, more complex social commentary while mining the subject for comedy gold. With exciting web shows being created by everyone from Felicia Day to Issa Rae to Amy Poehler, it seemed like a good time to be taking to the web with our uniquely-redheaded experiences.
Do you have to endure a lot of the “firecrotch” comments as well? What’s been the worst thing anyone’s ever said?
I have yet to meet a redheaded woman who hasn’t been asked, “Does the carpet match the drapes?” or some equally asinine and inappropriate question. What I didn’t realize before I wrote and shot Episode 3 (Red Head Redemption), though, is that redheaded men get asked it, too. Either way, the responses that people give are enough to fill its own series. (A spin-off, perhaps?)
What advice would you give to redheads (or anyone, really) suffering from bullying?
In survey and interview responses from people who had been bullied, an interesting theme popped up: they felt it had helped shape who they are as adults. Many of those respondents feel they are more justice-minded, have a deeper sense of empathy, and a more grounded sense of self as a result of their experiences; they credit them for highlighting who their true friends are, and helping them find their inner strength.
Knowing that situations are impermanent, and that things get better, is crucial in tough times. None of us, as teens, could have imagined that rather than minimizing attributes that make us different, as adults we’d want to embrace – and often enhance – our unique traits! If you’re having trouble seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, we’ve linked to a bunch of anti-bullying resources at the end of Episode 3… and of course, you can always make friends with us. (Or your sunscreen. Since it’s always got your back.)
Is there actually a scholarship for redheads? And did you ever benefit from it?
There is, in fact, a Redhead Scholarship! My jaw dropped when I found it online: www.scholarshipred.com. It sadly didn’t exist yet when I was applying to school.
Thankfully, the scholarship’s creator had no problem with my taking creative liberties. In our show, it provides “2 years of tuition, books, and sunscreen.” In real life, it provides $500 and bragging rights (which may result in an eyebrow raise and “is that a thing?!”).
Are you the only redhead in your family?
I’ve got redheaded cousins, and my father used to have a slightly auburn tint to his hair – but at the moment, I’m the torchbearer in my nuclear family. I’ve found — through thewww.redheadsanonymous.com surveys, interviews, and anecdotes from redheads that I met at the Irish Redhead Convention (yes, that’s a thing) and Redhead Days in the Netherlands (not only is it a thing, it has set the Guinness World Record for a redhead gathering) — that this is not at all uncommon. Recessive genes work in not-quite-mysterious-yet-sometimes-surprising ways.
Redheads Anonymous is about the search for what it means to be a redhead. What do you think it means?
I think the concept of finding meaning in a hue of hair is quite funny — but throughout the writing and research process, I did actually come to a conclusion on the “meaning” of being a redhead. Molly reveals it at the end of Season 1 (Episode 5: Ginger Ninjas) – so you’ll have to watch to find out!
What do you have coming up? Anything you want to plug?
As if being in your computer isn’t enough, Redheads Anonymous is going on a world tour. We’re headed to London’s Redhead Day UK next on Saturday, September 12th, where I’ll be speaking, as well as conducting a Q&A that’s hopefully at least half as entertaining as the interview here. Next, we screen at three festivals: Raindance Web Fest in London (Sept. 25-27) where we’re nominated for the Raindance Discovery Award, ITV Fest in Vermont (Sept. 24-27) where we’ll do a Q&A, and Miami Web Fest (Sept. 28-Oct. 4) where I’m honored to be nominated for Best Actress. Thus, we continue our not-so-secret goal of redhead world domination!