An Interview With the Queen of Geek: Felicia Day
Geek & Sundry founder and New York Times bestselling author Felicia Day is always a popular guest at conventions. Her honest nerdiness and call for us to “Embrace [Our] Weird” speaks to geeks in a genuine way and brings flocks of fans out for a chance to meet her. Recently, I managed to keep my inner fangirl in check long enough to sit down with the Queen of Geek at Dragon Con for an informal press conference, which consisted of just two reporters (Will from GeekDad and myself), so we pulled some chairs around campfire-style and had a conversation.
Given the outcry from fans and critics about the treatment of female characters on Supernatural, I couldn’t resist getting her take on her character Charlie’s recent, violent end. So, I decided to start things by asking how she feels about the outcry, and if Charlie’s departure from the show was her idea:
Felicia Day: No, it wasn’t my idea, but, like, being someone who’s in front of and behind the camera I have to obviously understand the need for a show to run the way a show needs to run. I mean, of course as an actor was like, ‘Oh, I’m sad because I love being part of that family for 4 years’ but I can’t begrudge anyone who wants to kill me off. I’m kind of the Sean Bean of women now. I’m being killed by the best, so I try to look at it like it’s a compliment, in a way.
You know, I would love—personally, I love to see more diversity on television and whatever. Behind and in front of the camera. So, I mean, I hope for this next season for Supernatural that they introduce more women characters or diverse characters because I think Sam and Dean need, I think they need to be supported and I’d love to see them supported more. I loved the fact that Charlie supported them and made them, you know, they formed a little bit of a family together. So, I’m excited to see what they come up with, and I can be sad that I don’t get to go and work on that wonderful set anymore, but I have to completely trust that the writers are doing the best they can do with the tools that they have and all the characters they have.
The Mary Sue: I’m pretty sure the fans are never going to let Charlie go.
Day: And that’s a beautiful thing! It really is a testament to the writing. Robbie Thompson wrote every episode, except the last one, that I was in, and he really created a character that- It’s very hard to create a character that instantly the fans like. Especially that fan base. The Supernatural fan base is very protective of their lore and their characters and to be welcomed into that family was amazing. I mean, what do you do? It’s on to the next job! (laughing)
TMS: Well, what is the next job?
Day: Right now I have Con Man coming out, and I’ve had to concentrate on my book for two years almost, so it’s been a really long process. I’m not the kind of person who can juggle like seven things at once. I mean, I do juggle seven things at once because I run a company and I oversee all the productions on that creatively, but like personally I can only focus on one or two things at a time creatively, that I own in a sense.
So, now that my book’s coming to a close I have a pilot that I’ve written that I’m shopping around to get made somehow and I’m definitely, once I get home, I’m going to be pretty excited about looking for new opportunities. I get offered to be on shows a lot, and now I can finally say ‘Yeah! I can now be a part of that family!’ Because you can’t really- it’s hard to cleave your attention, especially when you’re on a show that has that kind of fandom aspect. You want to belong to that one, you know? [To work on another show] feels like almost dating somebody else! (laughing)
GeekDad: Are there any shows that you like watching that you think have good, strong, female characters?
Day: Obviously, I love Amy Schumer, and I love Girls. I loved the first season of Sleepy Hollow, like, I loved [Abbie]. I felt like she’s kind of a revolutionary character in that she’s a woman and they don’t necessarily have a romantic relationship. I think getting away from women only as romantic relationships is really the key to progressing, because women can be platonic friends with guys! They can be platonic friends with women. But in TV land, not really.
So, I love the fact that you can have a woman who’s independent and a guy friend and that they don’t have to be romantically linked. I thought that was a great show. My favorite show lately is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, and although the female characters are pretty disempowered in that, they are- it was so artfully done as far as the character study, and they were interesting characters. His wife was an interesting character, a very strong personality, and the other woman who was captured, and I don’t want to spoil anything, but they are key to the journey at least.
Day’s autobiography, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), shot up the New York Times bestseller list almost immediately, but that hasn’t shielded it from criticism. In particular, some have questioned the validity of an autobiography written by someone so young:
Day: (laughing) A lot of people have said that, but then nobody has said that after reading the book. I mean, I think the cool part of it is that, of course, I’m much older than the YouTubers who are doing books now who are talking about their digital lives, which we’ve all grown up in this really formative time, so you can really be any age and you can offer your experience.
The coolest thing about the book is that I’ve seen so many younger girls come up to me and tell me how important and empowering the book was to them to be themselves. Especially when you’re that age, you get a lot of peer pressure to conform to this idea of femininity and how women achieve things, which is usually through likeability, and attractiveness and getting rid of the things that make you different in order to be attractive to men.
So, I think for me to empower people to be weird and not to abandon the things that make them different in order to conform is a good step forward and empowering to young girls. I guess being my age hopefully they’re able to relate to me a little bit more because I’m telling a journey that’s not 5 steps away from them. You know, they may have grown up on my work that’s like, 5 years on the internet, if they’re 10-15 and they grew up on my work (and I used to shy away from that, like ‘oh my god, I’m old!’ but not really if you think about the digital world, most of the audience is young).
So, I just hope I encourage people to be as weird as they wanna be, and don’t get rid of the things that make them special. Especially conforming to what the stereotypes of the world are telling us to be, which are not accurate.
GD: Was there any one thing that made you want to do the book now?
Day: I had, I think I describe this in the book, I had a very bad nervous breakdown physically and mentally. I really had a horrible time and I almost didn’t come out of it in a lot of ways. I almost quit. There were a lot of branching story lines that I could have followed in the RPG of my life, and because I decided to stick with it I was able to emerge from it, I think, a much stronger person. I really did want to relay some of those things that I learned to help other people if they find themselves in that lost place.
I wanted to make people laugh, because I love Tina Fey and I love Mindy Kaling and I love their biographies, and I knew I wanted to do something like that but at the same time I really wanted it to mean something to somebody else so that—you know, our creativity isn’t about ourselves, it’s about other people, and our life journey’s should be about sharing our experience with other people and helping to steer their lives in small ways or large. We’re not about ourselves; we’re about what we express and how we affect others.
If you think about life like that, it’s important to get your voice out there. Because I had gone through very many traumatic things that I wish I had known or wish somebody had shown me an example of so that it would have occurred to me during the journey, ‘oh, you could have just done this!’ Cause we have blinders on a lot in life, and the more you could see different representations, the more you have possibilities for yourself and hopefully there are a couple of nuggets in my book that open doors for people that wouldn’t have occurred to them before.
TMS: So, you mentioned the RPG of your life, how many games do you actually get a chance to play, and which ones do you love?
Day: Well, the good thing is that I fell in love with Twitch Streaming last year, it’s almost been a year exactly that I started playing, and I actually started playing for myself only. Nothing to do with my company, nothing to do with anything business wise, I just needed to do something for myself that got me back to my roots of what I love, which is just talking to a small community online.
Out of that, I was so inspired by the community-building aspects of that platform, because on YouTube it felt like I was diving into a pool, where there was a lot of beautiful fish, but there were a lot of piranhas too, and there’s no way to sort of get rid of the piranhas. No one’s really empowered with the tools on that platform to really craft a community that anybody you meet in the comments, you’d want to meet in person. And Twitch does have those.
So I love the idea in logging on I see the same people over and over, and I wanted to extend that to my company, because that’s really what I wanted to start the company for: I wanted to have a community-building aspect where people who love The Guild could continue with my work in other areas and stay together, you know, keep the family together. YouTube just didn’t provide that for a lot of reasons, so to me I turned that into a whole business for Geek and Sundry, in that we stream like six days a week and it’s really awesome, but I still do my own stuff, so I try to stream like twice a week for myself. Which is really fun, once with my brother and once with me.
And then when I get really stressed out, I play video games, so lately I’ve been playing The Witcher 3 which has some very interesting storytelling, but I really love it, you know, the quests and everything and the transportation system is so efficient! Like it should be a standard cause you don’t have to waste time. You get on your horse, you can fast travel, it’s like, ‘wow, why did I ever commute in a video game!?’ (laughter) So, I love that.
And I’m a big fan of indie games, and I love to champion them. Kickstarter games like Pillars of Eternity or Wasteland and things like that. I love story based role-playing games. Like, I love the Telltale Games cause again, it’s story based. And a lot of indie games have a lot of story to them, or ambiance that’s really unique and I, you know, if you’re a lone developer in Sweden and I can play your game and can get 10 more people to play I feel like ‘Oh, I’m doing good for the world!’
TMS: Do you ever get to play any tabletop games?
Day: You know, when I was in town more, I have a monthly game. My brother comes out every month and a half to play and record Co-Optitude, which is a show I do with him just for fun on YouTube, and every time he’d come out I’d have board game night. So, I’d invite all my friends over and we’d play. I love board games. That’s not something I’ve ever loved before I started doing Tabletop with Wil [Wheaton].
He really introduced me to this whole world, and the fact that his enthusiasm made me enthusiastic, which made me enthusiastic to share it with everybody, was really kind of a big driving force within the last couple years of my life. So, to discover all these amazing games and to have this thing that brings friends together, and screaming at people not to get pizza grease on your pieces, ‘Sleeve that card!!’ you know?
TMS: I’ve so been there!
Day: Yeah, exactly! Like, it’s the funnest ever! I think it’s hard to justify, you know, ‘hey we’re getting together and just hanging out with friends.’ I don’t really see the point some times with that, but then we have a game we can focus on, then that’s … maybe that’s just me!
GD: Who’s more fun to beat at a game, Wil or [your brother] Ryan? Cause you beat both of them pretty regularly …
Day: Um, yeah, I beat both of them (laughing). I mean, it’s fun to beat my brother because, you know, I’ve been beating him up all my life, and he’s very, like, he’s not a very competitive person. So, um, Wil treats me like a little sister some times, and I really love that. I’m the kind of person who likes to fight really hard, so very often his skill is very very high but when I can slip around and sort of, like, *pop* surprise him from the back of his head. That makes me feel like an annoying little sister bothering her older brother, so I guess beating Wil is pretty fun cause I’m not as used to it (laughing). It’s a bigger victory.
TMS: It’s still shiny, and new?
Day: It is, exactly! Cause he can fend me off!
TMS: A bit off-topic, but I’m personally just horrible at first person shooters. I’m so very bad at them that we recorded my friend and I playing Halo because it’s just hilarious. Like stairs are the enemy for me …
Day: I don’t know why games became associated with FPS. I mean, that’s really what drives a lot of the, ‘you’re not a gamer’ thing. I don’t understand, because there are so many different kinds of games, and that wasn’t the original kind, you know, it’s a type of game. But why that became the definitive sort-of, ‘This is the architecture of gaming, everything else is other.’
It doesn’t make sense to me, and it’s actually really myopic and ignorant in a sense because, I mean, you can’t just say that one type of media is TV, like, ‘Oh, it’s only one-hour dramas that are not genre that’s TV and everything else is crap.’ No. There’s all sorts of TV, and that’s what I really like to see, is that different kinds of games can be equally lauded, not to define a gamer as being good at headshotting someone.
TMS: Like, when the statistic came out that women are huge gamers and people kept saying that it’s not real games? Especially cell phone games, they’re like, ‘You’re just playing Candy Crush, that’s not the same!’
Day: How is it that much different? It’s still a game. It’s very easy to define gameplay, and that’s a game. Well, it’s just a way for people to own, to cling to their definition and I guess their superiority and defining the world of games, but pretty soon it’s going to be a moot point because pretty soon, like you said, there’s so many more women playing games that it just can’t even be an exception. And I’d love that to be what would happen with, like, female directors, [where] there’s just so many female directors that we don’t need to point it out anymore.
TMS & Day: Soooooon! (laughing)
Day: I think way less soon than gamers!
GD: What’s your favorite thing you’ve learned on The Flog, of all the things you’ve learned?
Day: Oh, that’s a good question! Um, let’s see… I loved blacksmithing because it was dangerous, and I really liked making things. That’s a kind of satisfying thing, but I just recently did a pole dancing class, which has a lot of views for the obvious YouTube reason (laughing), but at the same time was really fun! Like, it was really, it was way more fun because I loved the merry-go-round at playgrounds, and it was really like, ‘oh no, this is a safe place where you can just have fun and not feel like you’re being sexual or dirty or trying to entire someone else.’
It’s not about other people; you can actually have sexuality for yourself. Which is not something that’s a foreign concept to me, but in actuating that, it’s like, ‘hey, I’m just gonna have fun for me; this is not about you!’ And a lot of that is what we live with everyday. Like, we feel responsible for our sexuality because of the way it affects other people, and I think that’s really stupid because we shouldn’t say that we’re enticing that other person, because really they should have control of themselves. They’re just as much of an adult, and I shouldn’t have to curb all of my behavior based on their inability to curb theirs.
TMS: I think that’s a basic concept that can be applied to pretty much everything…
Day: Pretty much everything, yeah, but unfortunately it isn’t. People don’t get that for some reason. But anyway, yeah, it was fun. It was fun to spin around and get sick on the pole.
GD: It’s really kind of amazing that in especially that episode you can watch, in such a short amount of time, can watch you go through being really, super uncomfortable in the beginning…
Day: Yeah! I was, I was!
GD: And then at the end you were like “This was super awesome, and I want to do it again!”
Day: Yeah, it’s good! I went in with this preconceived notion that was not necessarily what my experience would be, and that’s kind of what I wanted to do with the show. Like, I hope to bring it back again next year in another limited run, because that’s more doable for my schedule, but like each one of those things is like opening a door for myself but also hopefully opening doors for other people. I mean, why not try a pole dancing class?
Why not, indeed?! Have you been inspired by the lovely Felicia Day? Let us know in the comments!
(Photo via Felicia Day on Facebook)
Eris Walsh (@SheGeeksBlog) is obsessed with Batman, Neil Gaiman, chemistry, Doctor Who, and baseball. She also enjoys scouring conventions for fantastic examples of cosplay craftsmanship and discussing role-playing games (both table top and LARP), comics, movies, etc. with other enthusiasts. Eris can also be found on her blog She-Geeks, where she writes about geek stuff; On Comicosity, where she posts comic book reviews; and on the Krewe du Who community webpage, where she posts weekly reviews of current Doctor Who episodes.
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