Knowing More About Bilal Baig, Lead of CBC’s New Series Sort Of22.10.2021
Kind Of star Bilal Baig, co-creator of Sort Of, grew up in Mississauga. They had one weapon against bullies: their senses of humor. They say that middle school was the first time they discovered that they can make people laugh. “This helped them stop laughing at me and instead laugh at what I was trying to impersonate or poke fun at. That was a powerful way to get through middle school. It can be very hard to survive there.”
Although performing may have been difficult, the writing was always easy. Their first play, Achabacha, was published in 2018. Baig and Fab met while they were working together on a play. They discussed the possibility of collaborating. What about a television show featuring a South Asian female character? Baig asked Filippo why he was doing this. “Why should I do it with you?” After being disappointed by the racist and transphobic micro-aggressions that rife within theatre, Baig asked Filippo: “Why?” He was determined to make sure that Filippo, a white cis-het man, was the right partner and wasn’t going down the road. They recall that they needed to understand where Filippo’s heart was in storytelling and “what vulnerabilities he was bringing to the table so that I wasn’t the only one pouring out his emotions.” Filippo was going through his own transition as he navigated his 15-year marriage.
Baig states, “That allowed us to really examine the characters as they went through transition, and although those transitions were quite distinct, it was an exciting experience.” It becomes less scary if we apply the word transition to everyone. It’s not a negative word. It’s beautiful.
Together, the pair created Sort Of, a CBC and HBO Max original series debuting in Canada beginning October 5 on CBC Gem (CBC’s streaming service) that focuses on Sabi Mehboob, a reserved, stylish nanny-slash-bartender juggling cheating boyfriends, problematic bosses, concerned Pakistani parents, and a potential move to Berlin–all delivered with the same deadpan humour that saved Baig in the schoolyard. The show celebrates Sabi’s everyday life, which is a great pleasure in a media landscape that is full of trans and BIPOC trauma.
“It is not their brownness or transness that keeps them awake at night. Is it the children good? What is the bar I set for myself?” Baig asks, “Am I being kind to my friends?” “That’s the spirit of the show. “Who are we?”
A cast of trans, queer, and non-binary actors bring the bits to life. Whether Sabi crashes into a fence after an incontinence, or their bestie condemning Sabi’s ex’s “stupid cisnormie boners”, and reflecting on how small-minded they were in high school, like GO Training to the Eaton Centre was broadening the horizons the humour feels real, authentic, and both local and universal. Baig already gets the Emmy for the delivery of their post-breakup line: “I’m going to steal the baby they hope will give them purpose, and sell it on black market.”
Baig states that transgender and nonbinary people are rarely funny. They’re just being themselves, not a joke.
The American version of Sort Of will be shown on HBO Max. It has also been picked up internationally. It will be shown on screens in the UK and Australia as well as Denmark, Norway and Sweden, Finland and Iceland. The series will also be broadcast on CBC TV starting November 9th at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT).
Filippo hopes that this show will spark real change. Everything is changing and shifting. He says that some people instinctively want to be hardened. “I hope this show might soften people,” Baig says. However, even if the show isn’t renewed, it has been a wonderful experience to produce this work.
Baig states, “What I really wanted to do was be in the service of a story that was going be told truthfully and capture memories that are familiar to me. But I feel like the media haven’t created the space for that yet.” They smile.