Jenelle Williams is a creator with endless talents, including writing, directing, producing, and acting. The LA-based multi-hyphenate honed her skills in television writing rooms and film sets over the past few years. Now, she’s bringing those many talents to her latest project, Car Therapy, a digital comedy series she is writing, directing, and producing.
After a sneak preview of an episode premiered at New York’s Newfest film festival, I had a chance to talk with Williams about the series. Check out the interview below. Then, watch Car Therapy here and donate via the GoFundMe page to finance future film festivals and promotion efforts!
1. Car Therapy is a digital comedy series about Nikki, a college therapist who starts moonlighting as a rideshare app driver to make ends meet during the pandemic — and ends up giving impromptu therapy sessions to a rotating cast of eccentric passengers. What was the inspiration for this concept?
I’ve been toiling with a concept around therapy in a car for years. Some of the most important conversations of my life have been in a car. That’s also where I’ve done most of my own therapy sessions during the pandemic!
I also used to do Uber when I first moved out to LA and have my share of stories and character inspirations. The pandemic gave me the perfect tie-in on why a therapist would be driving other people around and I just went with it!
2. Your series has an impressive cast with a ton of professional comedians and talented actors. How did you put this cast together and what were some of your goals and priorities that went into the decisions behind who you cast for each role?
Fortunately for me, I personally know most of this cast. I know a lot of comedians (being in the comedy space myself) and one of the big things that I looked for when finding my cast was natural comedic timing. Since we were working with a tight budget and not a lot of time, I needed someone who would get the character and bring it to life in as short an amount of filming time as possible.
Some of these talented actors we hope to be long-time collaborators with, but I think natural comedic timing will always be at the top of our list moving forward. The natural flow of the actors on set was top tier!
3. Last month, an episode of Car Therapy premiered at Newfest, New York’s LGBTQ Film Festival. Can you talk a bit about that episode?
“Uncoupling” is honestly my favorite episode. The comedians that played T and La’Daria were comedic gold and they have built in chemistry and timing since they are good friends in real life. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. They played a lesbian couple with some very toxic traits coming from both sides and we see their long, awkward journey home after a night of libations.
4. A major theme of this series is mental health, specifically mental health in the Black community. How do you approach the topic in Car Therapy? What are some of the key messages you hope audiences take away from your show?
It is a central focus in concept since the lead actress is playing a therapist, but lightly touched in the series as subject matter. Each episode is treated more as a conversation between strangers- because that’s sometimes how we get those important life messages.
I’ve had countless angels come to me in the form of a stranger or acquaintance with an encouraging word or even life changing advice. The goal is for the series to start conversations surrounding mental health and encourage folks to seek out therapy if it benefits them (and it will because the whole world needs therapy!).
5. Sticking with that topic of mental health in the Black community: According to the American Psychiatric Association, only about 33% of African Americans who need mental health care receive it. In addition to a lack of access, part of the reason for this disparity is a stigma associated with mental illness and a general distrust of the health care system. In what ways does Car Therapy challenge that stigma and reframe the conversations Black people have around mental health?
I notice more younger people in the black community are having open conversations on mental health and how they really feel. We are tired of giving the “I’m okay” response when that isn’t the truth. I personally believe all people of color, especially black people, should have access to free quality mental health services.
One of the great things about social media are the free resources and access to mental health organizations, therapists and psychologists, and community and support for people that may be struggling with similar things in your life. I hope that Car Therapy encourages you to seek those free and affordable mental health services or books out there and start conversations with people who are your safe space to start the journey of healing.
6. What made you want to work on a project about mental health? Is there a personal connection or experience that motivated you?
I want all of my projects to have a through-line of mental health and comedy. Those are a part of my survival kit, and I want to share with others. I truly believe laughter is good medicine and that everyone can benefit in cleaning up our mental space.
7. Filming for the series finished last year but you’re currently raising money to fund post-production. What are some of the best ways people can support this project?
The best way to contribute to Car Therapy is by donating via our GoFundMe page. Although we have wrapped post-production, film festivals are not cheap! And neither are credit card interest rates that were used to fund the rest of this project! LOL.
We want to be able to reach as many people as possible with this series, and film festivals are vital in gaining exposure. So far we have had an official selection and a semi-finalist placement in the few festivals we submitted to so far.
8. Finally, do you have an estimated release date yet? Where can viewers watch Car Therapy when it’s released?
The world premiere will be on Tony Baker’s YouTube channel on Christmas Eve!