“Beef Jerky in a Ball Gown”: The Camp Excesses of Titus Andromedon in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Carmen Dexl 1  and Katrin Horn 2
  • 1 FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg, , Erlangen, Germany
  • 2 JMU Würzburg, , Würzburg, Germany

Abstract

In this essay, we look at Titus Andromedon from the Netflix-sitcom Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (2014-) as a singular phenomenon in contemporary TV: a black queen whose use of camp distances him from stereotypes, but connects him with audiences. Titus thus not only adds to a more diverse representation of black experience on TV but also interrogates prevailing TV tropes. Titus thus presents a crucial (and critical) addition to the contemporary TV landscape, to which several TV critics in leading media outlets have recently attested a turning point in the representation-both in quantity and quality-of black characters on big and small screens. Titus breaks with historical traditions of African American representation in the sitcom, both in so-called “black sitcoms” with a majority of African American characters and in white sitcoms which have featured people of color as sidekicks. In addition, Titus picks up on gay sidekicks and their relation to female lead characters, whose dynamics are interrogated through Titus’s growing agency as a character in his own right. Titus expands on these novelties in meaningful ways, as he wholeheartedly embraces his queer identity and furthermore offers a running commentary on other characters’ “white nonsense,” thereby clearly refusing the assimilationist tendencies typical for much of “Post-Cosby”-sitcom black representation. This article therefore claims that Titus’ character relies on camp in his balancing act between comic relief, affective centering, and critical distance, and illustrates this by analyzing the specific techniques of Titus’ critical engagement with stereotypical representation of gay and black TV characters.

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