When I spoke with comedian and actor Lauren Ash, she had just left the Superstore writers’ room. Though she was just working on her first writing gig for the NBC show, Ash has starred as rigid assistant manager Dina Fox for three seasons now. Dina, a fan favorite who isn’t afraid to start fights and wield her power at a St. Louis branch of fictional megastore Cloud 9, is just one of the diverse ensemble cast of equally quirky yet all-too-realistic characters. As Newsweek wrote, no other show understands working-class Middle America quite as well.
“We all know the vigilant person like Dina who’s too by-the-book, and then there’s the person like Amy, who’s been there a really long time and is more laid-back. Everybody knows a Glenn, and everybody knows a Jonah,” Ash tells BUST. “[Superstore] is kind of a small microcosm of what the bigger country is. There are all these different types of people, but we’re all here together, so perhaps trying to maintain respect and love for one another is the least that we can do.”
If you haven’t seen Superstore, the premise is pretty similar to what you might imagine: There are recurring jokes, zany employees, and interactions with customers that will frustrate anyone who’s ever worked retail. But it isn’t all laughs and hijinks — the show tackles a myriad of current issues. Characters band together and fight for everything from affordable health care to paid maternity leave. In one episode, Mateo (Nico Santos) discovers he’s undocumented; in another, someone asks eventual teen mom Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom) if she ever considered abortion, to which she says she couldn’t get a ride to the clinic that day. “I think we’ve handled all of those things in a way that doesn’t feel condescending or like we’re telling people how they’re supposed to think,” Ash said. “Issues are broached more as reminders: these characters live in the same world as you, and here are some of the things that are happening in that world, and how they affect the people in our show.”
The sitcom is currently on its third season, which began with the Cloud 9 employees regrouping and recovering from the tornado that demolished the store at the end of season two. Dina’s character, in particular, struggles with the aftermath. “I was really interested in the storyline with her PTSD following the tornado because it let us see a different part of her, and see some vulnerability,” Ash says. “[Dina’s] not a sociopath, and I think that it could be easy to play her that way. But I’m someone who is always more interested in seeing the colors.”
And there’s a lot more to look forward to this season, too. “Amy and Dina go on a double date with some characters we haven’t met yet, and it is, in my opinion, the funniest thing thus far this season,” Ash said.
Ash previously co-starred in the Rebel Wilson TV series Super Fun Night, and has appeared in roles on shows including Call Me Fitz and Lost Girl. An alumna of both Second City Toronto and Chicago, Ash also has a pretty killer background in sketch comedy and improv. It's unsurprising she's also bringing her talents to the writers' room.
“I thought, you know, I have experience in writing, and I have some samples I could send,” she said of writing her first Superstore episode. “[The show creators] said yes, and that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t asked. It’s important to let people know you’re interested in opportunities because they might not have thought of you, or may have thought you weren’t interested. The only way you can really truly get an opportunity is to make it clear that you want one.”
As a woman in comedy, Ash knows how to be funny—but she knows serious, too. “A lot of times as women, we’re taught to be polite, be nice, that kind of thing. And I’m not saying I don’t do all those things,” she quickly clarifies. “Of course I do. But I’ve had a lot of opportunities in my life just because I asked for them.”
Of course, Hollywood is at a turning point right now. Ash and I spoke just a few days after the 2018 Golden Globes, and like many others, she wore black in support of the Time’s Up initiative and legal defense fund. One of the fund’s founding members was her Superstore co-star America Ferrera, who Ash described as her “number one source for all things political activism.” It was through Ferrera that Ash first found out about Time’s Up. “I thought it was such an amazing idea to have women in the industry speak out for women in general who are dealing with the same, if not worse situations in the workplace, and who obviously don’t have the same platform,” she said. “Throughout all of this, there’s still this movement to pit women against women—someone’s story isn’t as relevant as someone else’s, or somebody’s experience isn’t as sad as someone else’s, and I think that’s a pitfall. Because at the end of the day, we are only strong if we are together.”
Though Ash is excited about and has high hopes for the movement, she knows we all still have a long way to go. “Someone earlier in an interview asked me, ‘So, do you notice a real shift? Have things gotten better?’ And I laughed,” she said. “What you’re talking about is a systemic problem that has affected every woman from the time that they’re born, which can be exacerbated by things like race or social class, and to suggest that we do a couple things and then everything’s fixed? There is a lot of programming that needs to be done before we can even begin to get to that point. But the dialogue is open, and I don’t think that’s going to change.”
Superstore airs on NBC every Thursday at 8 p.m. EST.
Top photo via NBC / Superstore
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Lydia Wang is a writer, a Pisces, and one of BUST's digital editors. Find her on Twitter or say hi: firstname.lastname@example.org.