‘Do you come here often?’ … Ctrl Alt Delete, the comedy normalising abortion.

They have been called ‘worse than Nazis’ for their abortion-clinic comedy. But for Roni Geva and Margaret Katch, the hate pales beside the outpouring of gratitude

The makers of Ctrl Alt Delete like to say it’s a typical workplace comedy. “But not your typical workplace,” says co-creator Roni Geva. “Do you come here often?” jokes a woman in the abortion clinic waiting room in the first episode, and from that moment they’re off – in short snappy episodes, the laughs come fast in this pro-choice comedy.

At a time when the debate around abortion in the US is reaching vitriolic and absurd levels – see last month when President Trump said women were giving birth and then deciding, with their doctor, whether to “execute” the baby, and the number of states seeking to restrict abortions, including Alabama’s ban last week – it seems right for a different, more humorous and human, approach.

The second season of Ctrl Alt Delete has just started, with two episodes released each week on Vimeo. The show is based on real stories, many of which happened to Geva the day she had an abortion. So there’s the doctor, played by Ed Begley Jr, who tells bad jokes; the counsellor who also supports the zero population growth movement; and the patient who is so regular at the clinic she says they keep a chair open for her, played by Naomi Grossman who was nominated for an Emmy for the role.

Its creators, Geva and Margaret Katch, met while working for a health company in Chicago in between acting jobs. They moved to Los Angeles within months of each other and decided to create their own work. Katch suggested they write something about abortion. “And I said ‘only if it’s funny’,” says Geva.

Ctrl Alt Delete co-creators Roni Geva and Margaret Katch.
 ‘Most women we’ve talked to had zero guilt or shame about their abortions’ … Ctrl Alt Delete co-creators Roni Geva and Margaret Katch. Photograph: Josh Fingerhut

They had both terminated pregnancies years earlier. “I felt really alone when I found out I was pregnant,” says Katch. “The only stories I could find [online] were young women who were in this difficult decision, and ended up having the baby.” Katch says it wasn’t a difficult decision to choose an abortion. “That doesn’t mean the process was easy, but the decision was very clear to me right away. After the procedure I was so relieved – and there were no stories of people like me anywhere.”

Through social media, they found women all over the US to interview about their abortion experiences, and fictionalised versions make up the first season of Ctrl Alt Delete. There is the middle-aged mother of teenagers and the woman who has a one-night stand, the twentysomething whose contraception failed and the teenage girl who has a great relationship with her dad. It was important to show the range of experiences and reasons why some women decide to terminate a pregnancy, and to normalise it. “When it comes to destigmatisation of anything, comedy and storytelling have been at the forefront,” says Katch.

One of the usual narratives is that a woman who chooses an abortion must feel immense trauma, guilt and shame, but it was important to Katch and Geva to bust this trope. “Most women we talked to had zero guilt or shame and if they did, it was because other people made them feel that way,” says Katch. “Most women feel relief. That is really something we wanted to bring to light.”

They self-funded the first two episodes, then crowdfunded the rest. It was shot with an all-female crew. “There is a different energy on set when it is all women,” says Geva. “I had a couple of crew members come up to me and say ‘it is so cool that no one is yelling’.” One day on set, a bit of kit malfunctioned – so the director of photography and the gaffer and their respective teams sat together and worked out how to fix it. “What was amazing was every person would say ‘I have an idea, why don’t we try this?’” says Geva. “And their leaders would say yes. There was no ego. When I’ve told some male friends about this, they say if there were guys around they would be throwing their weight – or their titles – around. It was super collaborative, everyone listening and taking care of each other.”

The second season takes place over a whole day at the clinic. A suspected bomb in a pizza box provides the comedy – along with the unsettling reminder that abortion clinics in the US are regularly under threat from protestors. The bomb plot, too, came from a real-life story. But they also sensitively handle a late abortion, based on something a friend went through. “Those second trimester stories? I’ve never seen one of those on TV or in a movie,” says Geva. “If I have, it was never in a compassionate light. It was so important to us to include a story like that because that has been highly politicised, especially in the US right now. A lot of it is misinformation and we wanted to say ‘here’s a normal girl having a situation that is sad and hard’.”

Such is the toxicity of the debate in the US, both say their mothers were concerned they would be attacked because of the show’s subject matter. Were they worried? “Yes, in the beginning. We definitely girded our loins,” says Katch. And there have been many abusive messages. They haven’t had explicit death threats but, says Katch, “we have been told we’re worse than Nazis and we should die.”

Ctrl Alt Delete
 ‘There is such relief that stories like this are being told’ … Ctrl Alt Delete.

One night recently, Geva was driving to an event when Katch called and said Glenn Beck, the rightwing radio talkshow host, was discussing them on his show. “I had to pull over because my hands were shaking,” says Geva. “Lots of people on the other side of the aisle listen to Glenn Beck and they’re not interested in watching our show, they’re just interested in yelling about the fact our show even exists. They came out in droves and sent lots of hate mail on social media.”

Katch says they were “prepared for an onslaught of hate and we were so surprised that in general the response has been incredibly positive. The hate has paled in comparison to the appreciation and gratitude, and the relief that stories like this are being told.”

They would love to take the show to a wider audience, but that relies on getting picked up by a big studio. Do they get the sense TV executives are nervous? “Definitely,” says Katch. Geva says “They don’t want to lose advertising. However, in the world of digital platforms, abortion is becoming part of the storytelling zeitgeist.” She points to the show Shrill, based on the memoirs of writer Lindy West, in which the main character has an abortion in the first episode, and there have been other recent examples of stories of abortions being told in different – often matter-of-fact, normalising ways – including in Scandal and Jane the Virgin.

“I feel like we’re at a tipping point where some executive somewhere is going to be brave and realise the power of storytelling and the platform they have, where millions of eyeballs can watch a show that can change hearts and minds, and change the course of women’s lives,” says Geva. “I know that sounds grandiose, but we’ve seen what television can do.”

Watch Ctrl Alt Delete here now. New episodes are added every Wednesday

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/may/30/ctrl-alt-delete-the-pro-choice-comedy-thats-the-bravest-tv-show-in-america?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other