Call Mario Lopez, because tonight is going to be EXTRA: Our Interview with the Amazing Guy Branum
Guy Branum is a personal subject to interview for me. He was the first "gay man of a certain size" that I saw grace my TV screen. He's also incredibly busy at the moment being a queer comedy icon during Pride™️ month. So, I consider myself lucky that he managed to carve out a little time to answer some questions for Pale Panda.
After you read this interview, make sure you buy his comedy album, subscribe to his podcast, and buy his book. All of those things will make your day, your weeks, and your upcoming month a little better.
Make sure to pre-order your copy of Guy's book, My Life as a Goddess: A Memoir through (Un) Popular Culture, before it hits shelves on July 31.
Pale Panda: If you were to describe yourself as a camp icon from the past, who would that icon be and why?
Guy Branum: While my goal has always been to achieve the condescending magnificence of Agnes Morehead on Bewitched, I must accept that I will never look that good in purple eyeshadow. I think I’m best described as Harvey Fierstein if he went to law school and couldn’t sing.
P: I started seeing you on my screen when you were in some sketches for X-Play on G4/TechTV. Do you still roll deep with the nerds, and what are some recent tech or video games you’ve geeked out on?
G: Nerddom has gone through a complex evolution in my lifetime. In high school, my deep passion for sci-fi and fantasy novels, my commitment to PC gaming, my connection to They Might Be Giants, and general inability to talk to anyone at my school about anything I loved or anything they loved made me pretty certain my nerd cred was unassailable. However, in this age of serried ranks of Marvel Cinematic Universe films and Con culture, I feel like nerd culture left me behind, or maybe vice versa.
The game I play most is an exceedingly dorky, fussy strategy simulation of early-modern European politics called Europa Univeralis IV. X-Play gave the previous installment a SCATHING review back in 2007. They said it was “so dull looking, no one who worked for X-Play wanted to review it.” I play Rocket League and Star Wars Battlefront Ultimate some times, but the simple truth is that the kind of games I love, fussy city building and strategy games, just aren’t made like they used to be.
P: Having started out at one, do you think the era of the “niche cable network” is gone?
G: It’s hard to be in TV while it’s evolving so quickly. My talk show, Talk Show The Game Show, is on a niche network, TruTV, and getting people to pay attention to it is really hard. I loved working for G4 and E!, but it’s getting harder to understand how people watch TV shows that aren’t prestige dramas. I’m glad networks like Amazon, Netflix and Hulu and helping evolve how we watch TV, but I don’t know how shows like Talk Show The Game Show, or X-Play or Chelsea Lately would be able to thrive in this environment. Plus, it was fun to work on a little network with a bunch of cool people with the same passions.
P: I didn’t know before my research that you wrote for Awkward. This was one of my favorite shows that bubbled under from about 5 years ago. It was also your first gig as a writer for a more narrative show instead of a talk show. You then went on to write on the Hulu version of The Mindy Project. How is it different approaching a narrative story than a talk show style format? Is there a difference?
G: Scripted narrative shows involve a lot of work for a half hour of TV, particularly comedies. We spend weeks breaking a story, outlining it, writing it, re-writing it, punching it up, and finally shooting it. With luck, the end product is something pretty great. Studio comedy shows like Talk Show The Game Show are written on a much shorter timeline, and shot in less than an hour. Shows like that are a bit more stressful, but also a lot of fun. At a job on a scripted show, my role is to sit at a table, make a couple of jokes, and say a couple of things. At a late-night show, I’m pitching, writing and producing from the moment I get to work until the show goes on the air. They’re both fun, but very different.
P: Talk Show the Game Show is a concept that I am here for. If anyone hasn’t checked it out, they really need to do themselves a favor and do that. Did you worry about the meta nature of the show going over people’s heads?
G: Karen Kilgariff, one of the judges on the show, always used to say it was “too inside baseball” even though she loved the show. I worry a little about people not understanding the core conceit of the show, but I think we’ve all seen enough talk shows to understand the tropes. I think the real problem was getting people to understand the tone of the show. It’s a little less nice than something like @midnight.
Talk Show The Game Show is catty, it calls people out for mediocrity, and it celebrates middle-brow celebrity narcissism. We mock, but with love and respect for the medium. I think I’m more concerned about the guests on the show being able to understand that than the audience.
P: You do so many things. Do you think you’ve mastered balancing being incredibly busy with living the life of a human person? What advice would you give others in a similar situation?
G: I have not balanced my life. I pay people to clean my house and do my laundry, and most other things in life I manage to mess up significantly. I think what’s most important is to remember that if you do something you love, being able to devote yourself to it entirely will be way easier than if you were selling insurance. No one loves selling insurance.
P: You’ve spoken about having to hear no on Grindr a lot. Is there a problem in mainstream gay culture with accepting different body types? Is there also a problem in mainstream gay culture with accepting your own body type if it strays from the norm?
G: No one is asking anyone to be attracted to stuff that they’re not. My bigger problem is with gay men hating themselves enough that we’re scared to be associated with anyone who might be less attractive. We all click on the links of Shawn Mendes and Nick Jonas shirtless, so the media will keep serving up those links to us. We worship the safety of blandly attractive men’s bodies, but I don’t think it’s entirely sexual.
I think it’s social. I think we want to be accepted more than we want to be sexually satisfied, and the quest for bland attractiveness is about wanting to be safe and loved.I’m never going to be blandly attractive, I’ve had to figure out how to be loved on other terms, for myself. Also, safety is overrated.I wish I loved and accepted my body type more, but the unfortunate truth is I hate myself just as much as every other gay guy does. Most of them have been able to whip that self-hating-self into a pretty good facsimile of medium-hotness, I have not. I wish I hated myself as much as the REALLY ripped guys at my gym.
P: If you were to construct a modern drama about gay men living life, who would you cast in it, where would it be set, and why?
G: I don’t write drama, I write comedy. Gay life needs more comedy. I’m tired of us dying and being tragic and suffering nobly. Yes, I love Angels in America, Call Me By Your Name and even The Boys In The Band, but when I write stuff, it’s going to be about what’s good in life. I would, of course, cast my friends who are good performers: John Early, Joel Kim Booster, Nigel Campbell, Nico Santos. And I would set it in West Hollywood, because that is the gayborhood I love most.
P: What are a few of your favorite things in media right now?
G: No one watches it, but One Day At A Time is fucking genius, Killing Eve is delightful, I love EVERYTHING Lizzo is giving us, and I’m reading Michael Arceneaux’s I Can’t Date Jesus which is funny and moving. And every gay guy should watch Cucumber from the BBC.
P: What is your favorite thing, place, or person you go to for inspiration?
G: I host a podcast, Pop Rocket, with three astoundingly smart, thoughtful women, Karen Tongson, Margaret Wappler and Wynter Mitchell. Each of them challenges me to look at new culture and think differently, and that’s very valuable. Also, there’s a podcast called The Sauce hosted by Maya Gurantz and Rebecca Cohen with is full of good ideas and cultural analysis, and I always end an episode with my mind warmed up and excited.
P: What would your Real Housewives-esque tagline be?
G: “Call Mario Lopez, because tonight is going to be EXTRA.”