Women sick of yogurt commercials found a hero last year in Current TV’s Sarah Haskins’ series Target Women. And last month, gay men were given an equally funny and passionate voice with the addition of Bryan Safi’s That’s Gay. Like Target Women, That’s Gay is one segment of the broadcast series Infomania — and like Target Women, That’s Gay is a political and sarcastic examination of gay issues and their portrayal in the media.
In the first installment (which racked up over 70,000 views on Current’s site), Safi lashed out against the gay best friend stereotype, before moving on to discuss gay marriage and whether or not Sasha Baron Cohen’s Bruno is the new Malcolm X. We spoke via phone about reclaiming the word “gay,” Safi’s previous work at Funny or Die, and what, if anything, would be too gay to do on That’s Gay. An edited transcript follows.
NewTeeVee: What inspired the first episode of That’s Gay?
Bryan Safi: I think from watching Millionaire Matchmaker and being so offended when [Patty Stanger] asked a guy she’d never met if he was a top or a bottom. And I love Kathy Griffin, but all the stuff with her shouting “Where my gays at?” bothered me. It just seems kind of antiquated — I just wanted to say “Enough!”
NewTeeVee: Were you surprised by how fast it spread?
Safi: I was really surprised. I told my producer Natalie, like, blast it out to your friends and maybe we’ll get a thousand hits! I had no idea that it would blow up into something else, that I’d be asked to do more, that I’d be getting Facebook messages from people saying, “Oh, yes, finally! My friend does that to me all the time! It’s so annoying!” It’s nice to know that other people are sick of it as well.
NewTeeVee: Regarding the stereotype of the gay best friend in society, are you one of the first people to point out its unfairness?
Safi: I think I had never heard it out loud before, even though everyone was feeling the same thing. With every best girlfriend I’ve ever had, I love them all to death, but you do become kind of a dump truck for their problems sometimes. So it was nice to point it out, and it was nice to hear that other people thought the exact same thing.
I was thrilled that gay people really embraced it and I was really thrilled that women did, too. It spoke to everyone in that way, that everyone identified with that relationship.
NewTeeVee: Was something specific in how you portrayed [the relationship] that caused that identification?
Safi: Just hearing it out loud, and pointing to specific examples that are on TV, almost every week, of that relationship and of that happening, made it register. Like, oh, yeah, it is a real thing.
NewTeeVee: The title of the show tweaks with the pejorative use of the word “gay.” Was that intentional?
Safi: Absolutely. We want to take back that phrase, because it’s dropped all the time. Sometimes it’s dropped appropriately, but sometimes — most of the time — it’s not.
NewTeeVee: It seems like there’s a lot of stuff that’s endemic to gay culture, but at the same time is stereotypical and doesn’t accurately reflect the majority of gay Americans. How is That’s Gay going to address that?
Safi: I think, because gays have been marginalized for so long, [gay culture]’s really nothing but stereotypes right now. And also within gay culture there’s different types: Are you an Abercrombie & Fitch guy; or are you a punk guy; or are you emo; or are you Adam Lambert? That kind of thing. Really, we want to address any sort of gay image.
NewTeeVee: Would you say the focus is on gay culture or on the way media perceives gay culture?
Safi: I would say the way media perceives gay culture. I think that all of that stuff is in there; like ads about gay dating certainly address gay stereotypes. But when you look at it through a media perspective, it’s easier to nail and it registers so quickly for people.
NewTeeVee: Prior to Current, you were working at Funny Or Die. How long were you there?
Safi: Like a year and a half. I got here in January. I loved Funny Or Die — it was a blast to work there — but my job became more and more administrative and I was looking for something more creative and this was right in front of me.
NewTeeVee: Like Sarah Haskins, you also have a sketch comedy background. What about that training do you find helpful for hosting a talking head segment?
Safi: I can’t speak for Sarah, but instantly, for every scenario, I try to find the joke immediately, even if it ends up being a horrible one. So that’s the place I’m coming from. And once I have a topic for the segment, there are a lot of cutaways to sketches and I always start there — that’s the first thing that pops into my head, and then we build out from there. That’s the first thing I want to do, is make it be funny. And then everyone else here helps out with the smart part.
NewTeeVee: How much collaboration is there on the scripts?
Safi: I write the scripts, but [Infomania producers] Jeff Plunkett and Conor Knighton look at it, as well as Natalie Proctor, who produces and edits the segments. I can’t believe how easy it’s been. Everyone’s been super supportive.
NewTeeVee: Is there anything you would consider too gay to discuss?
Safi: Ben Kingsley.
NewTeeVee: I didn’t even realize he was gay.
Safi: I don’t think he is. But it would be pretty gay if I just started talking about Ben Kingsley. SIR Ben Kingsley. That would be super-gay.
NewTeeVee: An entire episode devoted to him and his career would be pretty fabulous.
Safi: He’s Gandhi! Now I’m a major a-hole.
NewTeeVee: He only PLAYED Gandhi. It’d be bad if it was Gandhi.
Safi: Yeah. There will never be a That’s Gay: Gandhi.