John Tancredi ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
Emertainment Monthly: Do you find that comedy is a good way to discuss subjects that some people find hard to talk about or don’t want to talk about (like LGBT equality)?
Guy Branum: I myself probably talk about gay stuff too much, but everyone expects that I’ll talk about gay stuff. Comedy is a great way at making it not so serious, and one of the great things about comedy is that it’s not just making an argument. Every joke has in it tensions, so there’s something really fun about talking about something in a way that takes from both sides, like taking ridiculousness from different angles.
I think there’s something really challenging and exciting about talking about things that are hard for you personally to talk about. I think it’s good and interesting for a white person to talk about race, for a man to talk about gender, if it’s thoughtful. You want thoughtful comedy. I think there are consequences to what we put out into the culture, but I think you don’t want to be saying something stupid or mean.
Comedy can sometimes be beating on people who are frequently beat up on. I don’t want to be doing that, but at the same time you don’t want to be so certain that your ideas are right, that you’re not listening to anyone else. It’s not stand-up lecturing, it’s stand-up comedy. You should always be shitting on everyone and everything, and I try to be careful not to shit on the things everyone else is shitting on.
I don’t want to be randomly hurting people in a way I don’t know about. I’m a comedian, I need to focus my hate and offensiveness and know where it’s going. But yeah, I think it’s fun to talk about serious and unserious things.
Absolutely. You have to know who your audience is. One of the great things about both of those shows is that they really let the comedians speak in their own voices from their own perspectives. At Chelsea Lately, no one is at all vetting the jokes you’re telling, it’s just your choice. But I also understand who Chelsea Lately’s audience are: they aren’t the most political people, they’re mostly women, they’re people who like to have a good time, and I’m there to help and share in their good time.
Totally Biased is a much more political show, it’s a much more progressive show. Again, it’s super fun, and I get to decide what my pieces are about and I do work with Come Out and the producers, somewhat, on how that shapes up. I still understand the audience I have and what they want to listen to, and what they’re going to be excited about.
You were the head writer for X-play on G4. Do you think TV is a comparable platform to discuss topic like video games or is the internet with companies like IGN and Machinima more capable of managing that form of media?
I think that the market has proven itself that Machinima and IGN do a better job at reviewing stuff, because X-play doesn’t exist anymore and G4 won’t exist anymore soon. Machinima and IGN can react very quickly and review very quickly. Usually, when we were writing reviews for G4, it took so long to get the footage, write stuff, and produce the segment we were looking to do. We weren’t able to get those reviews out quickly. But, what we were able to make up for it with was production value: having fun sketches and funny jokes, and giving some personality and attitude to it.
When X-play was on the air, there were a lot less intense users who weren’t going to look to the internet for reviews. They just watched the show to find out what to play. Now, everyone understands they should just Google something, see the reviews, and know what to get. Machinima and IGN are doing a great job at producing fun, funny, interesting, and well-produced content. They’re getting a lot of eyes on their content.
In the gaming community there tends be a lot of LGBT slurs. It’s nearly impossible to go into an Xbox Live chat and not hear something offensive. Was it difficult for you as an openly gay man to cover gaming when such an atmosphere surrounds it?
The wonderful thing about the gaming industry is that it’s all nerds. There was at G4 that your quality as a human being rested on your knowledge of nerd-things: your race, gender, or sexual orientation didn’t matter. Before me, the head writer of X-play was a lesbian, and there was a bunch of bad-ass women who were given respect. It was one of the best professional environments I’ve ever worked in because everyone so loved what they were doing.
Gaming itself is something guys mostly between twelve and twenty-four are doing. That’ll lead to a heteronormative environment. One time I was playing World of Warcraft, and one kid was yelling gay slurs on the main chat. So I messaged him to please stop, and we ended up talking. He was a high school student somewhere, and after I told him I was gay and worked for G4. It didn’t cross his mind that a gay man would like videogames, and we had a nice chat.
The thing is, when you play Call of Duty, you’re going to encounter that. Sometimes I think it’s my duty to stop them and say, “Hey, you’re talking about me.” There’s the expectation that you’ll be quiet and know your place. I feel like gays have known their place for a really long time and we’re not knowing our place.
In the case of No Strings Attached where you were not the writer was it weird to not have the creative control?
Yeah, it’s very strange, because I work more as a writer. I did this web series last year, and there came this point where I judged the writing. It wasn’t my job there. No Strings Attached was awesome. Liz Meriwether was great—she was the show runner of New Girl and she wrote No Strings Attached. I only had nine or ten lines, and she was rewriting that script the entire time. The part I played was originally a girl, and they changed the gender to include me in the movie. She sent me the scenes she rewrote and said to me, “Write your lines.” And that was awesome. I’m not a big fan of trying to improvise movies; thinking you’re going to improvise comedy and think you’re going to get something good is a dangerous thing to do.
One line I came up with on set—Liz needed a line for something for when Ashton Kutcher asked me if I’ve seen his pants. I came up with the response and that was great. Being an actor is about zoning out and doing what somebody else tells you to do. Being a writer is about trying to solve all of the problems in your head all of the time. There’s something about just doing the job you were asked to do.
Do you have any projects in development you can tell us about?
Totally Biased just started going daily, so that’s taking up a lot of my time. I have a talk show/game show hybrid that I’ve been doing in LA and New York for about a year. I’m trying pitch that as a TV show. I’m working on a book, as well, about musings and personal essays.