Chozen (Bobby Moynihan), Crisco (Hannibal Burress) & Ricky (Michael Peña)
Can an animated series focusing on a gay white rapper make us laugh without offending us at the same time?
If you’ve seen the FX animated comedy Chozen (which premiered last week), the answer is not clearly yes or no since, as we previewed last month, the series will surely offend some people with it’s tone and sense of humor, but it is also rife with genuine laughs that don’t demonalize being gay.
The series begins with a quick prison montage, the titular character (voiced by Saturday Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan) serving ten years in prison for a crime for which he was wrongly accused. Chozen’s experiences in prison (and shower rape is a part of that montage) shape how he views the world and interacts with other people. When he’s finally released he has two goals in life that he’s not subtle about – to become the biggest rap star in the world, and to get laid. A lot. With men.
Series creator Grant DeKirnion and Executive Producer Tom Brady sat down with TheBacklot during the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour to talk about the show and if they’re worried about offending some viewers while comic actor Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project), who voices Chozen’s love interest, Hunter, weighed in on his role via email.
TheBacklot: Talk to me about walking that line between creative choices and not offending people. I know Chozen says in the show he doesn’t want to be labeled…
Grant DeKirnion: Well, the character is gay, but when I thought of the character, to me, Chozen is many things. Gay is one of them but he’s many other things and to me that’s not the most interesting part about him. He’s a rapper. He’s an ex-con. There are all these things he is and so when we created the character and when we write the character, I just think in my head, what would he do, what would he think, and he obviously can be a bit aggressive. He can be a bit horny and so I don’t think of the sexuality when I write him. I just think of him, well, he’s this kind of rough around the edges ex-con. He likes to get laid and this is what that looks like for him.
Chozen’s relationship with Hunter starts out as sex but develops further.
He seems to make no apologies across the board, not just his sexuality but everything he does.
GD: Right. And he would be the last character to apologize for his sexuality, nor do I believe anyone should apologize for that.
The raps in the show surprised me because the songs are actually good and we might laugh at the lyrics but not the actual song. [DeKirnion writes and performs the raps]
Tom Brady: I came on board after the pilot. When I first heard the rap, I mean it could have been parody rap. It could have been silly. But it had enough integrity that that story of him trying to have a career at it ‘All right. I can see him having a career at it.’
What can we expect with Chozen and Hunter since there is a relationship that develops there?
GD: Chozen and Hunter have this tryst over an evening and then you’re left with Hunter perhaps wanting more and Chozen stuck [in prison behavior mode]. He kind of objectifies men a little bit and ‘this is how I do it.’
TB: And coming of age in prison that’s all he knows, so he’s got a lot to learn or evolve.
GD: I think we’ll see a little bit of a struggle with Chozen to try to be that because in my mind Chozen wants that too. I mean he doesn’t want to be alone, and I think a lot of his behavior and the way he thinks keeps him alone. So we’ll see that pan out and see where they go, see whether it works or not…he’s 28 and this is his first time in what could be like a real relationship dynamic. How does he handle it?
The Mindy Project’s Ike Barinholtz voices the role of Hunter.
Ike, any difference in how you approached playing Hunter over other roles, either because it’s voice work or just for the role itself?
Ike Barinholtz: When I first read Hunter I thought ‘Okay, Chozen is insane and super agro…how can I cut that?’ so I just tried to play Hunter as a big sweetheart who wants romance. So it’ll be funny when Chozen is like, ‘Hey, why don’t you crawl under the table and hit it.’
Hunter and Chozen have a unique relationship. How would you describe it?
IB: It’s like a giant grizzly bear dating a beagle puppy. The bear is out of control and the puppy just wants to snuggle.
Chozen isn’t really about intimacy — why is Hunter drawn to him?
IB: I think Hunter sees Chozen as exciting and still believes that underneath it all he is a sweetheart. But he’s not – Chozen is an asshole.
Is this your first gay role? It’s almost like a rite of passage now for an actor’s career, right?
IB: When you move to Hollywood you sign an agreement that at some point you have to play gay. I’ve actually done it a bunch on MADTV. I grew up in a very liberal household and my parents had a lot of gay friends, so I’m familiar with the world.
Chozen creator Grant DeKernion (l) and executive producer Tom Brady
Grant and Tom, in thinking about audience reaction to the show and whether there will be controversy, is that a goal or is that just a by-product that comes from the comedy?
GD: Shock and controversy has never been a goal of mine. I realize perhaps this is a new character. It’s a type of character people aren’t familiar with, but I don’t think a guy like Chozen is not real. I know a lot of people from all walks of life, and I know people like Chozen. You know it could be controversial, it could be offensive, but I find no controversy in writing what I would consider a pretty true to life character, but he’s big and he’s bold and it might not be for everyone. That’s fine.
TB: For me coming in, I’m always kind of scanning the landscape for an original voice like Grant’s or an original character like Chozen that really pops, it really cuts through and can actually make a difference. It’s not just more sitcom stuff that’s going to fall into the background. So in one sense, he is provocative. He pops. He’s different. He’s fresh.
On the other hand, both my own personal leanings certainly as I’ve gotten older and involved in my own career but especially working with Rough House [Pictures] and Grant too. We approach everything with integrity first, the character first and if there is an edgy joke here or there that’s fine. FX doesn’t discourage us from that, but we never start from that place of like let’s stir it up. It’s always story, character, and if a situation or a line pops up that’s fine. We can go for it.
There are pretty hilarious moments that I, as a gay man, loved. Like when Chozen walks into an LGBT meeting and asks, ‘Is this where the dick is at?’
GD: It just made sense…Chozen’s a gay man but he doesn’t seem like a guy he would go to meetings for that. He probably doesn’t know what the meeting is even for. He just knows there’ll be some men there.
Chozen’s sister Tracy (voiced by Kathryn Hahn) is a part of the show. Is there more family coming?
TB: There is. We have an episode coming up where Tracy wins an award and her parents, who are divorced, come to see her win that award, so we get to see the whole family dynamic, what made Chozen, Chozen…what made Tracy, Tracy…and the parent’s dysfunction and their relationship. I think it’s one of the episodes we’re most proud of. I mean we really get to the inside into all the characters.
GD: Their parents are incredible. We got Jennifer Irwin to play their mom and JK Simmons is the dad. The Tracy/Chozen relationship is really important in this season because he’s essentially just invaded her life. I see it almost as a role reversal. She’s kind of his mom a little bit. He doesn’t have money, he doesn’t have a job, and so we see that push and pull with the little sister kind of trying to raise this bull of a brother. I think it’s great like in the second episode, we see he really cares about her and looks out for her best interests. Kathryn and Bobby working together is one of my favorite parts of the show.
Do the parents know about Chozen’s sexuality?
GD: Oh, sure they know. They’re well aware of it and it’s definitely not an issue.
What do you hope people take from the show outside of just laughing?
TB: Tell really interesting stories and get those laughs. And I mean with animation there’s an expectation or a freedom to [have] some social commentary along the way. That’s all built in but really, like I said, it’s all from the stories first for us.
GD: I just hope they laugh… I love shows when I end up loving the character and I just want to see them. I want to see the character more and so people can invest and kind of love these people I think. I think it’ll be good.
Chozen airs Mondays at 10:30pm on FX.