Outer space exploration is far behind him, but national treasure George Takei has ventured into more unknown territory this year. In late August he launched his first podcast series, Oh Myyy Pod!, in which Takei and co-host Todd Beeton tackle the recent trend of racially charged viral videos featuring white people getting ugly with brown people for no logical reason (e.g., “Barbecue Becky,” who famously called the police on a group of African Americans trying to have a barbecue in a park).
Meanwhile, Takei’s childhood in a Japanese internment camp during World War II serves as a basis for his new autobiographical graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, which he released in July. Co-written with Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, and illustrated by Harmony Becker, Enemy landed a spot on The New York Times Best Seller List just a week after its release.
Takei also funneled that harrowing experience into AMC’s The Terror: Infamy, serving as both a consultant and co-star of the history-inspired horror anthology series’ second season, in which a Japanese American fishing community is forced into an internment camp where both racism and a supernatural threat endanger their lives.
In between dragging right wingers and dropping sassy social commentary on Twitter and Facebook, Takei talked with NewNowNext about his trio of projects and… Sulu sex.
How did this podcast happen? Did you pitch it, or was it pitched to you?
I’ve been pitched podcasts for years, but none of them seemed like quite the right fit. However, through discussions with my team and after observing such an uptick of viral racism in recent years, I felt that this idea would be the best use of my platform. My team and I were fascinated by the ways in which race and digital media consumption intersect. Thus, Oh Myyy Pod! was born.
Its name is pretty amazing. How many titles did you consider? Was there a groaner or two?
I can’t recall most of the names we were considering, which, I suppose, is a sign we made the right decision. However, one particular groaner was There Goes the Internet because I had already written a book with that name. After much back-and-forth, someone said, “What about Oh Myyy Pod! and we all enthusiastically agreed.
Did any other podcasts serve as inspiration?
We weren’t inspired by podcasts so much as by a phone call my team received from a woman who appeared in a viral video we featured in an article posted on my Facebook page. She requested that we take the story down, insisting that her life had been turned upside down since the video went viral, which we happily did. We got to thinking, What happens after the phone camera stops recording, and what about after the 15 minutes of viral fame is over? What’s the real story behind the video everyone saw in their newsfeed?
Who are some of the guests featured in the podcast’s first season?
Well, we’ll have five episodes, each exploring a different facet of viral racism and the responses to it. We speak to Lolade Siyonbola, the Yale scholar who had campus police called on her simply for napping in her dorm’s common room. The incident inspired the title for our first episode, “Napping While Black.” We also have an invigorating conversation with Hector Torres, who was accosted in an airport for speaking Spanish on the phone with his Puerto Rican mother.
Did you also reach out to any of the infamous racists from these videos to get their sides, like Barbecue Betty, Pool Patrol Paula, and Permit Patty?
We did. None of them accepted.
Do you have any advice for would-be LGBTQ podcasters?
It’s been immensely fulfilling to give voice to folks with such compelling stories that provoke emotion and thought in our listeners. I’m excited to explore this new medium, and I would encourage others in the LGBTQ community to do the same. Find a story you’re passionate about, that you feel has yet to be told, and begin telling it.
What themes are you considering for future seasons?
We definitely want a theme that examines the ways internet and media can affect society. Beyond that, I want to hear from my fans about what they’d like to see us explore next. I’m currently having these conversations on Twitter, and we’ll be doing a poll of the top options soon.
You went to San Diego Comic-Con to promote your book They Called Us Enemy. How was it?
There’s nothing quite like Comic-Con, where the true and uninhibited fan geekdom is not only on full display, but thriving and pulsing with its own unbridled energy. I’ve been on a book tour as well, and the thing that strikes me most of all is how grateful readers are to have learned about a part of history that was unknown to them before. They Called Us Enemy makes its story accessible to many people—most of all young readers, who are more accustomed to its graphic novel format. They often say to me, “Thank you, George, for telling this story.” It’s deeply rewarding.
With a story that’s also based on the World War II Japanese American internment camps, do you think The Terror: Infamy is hitting home right now with its audience, given what’s happening in the country?
Certainly. I never expected that doing a show like The Terror: Infamy or my Broadway musical, Allegiance, would be anything more than a history lesson. The fact that we are having debates now about whether we’re operating concentration camps again in this country is chilling. Shows like The Terror now carry important contemporary relevance, and are a warning about the present and future state of our democracy.
What’s scarier: the supernatural menace on The Terror or Donald Trump?
Well, the supernatural menace on The Terror causes people to do crazy, irrational things, and Trump is known for that as well, but the spirit on The Terror plagues only one community, and Trump is a threat to the world. So he’s scarier.
If Quentin Tarantino actually makes his R-rated Star Trek, are you hoping John Cho’s Sulu gets an R-rated love scene with his onscreen husband?
As long as people don’t walk away thinking, Those two could’ve been brothers! I’ll be happy. That was my reaction when I first saw the now-infamous “gay” scene from 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, which consisted of no more than a family reunion for Sulu and his husband with their daughter. I appreciate the more realistic physical intimacy and deep connection that the gay characters on Star Trek: Discovery have evinced.
What other projects do you have on the horizon?
Apart from the podcast, the graphic novel, and the television series, you mean? That’s been enough for more than a year’s worth of excitement! But honestly, I would love to be able to reprise my role in Allegiance, perhaps in another country. I hear something may be in the works. Beyond that, I cannot say.
The Terror: Infamy airs Mondays at 9 p.m. EST on AMC. A new episode of Oh Myyy Pod! drops every Monday.