You may know Guy Branum as the gay stand-up comedian who sat down regularly as a panelist on Chelsea Lately. You may know he’s written for some of your favorite shows, including The Mindy Project, Billy on the Street, and Fashion Police. But he thinks you should know him a lot better.
Start by reading My Life as a Goddess, the 42-year-old funnyman’s candid new memoir about his journey from small-town misfit to Hollywood mensch and host of TruTV’s Talk Show the Game Show.
Currently writing for Amazon’s upcoming A League of Their Own series, Branum opens up about his complicated relationship with the gay audience—and the not-so-funny feeling of being too big not to ignore.
Guy, you wrote a whole book. Who has the time?
I certainly didn’t. That’s why I ended up missing a great number of deadlines and turning it in much later than I should have.
Any nerves that a joke in the book could be used to get you fired from future jobs?
That’s totally a fear. I’ve read over it so many times, but I’m sure I’ve missed something. I’m fascinated with the fact that people are losing their jobs right now over things everyone was saying to make their friends laugh in 2005.
You describe My Life as a Goddess as a “survival guide.” Is this collection of comedic essays actually a self-help book?
Well, the opening chapter of the book is very self-helpy, a reminder to always remember you’re a goddess. When you grow up in a world where there’s no place for you, a society that actively dissuades you from existing, you have to figure out how to make it through. So this is a book about how I used culture that wasn’t for me to understand the world and my place in it. Personally, I consider it a cook book, because there are recipes.
You write about actively deciding “to be someone thoroughly more fabulous” when the world is telling you you’re anything but. When will that click for me?
It’s not like you achieve some transcendent state where everything falls into place. Sometimes you forget, but it’s about remembering to attack a situation instead of being attacked by it. I get annoyed with books or shows that say you can be fixed—that there’s some other, better you. It’s about being your best you. In other words, I agree with Melania Trump: The answer is to #BeBest.
The book includes a gushing foreword by Mindy Kaling and dust jacket quotes from folks like Tiffany Haddish and Billy Eichner. Many other popular comedians have plugged your book on social media. Do you pride yourself on being well-liked by your peers?
Not being an asshole goes a long way in this industry. But being too well-liked is dangerous, because it means you’re never saying anything that’s truly interesting. I’m infinitely more proud of the comedians who have blocked me on Twitter than I am of the ones who gave me quotes for my book.
No quote from former boss Chelsea Handler?
I asked her for one. There was no response. These days she only contacts me to ask me to donate to Democratic candidates in the Midwest, and I try my best to do that.
I hate to admit this, but the first thing I did when I got my copy was skim through for dish about your sudden departure from Chelsea Lately.
I’m just glad someone wanted to read that chapter. Everything else is chunks of my soul, and that chapter is, like, “Here are famous ladies I know. Please feel impressed.”
I had heard you quit Chelsea Lately because Chelsea was dating 50 Cent and you felt he was homophobic.
That was the rumor that went around. I was asked at the time not to say anything about why I left, and I tried to respect that. No, she’s allowed to date who she wants. I take great pride in the fact that 50 Cent knew my name for about two weeks in 2010.
In addition to your Chelsea stories, you write about your experiences working for Mindy Kaling and Joan Rivers, referring to your TV writing as “gay ventriloquism through these three powerful ladies.”
Because there hasn’t been a place for us in cultural discourse for most of time, we’ve figured out ways of expressing ourselves, shifting our perspective to come from a safer place. I’m a writer who puts words into other peoples’ mouths. I grew up loving and learning from female comics, so segueing into writing for them wasn’t so hard. But there’s something sad about the fact that gay people, gay men in particular, are alienated from and uncomfortable with our own voices coming from our own mouths.
— Guy Branum (@guybranum) July 11, 2018
You were the self-appointed “Staff Homosexual” on Chelsea Lately. On Unscrewed With Martin Sargent, you had a character named “The Ambassador of Gay,” and you did a recurring segment called “No More Mr. Nice Gay” on Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell. You became a spokesman for the gay community. Do you still feel a responsibility in writers’ rooms to share the gay perspective and create more gay representation?
Well, things are changing. For three years on The Mindy Project, I wasn’t the only gay writer. I’m not the only gay writer on A League of Their Own—we actually have no heterosexual white men in the writers’ room, which I’ve never experienced before. But I’ll always be shouty about my own experiences, and I’ll always try to bring awareness to how people who aren’t straight white guys that went to Harvard will see the jokes.
My Life as a Goddess covers queer issues like coming out, bullying, and your strained relationship with your father. Do you envision the book in the hands of a small-town gay kid, secretly reading it by flashlight under his blankets?
That’s a lovely idea, isn’t it? It’s incredibly sweet whenever someone tells me about how watching me on Chelsea Lately, while growing up somewhere like Little Rock, helped them realize there were other gay people out there. But mostly I wrote the book to simulate the experience of me being slightly drunk and rambling at a cocktail party.
You’ve posted tongue-in-cheek testimonials on Twitter appealing to black women, feminists, and even cisgender straight guys. But who is your audience for My Life as a Goddess?
I wrote it so friends of mine who don’t want to go through the trouble of scheduling a lunch with me can learn a little bit about my life. On Billy on the Street, Billy Eichner would sometimes look at something we’d pitch, laugh, and say, “This show is for no one.” I know what he meant. When I was writing the book, I’d think, Who wants to read this? But compared to other things I’ve made, it’s the truest expression of who I am. It’s just me writing about whatever I wanted to.
Analyzing gay culture, you write, “Gay men don’t like art about being gay. We want it, definitely, but when we’re presented with it, it is unsettling.” Will the gay audience be hesitant to embrace your book?
The gay audience has been hesitant to embrace all of my work, but I hope everyone enjoys it. Books are one of the few places you can accept a gay guy even if he’s fat or has a bad face. That’s one of the significant reasons that I segued into publishing.
Talk Show the Game Show touched a nerve this year when your guest Dave Holmes said that if you have “‘non-traditional gay male body shapes,’ then you might notice the gay media will just ignore you entirely.” You later tweeted to some gay sites, including NewNowNext, “I know I don’t have rock-hard abs, but some coverage could help this show keep going.” Do you really feel ignored by gay media because of your physical appearance?
I do. Part of the problem is that gay men don’t know what to do with gay stand-up comedians. Gay men don’t really know gay stand-up comedy exists, essentially because we pay attention to things that hot people do. Luckily we’ve got a Matteo Lane, who’s super-funny and has a ridiculously hot body. Logo has fallen in love with him, which is great.
Do you think you’d be more successful if you looked more like Matteo Lane?
If I were hotter, I think my relative success would be more present. But if I were hotter, I also wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. The gay media pays so much attention to hot straight people, and I think that’s because we’re scared of our gay voices. We should be excited to have a gay dude hosting a funny talk show, but gay media has largely behaved as though I don’t exist. At the same time, gay blogs are posting 47 photos of Nick Jonas with his shirt off a day.
I do love shirtless Nick Jonas.
Me too. It’s a wonderful, beautiful thing. But we can have both. It’s frustrating. We complain about the mainstream media not taking us seriously and not giving us chances, but maybe they would give us more chances if they knew there was a gay audience built in for gay performers. I’m just a little pissed off that queer media acts like I’m not a member of the family. That hurts.
Your book briefly mentions how you did get attention from gay guys, particularly porn stars, when you were on Chelsea Lately, and that Chelsea helped get you laid as much as possible. Are you saving those salacious anecdotes for a late-in-life memoir?
My only goal is to write a Katharine Hepburn’s Me. Yeah, Chelsea Lately was the only time gay people seemed to be excited about anything I did, which was truly thrilling for many reasons. It was a good time.
— Guy Branum (@guybranum) July 13, 2018
Guy Branum’s My Life as a Goddess: A Memoir Through (Un)Popular Culture is out now.