TV

Meet the Queer Artist Whose Beach Boys Cover Made Aidy Bryant Cry on “Shrill”

Peter Smith's rendition of "God Only Knows" gave us all the feels, so we had to reach out.

The second season of Hulu’s Shrill is full of cover songs. And while all of the show’s leads get a musical moment to punctuate their character arcs, the standout performance comes from a guest star: At the end of Episode 2, newly empowered journalist Annie (Aidy Bryant) and roommate Fran (Lolly Adefope) treat themselves to a girls’ night at a queer party where comedian and singer Peter Smith brings down the house with their searing rendition of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows.”

It’s a show-stopping performance—literally, that’s how the episode ends—and it signals the arrival of a major queer talent. Smith has appeared in a sketch for Comedy Central’s Up Next, and performs regularly at New York’s The Duplex and The Slipper Room, where they mix music, comedy, and striptease.

With “God Only Knows” still stuck in our head, NewNowNext reached out to Smith for a little get-to-know-you chat.

How did you get interested in cabaret and comedy?

I don’t know what “cabaret” means anymore, so I’m hesitant to use the word. In fifth grade, I sang at my local talent show over the track of “I Will Survive,” so I had an inkling since I was a little child of what I wanted to do. My singing has just kind of ebbed and flowed. For the past four or five years, I’ve been singing a lot.
 

So that’s a relatively new addition to your act. Why have you started incorporating music into your act?

Because I have always loved singing. I’ve never had any technical training. I sort of picked up tips as I went along. I’ve had a lot of non-singing featured comedic roles in musicals, and I once got in the chorus. [Then] I was doing my own show, and in my own show, I’m gonna sing.

How would you describe what you do?

I sing and I make jokes, and sometimes it gets a little moody. I typically, 100% of the time, take my clothes off at some point. There’s singing and there are jokes and then there’s stripping. I usually finish with a big number and some message of hope or something.

How did you end up on Shrill?

I think Aidy saw a video of me sound checking one of my original tunes, which is called “Let’s Lay Down.” [Producers] asked me to send a tape of me singing [“God Only Knows”], just the first chunk of it. And then I booked it, and they asked me to basically replicate what I did for the audition. I’d never sung it before, and I didn’t think they would actually buy the rights to use that song. I was so happy, it’s such a good song.

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@shrillhulu season two out now in which I enter the Shrill Universe living my dream of singing over the credits!!! I didnt take any fun BTS except the nude that I still use but I will forever have the showbiz anecdote that upon reviewing the episode, Warner Brothers nixed some lines and footage when they found my smoking to be too glamorous and feared negative effects on impressionable young minds. “TOO GLAMOROUS” – Warner Bros Pppput it on my tombstone in Hollywood Forever and have a weekly show standing on my grave . thank you @aidybryant for everything you have ever done I dont know where to begin and @annadokoza for directing me and @sudigreen making me feel at home on a beautiful set where I was cradled by women all making showbiz better, it was a sunsoaked dream and i could go on but go watch the show !!!!!

A post shared by PETER (@ptrsmth) on

Did they talk to you about why they wanted to use “God Only Knows”?

No. There are a lot of covers in the season, and they’re all love songs with lyrics that kind of escalate imagery as the season plays out. Aidy starts the first episode kind of nostalgic for love, [singing] “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now.” She’s in this honeymoon haze of having a boyfriend and going steady for the first time.

Then I come on [in Episode 2], and the lyrics are genderless, and that’s when Aidy and Lolly’s braided story arcs of wanting to be in a self-governing relationship—making no apologies for your needs—[come together]. Then [in Episode 4], Lolly sings “Shallow,” this gendered duet, and she makes it into a big beautiful solo. And John [Cameron Mitchell] sings “Moonage Daydream” [in Episode 7] and the lyrics are about love, but they’re so violently and fantastically absurd. And, spoiler alert, you’ll see the gals’ relationships change.

Was there anything, in particular, you were trying to bring out of that song in your performance?

The lines before are, “We’re here, we’re queer. Here’s a space for all of us and I’m doing this for you, my gorgeous audience.” So, I took from that, like, I’m singing to queer people. There were like a hundred beautiful Portland locals turned out in looks in this room, and they had to watch me sing it acapella a lot. The lines were totally truths. They had had a long day of shooting and by the time my scene came around, I was just trying to show them I was grateful for all of their work. I was really just singing to queer people, and I guess people felt that.
 

What did director Anna Dokoza and writers Rob Klein and Hye Yun Park tell you about the scene and what they wanted to convey?

They wanted me to basically do me. They really liked what I did in the audition and it was like, Yeah, do that. So I asked questions and it was like, No, what you did, that’s what it will be. There wasn’t much back and forth or pushback on anything. I knew Anna Dokoza was going to be directing me in another femme-helmed series later that very month, which is Three Busy Debras, which is coming out on Adult Swim, written and produced by my pals Mitra Jouhari and Alyssa Stonoha—I gotta rep them. Anyhow, coming in I felt so much comfort knowing she had spent the last month with my gal pals every day. So, it was a beautiful day in femme-powered showbiz.

The line about the jacket and the commuter throwing a penny at you—was that from your own life?

No. I mean things have been thrown at me, for sure. Nothing as light as a penny! Cans, etc.
 

What’s next for you?

Check out Three Busy Debras and follow me on Instagram. I don’t have any date booked back in New York. I’m going out of town for some shows. Just follow me and keep up.

Shrill Season 2 is streaming now on Hulu. Catch Peter Smith’s Beach Boys cover at the end of Episode 2.

John Russell is a New York-based entertainment and lifestyle journalist. He has been called “the Courtney Love throwing Chanel compacts at Madonna and Kurt Loder” of his generation.
@john_russell