Comedians Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson bring their podcast live to Houston.
by Megan Smith
Photo by Robyn Van Swank
In the words of the late drag queen extraordinaire Dorian Corey, “‘Shade’ is I don’t tell you you’re ugly, but I don’t have to tell you because you know you’re ugly.” With equal parts of sass and personality, self-described “homosensual” Bryan Safi and “feminasty” Erin Gibson take to the “airwaves” each week to dish out their uncensored comedic take on homophobic and sexist current events (or ’ssues, as they call them) on their podcast, Throwing Shade. Safi and Gibson, who are both native Texans transplanted to Los Angeles (he from El Paso, she from Houston), have a long history of performing and writing comedy—Gibson has previously appeared on Chelsea Lately, and Safi used to write for The Ellen DeGeneres Show, for which he won an Emmy. Together, they created the podcast to “take a weekly look at all the issues important to ladies and gays and treat them with much less respect than they deserve.”
The podcast, which is a part of the Maximum Fun Podcasting Network, has definitely evolved since its 2011 premiere. The duo has added a weekly video on the comedy website Funny or Die in addition to their live performances across the country. I got the opportunity to speak with Safi and Gibson about their love for podcasting, using humor to promote social justice, and their upcoming live performance at the Green Room at Warehouse Live in Houston on March 13.
Megan Smith: How did you two come up with the idea for Throwing Shade?
Bryan Safi: Erin and I were working on a show, called InfoMania on Current TV, that everyone watched so much they took the show away.
Erin Gibson: That was the problem—so many people watched it that all the TVs crashed around the United States, and they were like, This is just too dangerous.
Safi: Exactly. So Erin hosted a show on Current TV that was called Modern Lady that profiled how women are treated by the media, and I did the same thing for gay people [with a show] called That’s Gay. And we sort of always felt like we only got to say things in a three-minute length of time, and we had all this oversight with people editing and censoring what we do. So we wanted a medium that would let us do anything we wanted—talk as long as we wanted and be as crass and stupid as we wanted. I think we both always felt that one of our favorite things to do is watch seemingly smart people say really stupid things [so we can] tear them down for it and make it funny.
Gibson: Colbert is the master of it. He’s one of the few people I can still watch and laugh out loud at.
For our readers who have never listened before, how would you describe the show?
Safi: “Will & Grace does the news” is something Erin came up with recently.
Gibson: Which makes us sound old. So if Dwight and Nene from Real Housewives of Atlanta had political science PhDs from Harvard, that would be the show.
Safi: Please note that neither of us has a PhD from Harvard.
What does it truly mean to be a “feminasty” and a “homosensual”?
Safi: I think it means you are someone who happily accepts labels and also tries to redefine them. I am definitely a homosexual and I am definitely proud of it, and I’m all about pushing it as hard as I can.
Gibson: We came up with these terms because “homosexual” is used so negatively sometimes, and it’s the same with “feminist.” So we were just like, How can we redefine those terms to be something that sounds cool and different? You’re accepting those terms, but now you’re putting your spin on it.
Safi: We’re taking a jean and giving it a boot cut.
Gibson: We’re taking a tiny dog and putting a sparkly hat on it.
You guys have worked with TV before. What made you decide on a podcast as the medium for Throwing Shade?
Gibson: I think because we could get away with more.
Safi: People have always connected with us, [and with a podcast we can] talk like how we talk with our friends late at night and drunk—[something we can’t do] talking to a camera with no one else in the room. We talk in a way that breaks things down pretty easily and makes them funny, stupid, and gross. We’ll take off on a wild tangent for, like, 10 minutes, and [a podcast] really allows for it.
Gibson: And I think one of the great things about podcasts is the fact that it’s just audio. And unlike with TV, you can [listen to us while you] clean your house, while you’re in your car, at work, or in the bathroom. The ability to take us wherever you go just makes it a better medium for doing what we do, because we know we’ve got people’s attention for an hour.
The entire podcast is filled with non-stop, witty and hilarious exchange. How much do you two prepare before recording, and how much is improv?
Safi: The only thing we prepare for the podcast is our research. So we pull quotes and the nuts and bolts of that story—but really, that’s it. I don’t prep her on what I’m going to do, and she doesn’t really tell me what she’s going to do.
Gibson: We talk like normal people, so when we see each other on Monday morning, we’ll talk about what we did over the weekend, and sometimes we’ll be like, “Oh, don’t tell me that, tell me on the podcast.” So we’ll do some small-talk [before we record], but sometimes we say we’re going to talk about something on the podcast and then totally abandon it for something else.
Safi: It’s funny. Any type of planned comedy bit that we have, we rarely actually do because our conversation takes us somewhere completely different.
Gibson: Especially when we started doing live shows, we did play out comedy bits and we would write jokes and stuff, but they never went over as well as when we’re just talking honestly and just doing our thing, so we’ve just kind of abandoned our prepared stuff.
A lot can happen in the world of women and gays over a week’s time span. For both the podcast and the live show, how do you narrow it down and decide on just one ’ssue each?
Safi: Our ’ssue can change the morning or afternoon of the show, depending on what has broken. I remember we were on tour when the Supreme Court reversed DOMA, and we had a show that night in Minneapolis, and everything changed. The same with Wendy Davis in Austin. The one thing that we’re always afraid of and that we hope never happens is the feeling of a show being dated. It’s a fresh show every time.
Gibson: We are two OCD people with anxiety problems and ADD, so we are always checking the news and on our phones to stay on top of this stuff. The Wendy Davis thing is a perfect example. I stayed up until 4 a.m. and watched the filibuster. The next day I got up and went and bought her pink shoes because I was so energized by what was going on and I was excited to talk about it. I was just really proud that she was doing this, and that Texas was my state.
Your show has been highly successful, with over 800 overwhelmingly positive reviews on iTunes. Would you still want to do the show if you only had a dozen regular listeners?
Gibson: I don’t think so, because I don’t think it would be rewarding.
Safi: I think a lot of it is hearing people saying “Right on!” or “Oh my God, I cannot wait to defuse this bomb about this stupid story like you guys have.” Especially with an audience that is underserved, I think we like feeling like we’re filling some void.
So I’m sure you two saw the Daily Currant’s satirical story about the man responsible for the fifth snowflake that failed to open in the Olympics opening ceremony being found dead in Sochi. That story went viral on social media, with many in the general public thinking it was true. You both incorporate sarcasm and some satirical elements into Throwing Shade. Have you ever gotten hate mail from anyone who didn’t understand your humor or felt the issues you discuss are too serious to be framed in a comical way?
Safi: I think it’s very rare. We have, but honestly—and this may sound harsh—I don’t think we really care that much. I think if we had listened to what anyone had said throughout our careers, we certainly wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. Even though I think that, yes, we can cross the line into poor taste, I don’t think we ever do anything that is offensive to the kind of people we don’t want to offend.
Gibson: I tend to get more criticism than Bryan does. For example, somebody corrected me on [a bit about] 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and I was like, “Clearly I didn’t know what the f–k I was talking about and I didn’t care. The fact that you would e-mail me and then correct me is really just a reflection on how you respect your own time.”
Safi: It’s funny that when people do critique us, it’s always on things like that. Like, “You mispronounced the name of that writer.”
Gibson: And this is getting into the philosophical conversation about what podcasts are—we don’t have to be correct in the stuff that we’re saying, because all we’re doing is having a conversation like real people, and like real people, we don’t always know everything. So, a lot of times, we’re discussing things that neither of us [has the answer to], because that’s not the point of the show.
Safi: It’s an opinion-based show. Literally, sometimes my opinion can change, like, a week later. It’s just so spontaneous—we’re really just reacting to these stories in that moment.
You guys had almost 100 podcasts available on iTunes before you added videos on the Funny or Die website. How did that start, and what made you want to add that component to Throwing Shade?
Safi: I just wanted people to finally realize how handsome I was.
Gibson: The creative director at Funny or Die, Andrew Steele, heard our podcast, and a week later came in and said, “I love this.” And I love him, from the bottom of my heart. The fact that he’s a straight dude with a family and that he loves our show weirdly validated it in a way that I felt we really hadn’t gotten before. Because I think people look at the show and think it’s for ladies and gays and doesn’t really have anything to offer the straight white male contingent. Having him say he loved it and asking how we could get it on the website—not that I need validation from the white man—really was a reminder that the show transcends gender and sexual orientation.
Safi: He was so outside of what we felt was our target audience, it was really eye-opening that Funny or Die was so passionate about doing it in the first place.
Is this your first Texas tour? How does it feel to be back in your home state?
Safi: It is our first Texas tour, and I am so excited to be doing this. The only thing I’m scared about is the potential threat of all my family coming to see it.
Gibson: To be completely honest with you, I think that’s the reason we avoided Texas last year. I also don’t want someone from my high school coming to the show in Houston and being like, “Oh, I’m going to come see my old high school friend,” and then have them turn out to be like really conservative Christian or Republican and walking out of the show and being mad. But I’m talking about Texas 10 years ago, pre-lesbian mayor, so I’m basing it on [a mindset] that maybe doesn’t exist anymore.
Safi: I’m scared of my family, I’m excited for Tex-Mex, I’m excited for barbeque, and I’m excited for twang.
Gibson: I’m excited for Pappasito’s and I’m ready for a fresh margarita—none of this mixed bullshit.
How do your live shows differ from your regular podcasts? Are there interactive elements?
Safi: I think the main difference is that it is a show. It’s definitely a stage show. We are not sitting down, we’re standing up the whole time, it has a ton of energy, and we are interacting a lot with the audience. We still go over political stuff and a bunch of issues, but it definitely feels like you’re at a show, not at a taping.
Gibson: It would be boring for us to just sit at a table. Why would I just sit at a table when there’s an audience here to see us perform? I want to give them everything that we have. I want them to have the best hour possible.
Safi: And both of us were performers before we were writers, so we’re both very comfortable on stage. We don’t want it to feel like a taping of a podcast. We want you to feel like you’re at Throwing Shade Live and it’s a big, fun show.
Throwing Shade Live comes to The Green Room at Warehouse Live on March 13. Tickets are available at throwingshade.com/tour. Follow Bryan Safi and Erin Gibson on Twitter @bryansafi and @gibblertron. Throwing Shade episodes are available as free downloads each week on iTunes.