Inside ‘Throwing Shade’s Journey from Podcast to Web Series to TV Show
In 2011, comedians/writers/improvisers/friends Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi were left without a place to speak on important social justice issues after the show they were correspondents on, InfoMania, went off the air. Luckily the freedom of the internet means that nobody is left without a place to speak their minds, so Gibson and Safi teamed up for the Throwing Shade podcast. It didn’t take long for the podcast to develop a large and passionate fanbase, which meant a deal with Funny or Die, large soldout live shows across the country, and now their own TV show on TVLand which debuted on January 17th.
Described by Gibson as “The Daily Show mixed with Amy Schumer,” the television version of Throwing Shade will include speaking to a live audience about important women’s and gay rights issues while cutting to pre-taped sketches that deal with the topic du jour. And there could not be a better time to have a platform to speak positively about women’s and gay rights than January of 2017.
How have you been dealing with the Trump thing? Is it even believable to you yet that it really happened?
Bryan Safi: Full. Blown. Denial. They talk about the seven stages of grief and I’m somehow still stuck in the first stage of it. It’s such a pinch-yourself moment and even though things keep happening to make it seem more and more real, like Obama’s last speech and seeing beautiful pictures of them leaving the White House, it’s still just your worst nightmare happening in front of your face.
Erin Gibson: I was at the gym watching [Trump’s] press conference and his tax attorney was doing the whole song and dance about why he won’t be divesting all of his shit, stepping off the board and selling his company and all that stuff, but it was Trump, Ivanka, and Eric all standing there and I looked up and said, “It’s the opening credits to The Apprentice.” On CNN.
You’ve got this show now to speak out on things like this to a television audience. But it all started as a podcast; what was the initial idea behind Throwing Shade when it started in 2011?
Bryan: We initially started the show because we had been on a small television show called InfoMania that dealt with political issues, and we specifically dealt with politics in the women and LGBT communities. That show was cancelled but we wanted to keep talking about those things and it could be totally uncensored, and totally silly and talk about politics with our arsenal of pop culture references and weird characters. I think we wanted to put comedy to social justice issues, and from the perspective of the people who it is affecting.
Erin: At the time, there was no Samantha Bee. There was Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and that was it. It was great that they were talking about our issues but when Colbert was doing the breast cancer awareness story, I’m laughing but I’m also thinking, “It would be really nice to have a woman’s perspective on this.”
You were doing it on Funny or Die before this. How are they different?
Bryan: The creative director at Funny or Die, Andrew Steele, listened to the podcast and said “You guys are so animated, you should just do this on Funny or Die.” It was very lo-fi and from there is when everybody said, “Maybe this could also be a television format.” So it’s definitely been a very slow evolution to get to this format but I think that works to our benefit.
Erin: We are going to keep the same tone and the same content of the podcast. TVLand’s been really awesome about being hands off in that way because we have built an audience based on what we already do. It’s just a really compact version of the podcast with a lot more visual elements, sketches, and we’ve had time to flesh things out. With the podcast, we’ve got the story, we’re doing a lot of improv, and we’re having a loose discussion. This will still feel loose, but it will definitely look like a TV show.
What’s your history in improv and sketch?
Bryan: I took my first UCB class in New York in college and I was like “Why am I going to college? This is clearly the thing that I want to do.” And then I moved to LA, continued with UCB, and did stuff with The Groundlings.
Erin: I took a very sad improv class in Texas in college and even though I don’t think I had that magical experience, I knew that I was onto something. I had a boyfriend in college who I told “I think I want to get into sketch comedy and put a packet together for SNL” and he was like “You’ll never be successful at that.” And then I moved to Chicago and started with Second City and I was like “This is exactly what I want to do with my life.”
Where do you think the comedy world is at with sketch and improv? It seems like it’s been growing exponentially. Do you think that it’s leveling off or is there a lot more room to grow?
Erin: Art always explodes under people like Trump. I think it will get incredible in the next four years.
Bryan: I feel like the rise of comedy will reach its height in a few years, would be my guess.
Erin: Think of what a challenge it is to make fun of Trump when he’s already saying such an insane things. It already doesn’t sound real. You gotta really work to make him a joke because he already is one.
How did it come to be with working with a partner? Did you dream of being solo?
Bryan: Erin and I both worked with other people before and also on our own, and I think that our exact tone and sensibility match perfectly with Throwing Shade. But we still do a bunch of stuff separately. This is definitely the thing that we know for sure, it’s twin language to us at this point and it was from the start.
Erin: I think with any partnership it’s always good — and this also goes for relationships and business partnerships — it’s always good to have outside stuff too because you want to feel like you’re individuals who can bring new and fresh things to your artistic partnership.
Speaking of doing things separately, you each have a wide range of guest appearances on shows. Any standout moments?
Erin: Even though I wasn’t really a large part of the Key and Peele “Marriage Equality” sketch it did feel very cool to be a part of that. Because when gay marriage was legalized, that picture got put up on so many platforms and I was really proud to be a part of that. My mom joked, “Look, you’re in Entertainment Weekly for someone else’s show before your own!” It just felt really special. And talk about two people who really talk about progress and social justice in a way that was really funny. Those guys really paved the way.
Bryan: For me, I got to do the Lifetime movie “A Deadly Adoption” with Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig and that was insane and incredible. That’s definitely a highlight. The whole movie was shot in two weeks.
Was there a weird vibe of having two amazing comedians for this movie that you’re essentially playing completely straight like any Lifetime movie?
Bryan: We would shoot a take and then die laughing because it was so ridiculous. Everyone was super excited about playing it that real. I know some people did not like that but it was fun to do. I think the thing with the shooting schedule is that it was so fast was that there was hardly time to fuck around that much. We would laugh really hard but it was like “We gotta move! We gotta move!” just to get the thing done.
Erin: The amount of coffee Bryan has to get in that movie is unparalleled.
You also produced this phenomenal video that is simply Michael Shannon reading this crazy sorority letter that had gone viral. How did that come together?
Bryan: That horrible sorority letter. It was so insane, so crass, so specific. I mean it’s truly the work of a sociopathic monster but they were also brilliant cutdowns. So I was like “What if we get someone super intense, a brilliant actor to do this” and Michael Shannon was flying into LA that night. I thought of this at like noon and then Funny or Die and the director Danny Jelinek were like “He’s flying in tonight, let’s ask him when he lands.” We did, we went over there, done, it was great. He killed it.
Erin: We should hire her to write on our show.