There have been mornings when I rolled over in bed, turned on the TV, and sat there for hours watching a video game show called X-Play. I don’t play video games myself, was never much into it, but I would watch the G4 network religiously for multiple reasons: namely Morgan Webb, and because I am a pig.
Looking back on those times, I realize that what I really enjoyed was how it felt like watching early MTV. It was live-to-tape, it felt loose, a little wacky, and every episode was a good time. To that end, I began to notice a familiar name in the credits, Guy Branum, who I knew as a stand-up comedian, not as a video game nerd.
Branum is not only a hysterical stand-up, but also a writer for some great talk shows and scripted comedies. As a comic, his boisterous and energetic personality on stage makes for a raucous good time for audiences. As the host of his own talk show, he manages to boil down that personality into small outbursts when necessary, all while not overshadowing his guests.
How did you originally get involved writing for video game network G4?
My friend Laura Swisher, who is actually a producer with the podcast network of the podcast that I now have a podcast at, recommended me for a job, and then I just never stopped working there for four years. I started working there in San Francisco in 2004, and at the end of 2007 I was still working there. It was so much fun because I’m also not a video game person. I do like video games, I just like really boring video games with either gardening or budgets.
What’s the main difference between writing for a TV show vs writing for stand-up vs writing for a book?
The thing about writing for a TV show is you have a boss who is going to yell at you, or potentially fire you if you don’t do your job. So you end up doing your job. Stand-up is one of those things where if you don’t push yourself, you won’t grow and you will not create new stuff. It’s easy for me as a person who grew up working class to just focus on the job with the boss and not the stuff that is like taking care of myself. The book [My Life as a Goddess] was an interesting place in between because I knew I had to get it done, but my editor was very sort of like, Do it your way, in your process.
Was it difficult going from writer’s room to hosting?
No, because I did Talk Show the Game Show as a live show for such a long time, I really knew the show inside it out. It was really interesting having a show of my own for the first time and really trying to pick up the lessons [from] the good bosses I’ve worked for on how to get good stuff out of people. Billy Eichner is astoundingly good at making everyone feel really loved and appreciated for the work that they do. Even if he’s not gonna use it. Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb from X-Play did such a good job of loving and appreciating the work I did and then putting those perfect cherries on top because they were so funny and so knowledgeable about video games.
I love Talk Show the Game Show! Because I love when comedians just to get to tell jokes. Why was it important for you to feature comedians on it as well as guest celebrities?
Comedians are just the people I had access to, and I think comedians are very good at panel. I’m currently in Britain, and they have this rich world of panel shows and game shows that are all about comedians riffing and having a good time. And with the exception @Midnight, we haven’t really been able to make one of those stick in the United States. I hope somebody figures it out, and I hope it’s me.
Like many comedians, you went to law school. Do you think going to school to learn how to do extensive research and to debate is a beneficial skill set for comedians, or something that leads them into comedy?
I think that’s a really close observation of the link between the two things. I think that people who like the law and comedy both like being coercive with words. I think that law school really helps you get good at researching something and being able to fit it into a pattern. If you’re saying something’s a battery, you have to say that somebody got touched. You have to say that that touch was nonconsensual. You really have to say that touch was outside of the normal sort of touching you have to deal with in real life. In a joke you also have elements. You have a premise or the setup, you have a punchline, you have rule of threes, you have misdirects, you have all of these things that you have to do structurally. And I think being able to look at the world and take facts and sort of like reshape them to meet that structure is just as good for the bullshit art of comedy as it is for the bullshit art of the law.
Do you feel you’re more of a writer or a performer?
I’m more of a writer because America doesn’t have famous gay male standards. I got rent to pay. When I started out, people were like, You seem more of a writer. So, I responded by trying to learn as much as I could about performance, and what good, engaging stand-up is. And I think at this time I lean far too much on my performance skills and need to write some new jokes. Crowd work, talking to the audience and that kind of thing, is so much fun, and it’s such a great way to engage with an audience and get to know them.
You’ve done plenty of articles about, and you’ve talked about in your own stand-up too, about how upset you get with certain representations.
I do get annoyed by the fact that they always cast straight guys to play gay guys. But sometimes I think it’s good. I think Brokeback Mountain and Moonlight were really good. I love Call Me by Your Name. I just think sometimes there are straight guys who are acting like, Ew, I don’t want to have to kiss anybody. I’m just tired of watching gay guys portrayed by straight guys’ best speculation of what gay sex looks like. It’s like, there are gay actors out there, try them. Or if you’ve got to cast the straight guy, he needs to try really fucking hard. And do some fucking research. I think fat suits are dumb. I even wrote a chapter of my book about it that was excerpted in Vulture. I got tired of shows like This Is Us portraying fat people as sad sacks. It’s like, Calm down, we’re doing fine. Like, stop pathologizing us.
What do you think makes for a good interview?
And what makes for good interview questions?
Asking people something that they don’t expect that gets at who they are, but doesn’t make them feel attacked or challenged.
Is there ever a question in an interview that you’ve never been asked but always wanted to?
It’s funny, my friend Sofie Hagen, that’s what she asks in every one of her podcasts. I forget what my answer was. Right now I’m going to say, Guy, do you have a good peach cobbler recipe?
Hey, Guy, do you have a good peach cobbler recipe?
Yes. It’s actually in chapter 14 of my book, My Life as a Goddess, available wherever books are sold.
Guy Branum’s new book, My Life as a Goddess: A Memoir Through (Un)Popular Culture, is out now. You can get your copy signed by and see Guy 12.21–22 at Laugh Boston. Check out the full, unedited conversation by downloading the podcast at deadairdennis.com/podcast.