Jeremy Pope
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EXCLUSIVE: Tough Love Season 3 Addresses LGBT Representation—Without Six-Packs

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After a nearly two-year hiatus (and an enormously successful Kickstarter campaign), New York-based LGBT web series Tough Love is back—and its bigger, better, and snarkier than ever. The series’ third season has Steven Bell and costar Blaire Wendel continuing to play exaggerated versions of themselves, while navigating the perils of modern love, employment, and general livelihood with equal measures irreverence and insight.

Along for the ride are Hunting Season star and Out 100 Honoree Ben Baur, My Gay Roommate star Noam Ash, and Inside Amy Schumer’s Beth Hoyt, among other notable guest stars.

Catch an exclusive preview of the fun ahead with a clip directed by Gabe Gonzalez featuring DP Brendan Swift below. Tough Love Season 3 premieres on Tuesday, March 22 at WatchToughlLove.com.

OUT.com Exclusive Sneak Peek from ToughLoveSeries on Vimeo.

Oh, and we also chatted up Bell about what’s in store for Season 3’s seven episodes, the importance of comedy, and the pitfalls of ab privilege below.

Out: For Out readers who aren’t familiar with Tough Love, what’s it all about?

Steven Bell: It’s an odd couple comedy featuring me, Steven—kind of a neurotic, OCD gay man—and my best friend, Blaire, who is a big ball of yarn. She’s overweight, she doesn’t care, she doesn’t try to look good. She’s also a lesbian or sexually fluid—we’re constantly figuring that out. Basically, the show is just the two of us kind of learning to live together and getting through all of the awkward situations that come with being an awkward person.

After this hiatus between Season 2 and Season 3, what’s new with Steven and Blaire? How have they changed?

I didn’t really set out to make a web series, but it kind of became that. And Season 1 was just real conversations that I’ve had with Blaire that we wrote into short little episodes. That was just kind of an exploration of the characters and how they deal with each other. And then in the second season, we got a little bit of funding together, and we were able to see what these two characters are like out in the world. And now that we did our Kickstarter and raised over $18,000, we were able to really get into the characters on their own and develop them a little more. So with Steven, he’s a gay man, but he’s not good at being gay. This season is all about him trying to dive into that world and failing miserably. Blaire, at the end of the second season, her girlfriend dumps her. Now she’s trying to bounce back from that and get in shape and figure things out. Her cousin, Will, is living on our couch, and he’s her sidekick in getting out there and finding some hot chicks—and it also goes bad.

I also just wanted to focus on little, awkward moments: What does it feel like to take your computer into the shop to get it fixed with the knowledge that you have a ton of kinky porn on it? Or, what’s it like to be overweight as a girl in New York City trying to go to a SoulCycle class and make friends with those New York City fitness girls, but noticing how you’re not them and knowing that you don’t fit in?

Is this at all inspired by your actual experience?

Well, it started from a very real place. We’ve been able to split from reality a little bit. I’ve actually been in a relationship for eight years, so it’s true that I don’t know what dating is like in the city, and that is a terrifying thing to me. I know I’m an awkward person, so I know that dating would be an awkward thing. I know I have body issues, so I know that body issues would come up. In one of the scenes of the new season, there’s an almost-sexual encounter with this really attractive guy, but my body issues come up when he wants me to take my shirt off. That’s something that is very real to me. If I ever did find myself single again and I had to try the hookup world, there would be a lot of insecurities. I definitely use that reality I feel, but I have been in a relationship, and that’s the only reality I’ve known.

You’re certainly not alone in those insecurities. It’s all about ab privilege!

Definitely. There’s a couple shows that I feel like are doing what we’re doing. I don’t know if you know the show Please Like Me...

Love that show!

Please Like Me, and also The Outs. There’s gay characters that aren’t super fit that have insecurities. It’s not as polished as Queer as Folk or Looking. At times, it’s hard as an average guy to relate to these gorgeous men. I don’t relate to it because that’s not me. I’m excited to see shows like Please Like Me make it to a network, and I want to see more of that, because I know there’s a lot of people out there that don’t have six-packs.

And while exploring these matters, Tough Love maintains a sort of irreverent sense of humor.

What I found with Blaire and I starting to make episodes together is that we have this natural comedic dynamic that comes from our real life, so we found when we put our first episode up online, the way that people responded, we realized that maybe we could do this comedy thing. We’ve been at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade] training for a few years. I wanted to make comedy. Here’s the deal, I’m from West Virginia. My family, they’re Apostolic Pentecostals—very religious, very strict. I just came out to them two years ago, and this show is kind of my way of showing them that whether or not they’re down with what I’m doing, I’m putting it out there. And I don’t want to do that in a dramatic way. That’s not who Blaire and I are. We’re goofy people. The Blaire and Steven you see in the show, is very much the Blaire and Steven in real life. That’s kind of how we get through our struggles.

On the creative side of things, is it just you leading the charge?

I’m the head writer, but this season I brought on three other writers to help me kind of start the first few episodes of the season, and then I finished off the end of the season on my own. I kind of wanted to make it feel like a writers’ room where we’re bouncing ideas, bouncing jokes off each other. That really helped me. For the first time, we had a budget to make the episodes longer—they’re now in the 12- to 15-minute range per episode, so it’s almost like TV structure in how much time we have to tell a story. I wanted a little bit of help with that.

So where can we watch this new season?

We’ll be releasing it on Vimeo through our website, WatchToughLove.com, and we’ll release an episode every Tuesday. Not at all at once because we’re not Netflix!

Catch Tough Love beginning Tuesday, March 22.

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