“If someone could just press a Fran Drescher button every time I make a bad joke, that'd be great,” says Gabe Gonzalez, the host of Scruff’s in-app quiz show Hosting. Gonzalez, a stand up comedian and writer (with bylines at Remezcla, Mic, Flama, Into, and NBC Out), is the type of boy you’d definitely woof at, making him the ideal host for a show aiming to build a community on a hook up app, a space that can often be seen as polarizing.
App-based queer culture is often criticized for isolating queer people, takingcruising out of gay bars and moving it online, keeping us from spaces where we can get laid and build community. Hosting, which launched earlier this year, harkens back to the days of gay bar trivia nights, with multiple-choice questions covering everything from pop culture to LGBTQ+ history. But now those trivia nights have gone digital, allowing users from all over the world to connect with each other and win some cash. Out spoke with Gonzalez about hosting Hosting and whether he considers himself the gay Alex Trebek — who he says he’d absolutely give a mustache ride. “That's a talent crush. That's a legacy fuck.”
How did this all start?
From the earliest iteration of Hosting, the goal was always to entertain, but also educate, to infuse whatever this was going to be with an element of teaching queer history, of teaching pop culture that relates to queer folks, and creating a space where you can learn a little bit more about the community you identify with.
That's such an important goal for me in particular. I grew up in Florida, there was no queer component to our sex education. I thought that HIV was just transmitted by gay men kissing, I didn't know it was a virus. I just felt so woefully undereducated about my own sexual health, about my own community's history. We try to keep the show light-hearted toward the beginning with some of the easier questions, and then really hone in on stuff that some people might not know about, or might know a little bit about and are eager to learn more of.
What made you realize what was working and what wasn't?
We brought in audiences for a lot of these beta shows. Before we ever went live, we brought in people and we talked to them, [and got] a sense of what's working for people live. But we also honed in on certain test groups within the app. So before the show went live across the board, we would do some test shows on the app as well. And when we did our first show in Latin America, the first show I wrote in Spanish, we didn't even make it to the end of the quiz. The questions were a little too hard. We made it to question number eight or nine and I was like, "Okay, this is a different audience, different demographic, different needs and interests. So let's cater the show more toward them, and make sure that at least a few folks get to the end of the show." Honing in on what each audience needs.
Apps have become the digital version of a gay bar. When you go to gay bars, they have drag shows, they have game nights. Is Hosting bringing that experience into the digital age?
Absolutely, that was very much the thinking behind it. This kind of thought has become very prevalent, that the idea that apps like Scruff connecting individuals socially has almost supplanted the gay bar as that site, right? And that also comes with a bit of a responsibility to create a space where these people can come on and not just connect with a potential partner or a potential friend, but engage in an event, something that links us culturally or links our communities.
Because one of the criticisms of app culture is that we're becoming very isolated because of it, is Hosting a reaction that that?
I don't know if it's necessarily a reaction like, "Ugh, apps are isolating us. We must do something to connect people." But the thinking is that we can use our imagination with what these apps are for. We've become so stagnant in our idea of what an app like Scruff is for. You go out and you meet some people, you flirt a little bit, you get cute, you make a friend, you talk, you chat, maybe you take it off the app, maybe you don't. And that's certainly what an app like Scruff is primarily used for. But I do think that there is, maybe not necessarily a need, but a desire to find new ways to connect and interact with individuals on an app.
It's exciting that Scruff is willing to take the leap a show like this one and really put in the work to get it right. We were beta testing for a while, and we really wanted to get this right. We wanted it to be something every user could enjoy, not feel isolated by, which is again why we try to make the content across the board and incorporate pop culture and history. I don't want a bunch of questions about Britney Spears. First of all, she's not queer. And second of all, she's acceptable to such a small slice of our population as like a queer icon. It's important, because on this app you're also getting a much broader audience than you would at a gay bar.
We've also kind of like essentialized which gay bars do what in the city. You have your hipster bars in Brooklyn, you have your daddy bars in the Upper West Side. Even these bars have been siloed into these aspects or tribes in the queer community. And finding something that can bridge these divisions is crucial. It's exciting, and it's introducing people to new ways to interact with each other on an app like Scruff.
Why do you think Scruff is the perfect app to introduce a show like this? What about the community that uses it is primed for this kind of show?
I's a mixture of our community, but also our writing staff. We have a really incredible staff of writers that includes Bailey Williams, Jay Jurden, Sam Taggart. We got a cross section of the queer community to come make this happen, and if you develop anything from the ground up with an eye toward your community, what your community wants, what your community feels is authentic, you're going to end up creating something that is fun for other people.
Something that's unique about Scruff in particular, speaking from personal experience, is that out of all the apps out there that are similar, Scruff is the one app I’ve used where conversation was almost a bit more welcome. [On other apps] it's like really cut and dry. It's like, "Dick pick, coming over, not cute, nevermind, bye." And I legitimately met friends on Scruff when I first moved to New York. It was a very useful tool for finding my neighbors, which is super embarrassing, because I could just go outside. But I discovered so many gay neighbors on the app. I discovered other artists who were doing things I was doing. I got a job interview off of Scruff when I first moved here. Just like the wildest things. Being the app that welcomes a bit more conversation or humanizes that exchange primes Scruff to be that place that's perfect for experimentation like this. You're not just coming to get the deed done. You're coming to engage with other people.
Tell me about branching out to Latin America.
That happened a few months after we solidified what the show structure was going to look like. We had a really incredible team based out of Colombia that has helped us reach out to influencers and people throughout Latin America, thinking about what they want and what they're interested in, and giving us feedback on our first few beta shows. I am bilingual and a native Spanish speaker. So, to me, it was so, so important to get a show out there in Spanish that isn't just in the language of Latin American users, but speaks to their culture and the broad cross section of pop culture references and influences and preferences that exist throughout this entire continent. Because we're running the gamut here.
In English we'll do the US and Canada, but in Latin America we have Mexico, all of Central America, and almost all of South America. Those are a lot of different countries, and the challenge was making it specific enough that it didn't feel like some generic gringos throwing out a show that was just translated into Spanish, while also keeping it broad enough to make it accessible to all of Latin America.
The other exciting thing was finding writers in Latin America to help us. So for one of our first beta shows we brought in Johnny Carmona, who is such a talented host in Mexico. He hosts a drag show called La Mas Draga, which I've been a huge fan of. It's really great, very authentic to Mexican culture. Each one of their runway shows was inspired by an aspect of Mexican culture. So I was like, "Okay. This dude is going to be a great host for our first test run in Latin America. He knows how to infuse entertainment, specifically queer entertainment, with education and very specific cultural references." We developed two scripts and tested them out with him, then we held tight for a little bit and tweaked a few things and wanted to make sure we got it right. So now I'm co-writing with Tulio Espinoza, who's a comedian based out of New York.
I imagine you must get a lot of DMs these days—
—that are like, "I saw you on Hosting. I lost, but-"
They're always, "I lost, but," right? The people that win don't have time for me. They've gotten their money and moved on. There is one friend of mine who's won so many games, and every time he wins he updates me. And I'm like, "Honey, by the end of the year you're going to walk away with enough that you're going to have to declare Hosting on your taxes," which is my goal. I hope every queer can.
But yeah. I get a lot of DMs, and they're surprisingly really nice and not creepy at all. There was one dude — we had something I like to call Lighter Gate, where I had a lighter in my pocket and I had like three different people take a screenshot and then circle the shape in my pocket and be like, "What is this? Is this your hard on?" And I was like, "Okay. You know what? This is funny. I'll take this in stride."
Most of the people that reach out also have questions. "How did this get started? When is the next show? Are you doing any live performances? Tell me more about this." What I think is exciting is when people watch for the first time, they're curious. They want to reach out and know more. I also have people follow up about specific questions. We asked a question about Oscar Wilde, and a certain color hanky he wore to plays that coded him as a queer person. And people were like, "Where did you find this information? I want to read more?" Or like, "I'm writing about this right now and I have not heard this piece of information outside the show." That to me is the coolest thing, where you sparked this curiosity and people want to dig further. Those are the messages that make me personally the happiest, because that's the fucking cherry on top, when people are eager to learn more.
Have you gotten any DMs from anyone being like, "Girl, I met this boy when I lost."
Not yet. I would love for that to happen though. It'd be real cute to play Yenta during the quiz show.
And there's going to be a Xtube video that's like, "After we lost Hosting, here's what happened."
Somebody tweeted about our show, and was the best meme. It was like, “Scruff Hosting game show be like, 'Question one: What is Beyonce's last name?' Question two: In 1833, who was the first queer person to climb Mount Everest, and were they cut or uncut?'" It just shows how quickly the subject matter can jump. But I haven't gotten a DM telling me about a romance on Hosting.
If there are any out there, I would love to know. DM me on Twitter, because that would be a story I could take home with me and just gay cry about. I would love that.
So do you want to be the gay Alex Trebek?
I don't know if I want to be. I don't know if I could touch that kind of iconic status.
The gay Pat Sajak?
The gay Pat Sajak! Oh my god. I want to be the gay Vanna White. There we go. That's the real goal. Actually, you know who my favorite quiz game show host is? That redheaded British lady from The Weakest Link? The woman who eviscerated RuPaul when she was on The Weakest Link — I want to be that woman. I forgot her name. But she is to me the be all, end all of quiz show hosts, even though I can't remember her god damn fucking name. [Editor’s Note: it was Anne Robinson!]