“I am gagging for you faggot,” said Kate Berlant, in a three-second clip I saw in a meme on Twitter. The affect and enthusiasm with which this straight woman delivered the line to a presumably gay man was so deranged, so chuckle-worthy, and yet, so blisteringly familiar, I did all the Googles I could until I found the source of the clip.
It was from a show called The Other Two, a Lorne Michaels-produced project that promised slapstick comedy and light social commentary on the phenomenon of viral social media stars. The story follows Chase Dreams who’s hilariously terrible song “I Want to Marry You at Recess” becomes a worldwide YouTube sensation —making him, “America’s Next Big White Kid,” à la Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Cameron Dallas, etc. The central characters in Chase’s orbit are his mother (Molly Shannon), and his two siblings, Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Hélene Yorke), who all handle his fame in different ways.
Admittedly, when I first heard about the show via press release, I was not all that excited about it. While Cary’s character (and the actor who plays him!) is queer, the viral success of white mediocrity seemed a bit too close to home for me. But by episode two, I was absolutely hooked on something that was not only smart, scream-at-the-TV good, and deeply self-aware, but it also turned out to be, unquestionably, the gayest show on television (maybe setting Drag Race aside).
— Chris Kelly (@imchriskelly) March 15, 2019
So many gay-as-hell references snuck their way in between lines — references so insider-baseball that only a friend of Dorothy would catch. There is an ongoing stint about Debra Messing, as well as one for Billy Eichner. There are hilarious mentions of Antoni Porowski, Gus Kenworthy, Real Housewives, Ryan Murphy, Frankie Grande, and more. The show features one of the funniest Call Me By Your Name spoofs I’ve ever seen, and even a (very good) joke about the Out 100.
All of this left me wondering: How in the heck did the show’s creatives get away with so many homosexual easter eggs in every single episode? The answer: “[Creators] Sarah [Schneider] and Chris [Kelly] did such a great job of staffing a room full of writers that reflected the characters they were writing for — women and gay men,” says Joel Kim Booster, one of the show’s writers and co-producers.
“It’s been really cool to see people respond to the comedy, but also to have gay people watch it and be like ‘Oh my god, I recognize that. That is real, that is specific.’ I wish there were more shows like that on TV, and I’m really proud I played a small part in this one,” says Kim Booster. When it comes to the show’s innate sense of humor, the writers never shied away from the the cultural tropes that interested them. Kim Booster was the writer of an episode that centered an entire story arc around an episode of Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen. Not only did Cohen guest star in the episode, but hoo, girl, was it funny.
Kelly and Schneider, formerly co-head writers of Saturday Night Live, are the creative minds behind the show, and also the real-life counterparts to the two characters they are loosely based on. “Chris and Sarah’s era of SNL was the best in recent memory,” says Kim Booster, talking about why he decided to take on the project. “I’d also seen Chris’ movie Other People and that had resonated so much with me … when you read the story Chris and Sarah wrote and got the sense that they wanted to tell something more real and grounded, with a gay character, and Molly Shannon? As a writer and a comedian it was impossible to say no.”
The Other Two’s source material comes from a lot of real-life circumstances. “We would spend so much time dissecting our own experiences, but we had no idea we were writing something that would connect with so many people, feel so universal to so many,” he says. Outside the show, Kim Booster also co-hosts a digital show called Unsend with fellow queer Patti Harrison, a Drag Race recap podcast, and also has a body of work in standup that centers his experience as a queer person.
“It's Chris and Sarah's genius, really,” says Cole Escola, another queer comic who worked on the show whose writing credits are as impressive as his wig collection. He says the writers room’s synergy lent itself to the characters. “I loved writing for Drew and Heléne.”
Escola was the credited writer on an episode about Instagays that is one of the greatest satires on gay culture I have ever seen, full stop.
— Chris Kelly (@imchriskelly) March 4, 2019
"I used to be fat, but now I have two nieces," says one of the Instagays, when Cary asks a gaggle of gay influencers what they do for a living. Though Escola was reluctant to take credit for moments throughout the show, citing the collaborative effort of the show’s writers, he admits this line was his. The episode follows a very #relatable assessment of gay culture on social media, and I won’t spoil anymore for you, but I LOLed countless times (and I am typically not a LOL-er).
Where the show is farcical, it also touches on very real queer phenomena. The show addresses gay culture’s obsession with working out and body image. It addresses the tokenization of gay sex scenes as they pertain to Academy Awards. There is another scene wherein Cary, who is an actor being cast in a commercial, is asked to butch it up so he appears less gay on camera. And in another episode, Cary’s co-star in a play says in passing that he didn’t know Cary was gay. Cary says, “Thank you,” instinctively and then both immediately feel gross about the notion of taking pride in passing as straight.
“We talked a lot about this moment in the room and it was something we all related to in some capacity,” says Kim Booster. “Being on either side of that moment or craving that moment when we were younger, the desire to ‘pass.’ I definitely still know a lot of gay guys who put a premium on that.”
But the scene I could not believe made it on air took on the etiquette first gay dates — specifically, not wanting to eat on a date because you want to keep your rectum empty. Reader, let me tell you. As a vers bottom, I have never felt myself so reflected.
— Chris Kelly (@imchriskelly) March 15, 2019
But when it comes to how the show managed such an authentic and realistic portrayal of gay struggles, the answer is a bit of a no-brainer. The Other Two was created, produced, and written largely by gay people. The many queer characters are not only sneaking gay inside jokes throughout each scene, but they also contain multitudes, dimensionality, and — gasp — sex lives. It is a glorious triumph in the measurable effects of hiring folks to write on their own experiences. But as far as things the show can improve on?
“My wish is for more Kate Berlant in season 2,” says Escola. I can’t help but agree, and am gagging for it, faggot.