"CAN YOU call this piece 'The Next Oprahs'?" Bryan Safi asks me in the middle of our conversation.
"Yes, pleaaase," adds Erin Gibson.
They're taking my questions over speakerphone on an 11-hour drive from Washington, DC to Atlanta, Georgia, the latest stop on their nearly sold-out Throwing Shade live tour, named for their queer-friendly, feminist-informed comedy podcast. I've never seen an hour of The Oprah Winfrey Show in my life, so I admit I can't make that comparison and agree to catch up. Seeing self-described "homosensual" Bryan Safi and "feminasty" Erin Gibson on an extravagant stage with celebrities jumping on sofas is definitely my dream, though. I want these two to take it to the limit, all while they address—and make fun of—"issues important to ladies and gays."
Throwing Shade, not to be confused with the English DJ of the same name, began in the fall of 2011, when Safi and Gibson met through Upright Citizens Brigade improv classes in Los Angeles. "We didn't even really know one another at UCB," says Safi. "But there was a TV show we were both hired to write for called infoMania that was so lovely it got canceled." That was when they decided to start a podcast. "Erin already had been doing a music podcast, so she had a lot of the equipment already," says Safi.
"It was a perfectly fine podcast," Gibson interjects, "but I think that Throwing Shade offers people certain niche appeal... podcasts can offer a very specialized perspective."
They continue going back and forth like this, cutting in and talking over each another. "There was this one teacher in our improv classes that would be like, 'If someone comes after you for being a woman, for being gay, you tear their throat out.' I think she helped me become really fierce," Gibson says at one point. It turned out that neither she nor Safi were any good at improv. But working on infoMania, they found they could talk and talk. I ask how much of Throwing Shade gets cut to make a succinct show. "None. Almost NONE of it!" Safi responds, sounding proud of this.
Despite the chaotic, irreverent humor of its hosts, Throwing Shade has a strong format. As with most conversation-based podcasts, Safi and Gibson's opens with talking about their weekends and joking around. Then one of them tackles a "'ssue"—a diminutive for "issue," pronounced "shoe." "We used to do two 'ssues each and that was too many," Safi says. Then there's always a wild card—a guest, musical or otherwise. When I ask how they source them, there's an enthusiastic response of "Our friends!" and "We don't!"
But while they don't plan their show meticulously, they might have to start. With the rise of Erin Gibson's Game of Thrones parody recap series, Gay of Thrones (she's the creator, writer, and a regular guest) and Bryan Safi's acting career (he played Charlie in the Lifetime original film A Deadly Adoption and Alan on Young & Hungry), I was worried they might be getting too busy to keep making Throwing Shade. But the opposite turned out to be true.
"We never started the podcast as a career move or a way to make money," says Safi. "Lord knows we NEVER expected to make any money from it. We never expected to be doing... well, soon we'll be doing it full-time." He trails off after saying this. They can't say anything more, but it's clear something's up. Something big is in the works. Keep an eye on Erin Gibson and Brian Safi. They're socially conscious improv loudmouths playing sold-out shows across the nation, and you're about to see a whole lot more of them.
Throwing Shade with Jordan, Jesse, Go!, Sat Sept 12, Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy, $20
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Literary Portland: A Brief Tour
Shade Game Strong