Aisha Tyler on Laughing, Love, and Telling It Like It Is
From geeking out about her superior Xbox skills at Comic-Con to freely speaking her mind as a cohost of The Talk, Aisha Tyler isn’t a woman who often finds herself at a loss for words. But when asked to pinpoint the LGBT appeal of Lana Kane — the sexy, sassy, kick-ass secret agent she has voiced for five seasons on the hit animated series Archer — the comedian playfully shrugs and throws up her hands.
“I always joke that gay men love a big black woman, but I don’t know if that really has anything to do with Lana’s popularity,” she says with a laugh after a long pause. “If I had to guess, I’d say I think the gay community loves honesty. They love people that tell the truth. For so many people, coming out is such a brave act that they really respect bravery in others. But honestly, I don’t really know why gay men love Lana other than — well, let’s be honest, she’s a little draggy. There’s a little bit of a drag queen vibe to her.”
Born in the diverse city of San Francisco, Tyler says she has long felt a kinship with the struggles of the LGBT community. “I was kind of a nerdy kid and I was teased so much for being a weirdo,” the 43-year-old admits. “But the great thing about being an outsider when I was growing up was that I eventually just stopped caring what other people thought and it made me really embrace who I was. That gave me a lot of — I don’t even know if self-confidence was what it was, because I was lonely and wanted to fit in. But when I realized I wasn’t going to fit in, I was able to follow my own path and be my own person.”
Tyler’s confidence in her talent drove the entertainer to follow her dreams when she moved to Los Angeles in 1996 to pursue a career in comedy. After experiencing some success as a standup comedian, Tyler’s career took off when she was cast as the host of the E! network series Talk Soup in 2001. From there, she quickly found herself appearing in a number of hit television shows, including Friends, 24, and Ghost Whisperer, before landing the role of Lana Kane in Archer — a series that Tyler is proud to be a part of due to its depiction of strong women and sexually fluid cast of characters. “I’ve always believed that sexuality is fluid,” Tyler says. “Some people fall very hard on one side or the other of the spectrum, but sexuality is a fluid, complex thing. I do think shows like ours that deal with that fluidity in a fun, open way, kind of bring those ideas into the mainstream. I think of the parts of the globe where women and gays are living in the equivalent of the equality Stone Ages, and I hope some of what we do makes a difference. The fact of the matter is that the rest of the world, for the most part, consumes Western culture. They watch our TV shows, they listen to our music. We lead culturally. We don’t always do a good job of leading culturally, but in this particular aspect, I do think we are helping the rest of the world catch up.”
In addition to the influence Tyler enjoys as an actress, she is also a New York Times best-selling author with two books to her credit and a regular contributor to a number of magazines, including Glamour, Jane, and Entertainment Weekly. But the media jack-of-all-trade’s voice began reaching an even larger audience in 2011 when she not only launched and became the host of her own podcast, Girl on Guy, (currently the number 7 overall podcast on iTunes), but also accepted the job as cohost of The Talk alongside out actress Sara Gilbert, Julie Chen, Sheryl Underwood, and Sharon Osbourne.
Though Tyler has long been an outspoken supporter of LGBT people, the talk show cohost recently hoped to further debunk the argument of antigay bigots who cite the inability of same-sex couples to procreate with one another as a reason to battle marriage equality. During a September episode of The Talk, Tyler opened up about her own infertility struggles and the realization that she and her husband would not be able to have children biologically. “For someone to say that marriage is only about procreation is a joke,” Tyler says. “Because there are plenty of straight couples who can’t or don’t want to have children. That’s a big part of why I decided to talk about my situation. I wanted to say that it’s OK to remain child-free. I didn’t marry my husband to have children. I married my husband because I love my husband. I believe that the essence of marriage is choosing someone who loves you for who you are, embraces everything about you, and building a life with that person. Whether that life is with children or without children — it’s honestly immaterial to building a life with someone that you love fully.”
“My husband and I are about to celebrate our 20th anniversary,” Tyler adds. “And for 18 of those years we did not want kids. To say that somehow our marriage is less because we didn’t have children back then, or a failure now because we can’t, is total bullshit. And it’s bullshit to say to gay and lesbian couples that somehow the only reason to get married is to have children or you don’t count. It’s a ridiculous argument.”
Along with recognizing the diversity of relationships, Tyler also believes laughter can be a powerful tool for those who wish to effect social change. “I think there’s a lot of comedy in sexuality,” she says. “It’s so strange because, here in America, we’re really comfortable with depictions of extreme violence, even on broadcast television, but we’re very squeamish about sex. However, if those taboos are going to be broken, I think they’ll get broken in comedy first. For me personally, I’m a really big LGBT ally, I have been since I was a kid, and it’s really important to me to speak up on behalf of people who are trying to live their lives as honestly and truthfully as they can, to defend them and to be their friend. Because even though I’m straight, to me there’s a lot of ways in one’s life to live truthfully and embrace who you are rather than be what society wants you to be.”
While Tyler promises the current season of Archer — airing Mondays at 10 p.m. on FX — will continue to push boundaries and offer plenty of laughs, the voice of Lana Kane says she won’t spoil any season 5 details. “I don’t want to give anything away,” she says. “If people have seen the first couple episodes, they know that all bets are off. The team has been disavowed, they’re no longer agents with the government, and they’re gonna be even more unruly than they’ve ever been. It’s gonna be a great ride.”