Jonny McGovern: Gay Pimp of All Media

By Alonso Duralde

Originally published on Advocate.com March 09 2009 11:00 PM ET

If you're a gay man
on the Internet, it's statistically likely that someone sent
you a TV commercial parody called "Gay Juice" last
week. Even if this viral smash somehow missed your in-box, you
probably know the work of its creator, queer comedian Jonny
McGovern.

He's part of the
talented ensemble of Logo's
Big Gay Sketch Show --

I particularly love the bits where he transforms from a
straight guy into a catty queen when the moon is full -- and
the comic music videos featuring McGovern as his Gay Pimp
persona are long-standing faves at gay video bars and on
YouTube.

McGovern's comedy
empire also includes his popular podcast,
Gay Pimpin' With Jonny McGovern,

a raucous and rudely funny show featuring a number of memorable
recurring characters, including trans man Jojo and the
dangerously overweight Waffles, and celebrity sketches
involving topics like Britney Spears's bad parenting skills and
Madonna's advancing age. (The latter bits, which cross the
Material Girl with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner's 2,000-Year-Old
Man, include hilarious zingers like the singer confessing,
"I lost my first apartment to Pangaea.")

If you're looking
to catch up to McGovern's world, a new two-CD set features
favorite moments from
Gay Pimpin',

a show that the performer says works as "a laboratory
where I'm able to experiment with new characters and
songs." In a recent interview we talked about queer
comedy, wanting to be Whoopi Goldberg, and how Tyra and RuPaul
are revealing gay secrets to the world.

Tell me a little about how the podcast began.

Well, a couple years ago -- it shocks me, we've been doing
the show almost three years now -- a producer had approached me
before I had started
BGSS

about the idea of doing a podcast. I actually had no idea what
that was. Once I found out that it was a way to bring content
directly to your audience, without any middleman, I thought it
was a great idea.

You have a recurring cast of characters, the people on the
show have things they goof on each other about -- it's almost
like you have your own satellite radio show.

Exactly. There's no rules, and it's definitely in that format,
that long-form Howard Stern type of ... the shows are as long
as we want it to be and the format allows us to do or say what
we want. People come on and ask, "Can I curse?" And I
say, "They ain't no rules on the podcast!" [
Laughs

]

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How time-consuming is the podcast? It seems like you've got
so many irons in the comedy fire.

We have it down to pretty much a science. At first was full
days of working on it; we'd record five or six hours one
day and then spend the whole next day editing. But now we have
it down to a science; it's pretty tight. I'm able to do all
my other faggoty endeavors at the same time, but this is my
favorite one. It also provokes the most passionate fans -- the
kids who listen to the podcast are really devoted; they get
really into it and get into the characters.

A lot of us first got to know you from the Gay Pimp videos,
but take me back before that. What's your performing
background?

Well, you know, I went to acting school; I went to Boston
University School for the Arts and then came to New York. But I
sort of got bored when I originally moved here, waiting for
someone to cast me in things. I saw all these other people
performing their own material, and thought,
I can do that,

so I started performing these one-man shows all around New
York. And eventually, to promote those shows, I went to
open-mike nights at all these Lower East Side kind of
alternative comedy rooms. And one of those shows that I started
doing with a group of people out of those open-mike nights,
called Grindhouse-a-Go-Go, everybody would get together and we
would write a loose script and just throw together these
musicals. And one of those shows was called
The Wrong Fag to Fuck With: The Gay Pimp vs. Eminem,

and that's where the whole Gay Pimp thing started. That's where
the "Soccer Practice" song came out of. And then I
started performing as the Gay Pimp character at different
nightclubs in New York.

When you started doing this, there was no Logo ...

There wasn't even YouTube! [
Laughs

] I feel like, man, this would have been a lot easier if my
video had been passed around on YouTube. They were playing it
in video bars! A phenomenon I didn't even know existed!
Today, it would have been a lot easier to get that video seen
and a lot easier to get revenue streams off of it. I mean, I
remember sending people DVDs at the post office, myself!

Queer comedy seems like it was ghettoized for a long time,
but now it seems to be reaching a wider audience. In the years
that you've been doing it, do you sense a shift in who your
fans are and who's responding to this material?

There's always been a group of people who liked what I did, but
"Soccer Practice" kinda hit across the board. The
people that I reached on that level -- straight girls, straight
nerds, whoever -- they all would come along with me. I think
more people understand what I'm talking about now, due to
the Tyra-ization of gay culture. Or
RuPaul's Drag Race.

A lot of references to runway battles and drag things that gay
people have known about from their club life are certainly
becoming more mainstream and easier for people to understand.
All our gay subculture secrets are now being fully used on
mainstream TV shows, but that's good so people can understand
you. But I always think,
Tyra, you stole my joke!

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Who do you think is funny? Who are your comedy idols?

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Lucille Ball. My bedroom
was like a shrine, with Lucille Ball and the casts of
The Golden Girls

and
227

cut up and put on my walls. It was so faggoty. Everyone else my
age had pictures of rock stars or sexy ladies, and I was all,
"Oh. Bea Arthur, you're so beautiful." [
Laughs

] I really do think that watching
Golden Girls

can be like a master class in delivery and timing. And when I
was a kid, I was really loving what Whoopi Goldberg was doing,
when she was doing those one-woman shows back in the day. I
still enjoy her on
The View

, but back in the day, she was someone I looked to in my early
career as to who I wanted to emulate as to how she got her big
break. She took acting classes and did her one-person show
characters in class to get attention, and I followed that same
path, but sadly, I was not cast in
The Color Purple

by Steven Spielberg. (laughs) That's where our roads
divide.

Has any of your material, especially with the podcast, been
controversial? I mean, being a skinny guy playing an enormously
fat guy has to be one of the last queer taboos, much less the
racial and trans material you guys get into.

Not from
The Big Gay Sketch Show

. I mean, certainly we had a lot of racy stuff, especially in
season two, but I haven't had anybody get angry with me
about any of that kind of stuff. It's all pretty much love from
the fans out there. There have been times over my career in the
past when people have accused me of pandering to some idea that
gay guys are all about sex -- there was criticism of the Gay
Pimp that it was all [in televangelist voice] "dancing
go-go boys and drag queens and rhinestones!" And it's
like, "Lighten up, bitch. We're having fun."
That's the only kind of criticism that people give me, that
whatever I do, it's shining a bad light because it's too
frivolous. But I think there's a lot of room for frivolity in
the world today and
plenty

of room for rhinestones, go-go boys and drag queens.

If you could do anything, whether it was touring or TV or
writing or the podcast, where do you want all this to go?

Ultimately, I love doing TV. Filming
The Big Gay Sketch Show

has been a blast, and that's what I'd like to do more of. If
the podcast could lead to a TV show, like Howard Stern did,
that would be a blast. Or I love late-night or even daytime
talk shows, so you and your grandma could have a nice cup of
tea in the afternoon with your Gay Pimp, Jonny McGovern. [
Laughs

]