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Jonny McGovern: Gay
Pimp of All Media

Jonny McGovern: Gay
Pimp of All Media


The queer comedian talks about The Big Gay Sketch Show, getting famous from music videos in the dark days before YouTube, and his popular podcast Gay Pimpin' With Jonny McGovern, highlighted on a new best-of CD

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 ]

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!

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 ]

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