Chatter Boxing

‘The Queerty Podcast’ host Gabe González on finding comedic voice, losing virginity & semi-feral chickens

 

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Gabe González knows how to talk.

The Central Florida native made a name for himself in the New York comedy underground, performing stand-up and improv. Success in the field helped land him a job writing for MTV News, writing for the digital series Decoded. He also hosts the weekly trivia show Hosting from the gay networking app Scruff.

For our purposes, though, Gabe lends his voice as host of The Queerty Podcast, the new Forever Dog podcast streaming every Friday. Each show features a recap of Queerty’s top stories from the week, as well as interviews with members of the LGBTQ community to discuss their contribution to equality, entertainment and fellow queers.

We caught up with Gabe during a rare moment of peace amid his busy schedule. The Queerty Podcast streams every Friday and is available from Forever Dog on all major platforms.

You’re originally from central Florida. What city, exactly?

I grew up in this town called Oviedo.

I went to UCF Orlando, so I know it.

Oh my God. I grew up 15 minutes away from UCF. Actually, a summer camp at UCF is where I lost my gay virginity. Actually, you may know about the Oviedo chickens that hang out outside Popeye’s.

That, I do not know. Chickens?

Ok, so it was a very local thing. For lack of a better word, there’s a troupe, a horde of semi-feral chickens in downtown Oviedo. Anyway, these chickens just hang out on the street. There was a full-on “Chicken Crossing” sign. You can Google it. I love the photographers that have documented this: they would just hang out at the drive-thru of Popeye’s.

That’s a little…cannibalistic.

It was so bleak. And it perfectly encapsulates my experience growing up in central Florida.

[Laughter]

Well, I’m relieved. I thought this was going to be some kind of gathering of hustlers and rentboys hanging out outside Popeye’s. No shade to sex work, but I’m glad that’s not where you were going with it.

Yeah.

And there were those parts of Orlando.

Definitely.

But it’s so bizarre that there would be wild chickens in central Florida. How were they not eaten by gators? Anyway though, enough about the chickens. How does that encapsulate your upbringing? Did you identify with the chickens? Or the Popeye’s?

A little bit of both. There was something so fatalist but so blissfully unaware about the chickens. They’re just making do the best they can, knowing full well their brethren are facing unimaginable hardship inside the Popeye’s. And they’re none the wiser. I thought there was something beautifully dark about that. And that’s Oviedo.

How did you end up in New York?

Long, winding road equal parts messy and embarrassing, but also exciting. I left Florida when I graduated high school at 17. I decided to go as far away as possible, to Providence, Rhode Island. I went in with the weight of the expectations of my family. I was the first person in my family to get a bachelor’s degree. I majored in International Relations, to be either a politician or a diplomat. That’s what my parents expected.

Related: The Queerty podcast has officially arrived! Here’s where to listen.

Yeah.

Then I got there, came out, joined an improv group and started smoking weed. So I deviated from that plan, and changed my major to Modern Culture & Media. It was a film and media studies program at Brown [University]. That’s where I got to learn a little bit about production, theory and screening. But that was where I followed my gut on something I liked. After that, I went to Chicago for a bit. I did a short, semester program called Comedy Studies at Second City. We’ve come to criticize the way these institutions are structured, and who has access. I certainly don’t think I would have had access to a program like that if I hadn’t been at Brown.

Sure.

I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I’ve had. It was instructional in the sense that I learned I could do comedy beyond just improv. So I moved to New York because it seemed like a place I could find a job in digital media that could keep me afloat while also doing comedy in the evening. My start in that definitely wasn’t comedy cellar club gigs. It was me meeting gays that would introduce me to drag queens and performance artists at a weird basement show where everything smells like mold and feet where I could do 10 minutes of stand-up.

I would suggest you title your memoir Mold & Feet.

Oh God.

[Laguther]

Beyond that, you talk about finding your voice as a comedian. Comedy is very personalized to the comic. What is your approach to comedy? Where do you find humor?

I think my stand-up is different from my written works. In stand-up, for better or worse, I honed my satirical voice doing hosting videos for digital media sites, which never felt authentic. It was always filtered through the voice of the digital media site. But I did get used to learning how to research stories quickly and accurately, and to comment on them with a specific point of view. That’s a skill that you use in stand-up: it requires that kind of diligence. If you want to comment on the world around you, you can’t just read a tweet and riff. You’ve got to provide a little context. SO for me, because I think a lot of marginalized communities mention how their existence has been politicized. To me, merging the political and personal is a given.

Of course.

Whether or not you like it as a queer person, a trans person, as a person of color, or however you identify—whether or not you want to be political about your existence, someone is going to politicize your existence. So I think that’s where the connections happen. I love talking about my family. I love talking about the bits and pieces I learned about Puerto Rico. I wasn’t born there, but was immersed in it. But the wild thing is, you share something that you think is so personal about you, and I think that the one silver lining to Twitter is that people will love this very specific thing. This Walter Mercado memory, or this Shakira lyric…little things like that, that I felt sort of “othered” because of where my family came from. As an adult, in college, meeting other Puerto Rican or Latinx folks in comedy or whose parents are also disappointed in their choices. It’s like, ok great, we’re all failing together.

Interesting.

That’s also great for comedy, just to see how many queer comedians or comedians of color in New York have created spaces that aren’t necessarily dominated by white, heteronormative voices. It’s so exciting to see.

How did you get into podcasting?

It was a very lovely coincidence. Obviously, we’re all working remotely. I’d been a fan of a lot of Forever Dog podcasts for a while. Race Chaser with Willam and Alaska is a staple in my home. And I have a lot of friends in it. I got to know Big Dipper when I first moved to New York, so it’s great to see him producing that. I think so many comedians in New York are seeing possibility in the genre in a lane that’s specific. It doesn’t have to be news or a book on audio or anything related to producing media content in a traditional way. Podcasts feel really personal. I was really excited when Forever Dog approached me about The Queerty Podcast. I think it’s a really nice balance. There’s the opportunity to talk about my personal experiences within the queer community, which is the audience for Queerty.

Sure.

But then, also getting an opportunity to flex journalistic muscle. It’s a really lovely balance. And I’m learning how valuable podcasting can be to provide structure under these pandemic conditions. I’m excited to keep it going when I get back out into the real world. It’s been really great.

So back up a second. You say you’re a fan of Forever Dog. How did you let Forever Dog know you were interested in hosting?

They approached me. Joe Cilio from Forever Dog approached me because they were looking for a host for Queerty. I thought it was a really good fit. We talked on the phone, and I had never released a podcast before. I’d been a guest on a bunch. I think the idea behind the podcast that is really exciting to me is the mix of pop culture, comedy and news. I think there’s room for levity shifting through a deeply problematic world. I thought it was a refreshing perspective.

How do you go about preparing for a show? What’s the production like?

We have a really great producer and editor on the show. Andrew McGuire is the producer; Shereen Lani Younes is the editor. They’re both fun. I joke that I see them more consistently than anyone else in my life these days. It’s just really nice to see familiar faces. We bounce around ideas about guests. If an episode goes long, or if a guest has scheduling conflicts, Shereen is really good at making that happen. So I think we’re this day-to-day trio. It’s also exciting to get input from the producers as well—the editors at Queerty. So I work with Andrew to see who will come on the show. I read a few headlines from Queerty or LGBTQ Nation. And we sort of pick three stories that are a good survey of what people are talking about. 90% of the time, they are topics that I’m already knowledgeable about.

That’s great.

Then, occasionally, we’ll get a The Bachelor story, where I’m like how can I do research on this while still maintaining my sanity? Then we send that script over to our folks at Forever Dog. We get notes. My favorite part is doing research on our guests.

Oh yes.

I love diving deep on folks. You find out things you wouldn’t otherwise. I search specific dates for social media posts. I pull up articles from five years ago. Andrew jokes that I’m a private investigator sometimes when I’m researching guests. But I want to come prepared. I think there’s nothing worse than a really generic interview where someone gets asked the same questions they’ve been asked a thousand times. It’s like, what’s the point?

Right.

We had a really interesting interview with Vanessa Carlton. Obviously, we talk about her music and coming out as bisexual. But a really funny tidbit I got in the interview is that she’s also working as a substitute teacher at her daughter’s school.

Now?

She’s vaccinated. But she’s like my husband and I are both musicians. We can’t do that right now. I want to contribute, so I love when they call me. And that really tickles me. You want to discover new things people bring to the table.

So who else can you tease coming up on the podcast?

We’re going to have Dani Fernandez on. She’s an incredible stand-up comedian in Los Angeles. She played herself in Wreck-It Ralph. It’s just great to see a queer, Latinx nerd killing it. I love that about her. There are a few guests we don’t have booked yet, but hopefully, we will by the time this comes out. Tai Leclaire, who is an incredible writer, is writing for a show called Rutherford Falls, which, as I understand it, is the first show to have a majority indigenous writer’s room. It’s great to see queer and indigenous people being represented behind the scenes. I’m excited to talk about it more; it’s an exciting project.

“Queerty: The Podcast” is available every Friday wherever you listen to podcasts. Subscribe on your favorite podcast player to get each episode. And if you like what you hear, don’t be shy! Leave a review and let us know what you think.