How can Bryan Safi be so unspeakably funny? You probably know him from the fabulous podcast Throwing Shade, or from his appearances on Access Hollywood, or from his many Funny or Die videos. It’s impossible to watch any of Bryan’s projects without bursting into laughter. But how does he do it? I spoke with Bryan for my podcast, The Sewers of Paris, where I talk to gay men about the entertainment that made them who they are today.
He shared a sort of slogan that guides his work: “I always want to have really good points and I want to find the dumbest way to get there,” he said.
That certainly comes across on his many projects, where the joke is how uninformed he sounds when in reality he (and his co-host Erin Gibson) are zeroing in on a trenchant observation.
Bryan’s background in comedy goes all the way back to his childhood in Texas, when he was obsessed with the movie Big Business — yes, the dumb comedy with Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin. The premise of the film is that two identical twins are switched at birth, and grow up mismatched until they meet in New York city.
Growing up in the middle of nowhere, Texas, Bryan saw New York in the film and instantly knew that that’s where he needed to be. Despite the movie’s jokey, weird tone, he had his sights set on the skyscrapers and sophistication.
That film was also his first exposure to recognizable gay characters. There are two conniving villains in the film, and although they were bad guys, Bryan knew that there was something about them that he identified with. He’d known his whole life that he was gay, and that he needed to keep it secret — the adults around him made that clear enough. At one point, he and some other children were ordering ice cream, and he requested strawberry. A hush settled over the room. That was apparently too gay for them to tolerate, so he knew that being actually gay was out of the question.
He also recalled seeing warnings before the show Ellen, cautioning that there would be sensitive content. That content was simply the acknowledgement that gay people exist, so he felt like he had to keep himself secret and disguised.
He did that with humor. Comedy was his costume, and he wanted only to make people laugh. But he also had to blend in, which meant liking whatever was popular among other teens in his Texas town. Publicly, he listened to Nirvana; privately, he listened to Björk.
Sometimes, he was able to introduce his heterosexual friends into culture that appealed to him: Hairspray and Divine were surprisingly popular.
Eventually, he was outed when his mother, snooping, found a letter from a boyfriend. (A VHS copy of Big Business was sitting on the counter when she confronted him.) The conversation didn’t go well, but simply having his secret out in the open was a relief. “That second I felt better,” Bryan recalled.
In college, he began studying serious acting, but comedy quickly pulled him aside. He saw some hilarious shows and realized that making people laugh was his passion — and it still is to this day. There’s just one small difference: now he’s making people laugh honestly, instead of using laughter to hide the truth.
For more stories about gay men and entertainment, subscribe to The Sewers of Paris, and check out Bryan’s interview below.
(Featured image via Funny Or Die)