An openly gay comedian who’s appeared on shows like Chelsea Lately, writes for The Mindy Project, and cohosts the podcast Pop Rocket, Guy Branum is used to putting his opinions out there. Like Mindy’s Dr. Mindy Lahiri and Lately’s Chelsea Handler, Branum doesn’t shy away from letting friends, strangers, and audiences know what he thinks about everything from Bernie Sanders to Kanye West’s sex life. But though Branum has talked a bit about his sex life on podcasts like Moshe Kasher’s Hound Tall discussion series, what he really thinks about love—whether it’s fated, whether it’s inevitable, and whether it’s necessary—isn’t really something he’s talked about before in the press. That changed when Branum sat down with The A.V. Club backstage at Riot LA, where he talked about not only what he thinks it means to love and be loved, but also what it’s like to be 40 and just coming into his own.
The A.V. Club: Let’s start with the big question, and some might say the hardest: Do you believe in true love?
Guy Branum: I want so much to believe in true love. Like, I watched the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice this morning, and I want that Mr. Darcy. I want that guy who understands you and also is prickly in all of the wrong and right ways, who turns you on and electrifies you. All of those things are lovely ideas, but I just don’t know that I’m ever going to find, for me, all of the personality and sexual things in one place. I have said before, I am a unique boutique product, I’m not for everybody. You know those market complexes where you get your upscale pasta one place and then you get your glorious tomatoes another place? That is how I try to approach the world of sex and romance. But deeply in my heart, do I want to believe that there is that special guy that is for me? Yes, absolutely.
AVC: I only met my husband when I truly became okay with the concept that I could be single for the rest of my life.
GB: The weird thing is when you’re a gay guy my age, I spent so much of my life just thinking I was probably never going to date anyone, so now just thinking, “all right, settle down and have a child” seems ridiculous to me. I’m just figuring out being able to understand that it’s cool for me to date, and have guys be interested in me, and be interested in guys. We behave as though every gay guy is supposed to be fixed because Obergefell V. Hodges came down, and it’s not like that.
AVC: Will you be happy with however your life turns out?
GB: Yes, because I think it’s our job to be happy and find happiness for ourselves. Have I dated anyone in the recent past? Did I totally mess around with a dude this afternoon? Yes. I had a good time. Is he somebody I want here with me, watching comedy shows and meeting Phoebe Robinson? No.
AVC: You don’t always have to like the person you’re having sex with.
GB: The person I have sex with doesn’t necessarily need to have primacy in my life. I would like that, it would be neat, but I do sometimes wonder if I have been ruined by The Shop Around The Corner and Truly, Madly, Deeply, and all of these wonderful stories of real love.
AVC: Well, you can reflect some of that romantic whimsy in your writing for shows like The Mindy Project.
GB: Yeah. But it’s a show. The wonderful thing about a TV show is if you get picked up for another season, there’s no happily ever after. There’s what’s next. And this season has been another really fun exploration of what’s next.
AVC: As you said, you’re a unique boutique product. Why would it be hard to date you?
GB: I’m very, very big. I’m a fat guy. Not everybody’s into that. But I also love Gilbert and Sullivan, and I’m probably going to want to watch Babette’s Feast at least once or twice a year, and most people aren’t down for that. I know the people in my life who really want to watch Babette’s Feast. When I did find guys with whom I was very sexually compatible, trying to figure out how romance worked… when you’re a gay guy you don’t necessarily have that same push to make a conventional relationship work. Though I know this one guy, he came out of the closet, he went on two dates, was in a relationship with the second date for three and a half years, broke up with that guy, went on a date the next day, has been in a relationship with that guy for five years. So some people really can do that. I just wonder… am I blaming this on homosexuality when it’s really just my own gentle autism?
AVC: Well, some people always have the next prospect lined up in the back of their minds.
GB: Yes, and I’m not Casey at the bat. I am not a huge fan of being around people all the time. I really like being able to leave people. I think I tend to work more in strong friendships and fuck buddies.
AVC: Is being on the road better or worse for that?
GB: It’s lovely. One of the nice things about being me is you show up in a town, you meet somebody interesting and entertaining, and for 48 hours, what a wonderful person to be around. You mess around, and all of that is super, super fun, and you don’t have to deal with the long-term consequences of it. Should I be pushing to deal with the long-term consequences and make a life for myself, so that the two of us can eventually have a child together who bears both of our genes? Oops, no. Well, yes. I probably should work harder on relationships, but I don’t, and there’s not the same kind of imperative as when you have all the right equipment to make a human being together.
AVC: Are you meeting guys at your shows? Would you date a fan?
GB: Yes. That’s always nice because it’s fun to feel like they like you and appreciate you. The thing is that not a lot of gay guys end up coming to alt-comedy-ish shows. They like all these ’80s shimmer shows, or they like going to drag shows. It is always weird and interesting when I meet somebody at a gay bar who is familiar with my stuff. Like last night, I was out with—oh it was delightful. It was me and Solomon Georgio and Casey Ley, and James Adomian, and it was like all of the fags in town, and we went to this bar, Akbar, and a guy came up to me and was like, “I just wanted to tell you I’m a huge fan,” and I was like, “he’s going to say Chelsea Lately,” because most of the time when I’m in a gay bar they say Chelsea Lately but he was like, “I listen to your podcast” and he had seen me at like some real good show, and I was like, “oh, well what’s this, let’s see what’s going on here.” And he was like, “my boyfriend loves you, too!” And it’s like, all right. Thank you for playing.
AVC: If the straight romantic fantasy is to get married, have kids, be happy forever, is the gay romantic dream different? Is there a universal gay romantic dream?
GB: There’s the wonderful thing of how everybody gets to make and construct their own dream, because most gay guys I know who are married, most of them have open relationships. Most of them have some sort of policies that respect the fact that you’re going to want to fuck other people.
When you talk about something like Pride And Prejudice, I remember the first time a grad student explained to me that comedies end with a baby, or the prospect of a baby. And gay people, we die in all the movies, like we almost always die in the movie, because that’s what you can do to us that’s dramatic. We can’t make a baby. I mean, we can now, we can adopt and all of that, and for some people that is the dream, but I really like that homosexuality is a little bit of an existential puzzle. Like, why are you here? What’s your point? I get to decide that for myself. And I have decided that it is to be charming, and to be charmed by others, and that doesn’t require that I have one person who I go home to. I have people who are very, very close to me. I have people who I talk to every day. But we don’t necessarily want to fuck, you know?
AVC: Why are open relationships more acceptable in the gay community?
GB: Because we all understand that everybody is going to look at somebody and think, “That would be fun.” It doesn’t mean that you don’t love this other person. It means that you want to go try out this other kind of fun. Also, we were all in the closet for some period of time. We all have some degree of feeling like we lost out or we missed out, and we all have a bit of a hunger to try all the things. Like in Room. The little boy says, “Mommy and I decided that since we don’t know which things we like, we get to try all of the things.” And I think that that is a deep inclination in the gay community.
I also think that women have a construction of their sexuality put on them from a very young age that says exclusivity is necessary to remain valuable, that if a dude screws somebody else it means that he doesn’t love you, that he doesn’t care about you. You don’t have primacy in his life.
AVC: To be fair, sometimes someone screwing around does mean that.
GB: Absolutely. And I’m not saying somebody should deal with somebody cheating on them when they haven’t agreed to it. But I do think it’s lovely to understand that that’s not the whole of your appeal and the whole of your identity, and I can only try and speculate to understand what being a woman is like. But it feels like a lot of shit gets dumped on you before you turn five about what your place in the world is.
AVC: You talked a bit earlier about being heavier, which I also understand. Weight can add a whole other dimension to whether you think you deserve love, or whether other people think you do.
GB: I so frequently have said to myself that no one broke their mother’s heart to get to me, you know? That’s a hard way of looking at it, but so many gay guys have a chip on their shoulder about the cost that came with being an out gay person, and we can be very visual and status-conscious and status-oriented, and even guys who are into guys like me can be self-conscious about their friends knowing it or whatever, because they’re just trying to show that they are valuable and important and worth a lot. But a nice thing about being 40 is that you’re not a kid about your understanding of sex or sexuality anymore. I’ve learned that I do have a fair amount to offer, and that all it really takes is walking up and saying hello to somebody with confidence and assurance that you have the right to be here. A lot of people appreciate it. We live in a world of media that are constantly telling us it is only the shape of your body that matters to how attractive you are, and that’s silly. We all know that that’s silly. But like Star Jones always says, the last thing you should do when getting ready is put on a fragrance to remind you that you’re beautiful. It is just that thing of having to learn like, I’ve got to be certain that I’m attractive and wonderful, or why would anyone else be able to see that? It would be nice if some person came up to you and said, “You’re a flower and you didn’t realize it yet!” But I’m not going to get that, so I need to go to somebody else and remind him why he’s beautiful and remind him why I’m beautiful.
AVC: A big part of being a woman—or a man, I suppose—is that just because someone tells you that, you still might not believe it. How do you convince yourself it’s true?
GB: Self-confidence is a terrible, terrible thing; it’s also the most attractive thing. You don’t know how far I’ve gone on just raw self-confidence. There’s also the nice thing of when it’s two boys, going up to somebody and being a little bit in charge doesn’t implicate all of the terrible treatment of women as possessions that can happen. But just going into it with confidence does have a little bit of a charge to it, and is exciting to the other person who doesn’t understand why this gigantic fat guy is so certain that he has every right to be talking to this adorable young man.
AVC: Do you think about what your life is going to be like when you’re 50 or you’re 60 or when you’re 70?
GB: Yeah, and it is weird that it is not a clear path. When you’re a kid, you think, “Well, I will grow up and I will get a wife and we will have kids and then we will have grandkids.” My life has a different shape. That is weird, but there are things about it that are exciting. That I get to focus so much of myself on my career is nice. It’s really fun. I do think about what will my relationships look like when I am 50 or 60. The hope is that I’ve got points in a movie that has done well, or have a TV show that’s in syndication or whatever future syndication is. I will have a pool. It’s very important to older male homosexuality in Los Angeles to have a pool, so that cute boys will come to your house and swim around in the pool.
Recently, I was sitting with my friend Chris Schleicher who is another gay writer on The Mindy Project—it’s the rare show that has two gay writers. That’s not that usual. But I made a list that included Bryan Singer, Roland Emmerich, and Marc Cherry, and I was asking him to rank which of these pool parties he would go to in which order if he were a 22-year-old twink fresh from the University Of Texas, just showing up in Los Angeles.
AVC: I guess Bryan Singer, right?
GB: Yeah. Go Bryan Singer.
GB: He’s settled down now.
AVC: Do you think it’s easier to be gay now than it was five years ago?
GB: It is easier to be gay at this very moment than it was five minutes ago. It is just constantly getting better, and it’s wonderful, and it’s a little bit weird to be 40 now. When Todd Glass was on WTF, one of the best things he said was about the animosity he feels toward a young heterosexual couple walking around, they’re holding hands, being handsy. I completely understand that, but it’s a little bit weird to see things be so much better and think, “Why couldn’t it have been like this when I was in junior high?” But then it’s the twin lovely things of like, but it is better and I get to see it. Also, in some little ways, while I was doing shitty little bar shows in the Central Valley in 2004, I was being out and helping people realize that gay people aren’t monsters, that they are just people. So I look at this world with a great deal of pride, and I’m excited for it. I’m excited for the new crop of gay comics who we have coming up, who have never been closeted, who never thought that they needed to put on a dress to tell a joke, and it’s exciting.