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December 17, 2010

Sassy Gay Friend Helping Bostonian Ladies at Christmastime
by WomenInComedy - 1

I thought, maybe [write] a group therapy thing with different couples from Shakespeare, which made me think of who the therapist would be. I thought a sassy, gay guy would give it to the ladies straight, so to speak.Brian Gallivan

Brian Gallivan, known to millions as his character “Sassy Gay Friend,” will appear for three nights next week at Improv Asylum, in Boston’s North End. Each show includes 60 minutes of Brian’s live Sassy Gay Friend stage show, followed by 30 minutes of improv featuring Brian and IA group Vanity Project.

Brian was kind enough to answer the metric shit-ton of questions we directed his way — the interview starts beneath his photo!

ImprovAsylum – In the Beginning:

WICF: Can you detail some of your involvement with Improv Asylum?

Brian: I started taking classes there in 1999. I joined their first touring company in 2000, and I think I joined their Mainstage cast in early 2001. I loved it there. I learned so much, and I worked with a ton of REALLY talented people.

WICF: Which cast(s) were you in?

Brian: I was not in the original cast, but I worked with a lot of people who were: Brian Frates, Norm [Laviolette], Chet [Harding], Leah Gotcsik, Amy Roeder, Lori Salmeri, Eddie Mejia, Paul D’Amato, Kristen D’Amato. I also worked with Lisa Schurga and Ryan Gaul who joined before I did. Both of them live in LA now and are Groundlings. It’s great to get to hang out with them in LA and to be able to go see their shows. As people left, I got to work with lots of amazing folks: Cathleen Carr, Marty Johnson, Jimmy Owens, Brandon Sornberger, Harry Gordon, Kiley Fitzgerald, Sara Adelman, Travis Thomas, Tim Douglas. I could go on and on. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone amazing.

WICF: For how many years were you a performer at IA?

Brian: I performed there until summer of 2003, so almost three years total.

WICF: Did you jump right from improv classes to the cast, or do you have a “toiling away in the trenches” story?

Brian: I auditioned for the Mainstage cast in summer 1999. I got a callback, and I thought it went well, and then I had an interview. Norm Laviolette still makes fun of me for how awkward I was at the interview. He basically told me that I had no experience, and I should keep taking classes. I was SO disappointed. I figured if I didn’t get hired right away, I shouldn’t be doing improv. It wasn’t meant to be. But I started taking classes there, and after another six months, they had auditions for their new touring company, and I got hired.

WICF: Can you tell us what it felt like to go on your first audition?

Brian: My first improv audition happened years before. I saw an ad in the Boston Phoenix, and I auditioned for an improv group even though I’d never taken any improv classes. I remember getting laughs and wondering why they didn’t cast me. After I took some classes, I realized that I broke almost every improv rule possible at that audition. I think I actually said, after someone else declared we were on a cruise ship, “No. We’re not on a cruise ship.”

Sassy Gay Friend: Hamlet

ImprovAsylum – The Return:

WICF: How often have you returned to IA since you moved away from Boston?

Brian: I’ve been back to see shows since I moved away in 2003. It’s always fun to come back. I perform with a group called Ditka in LA, and we came to the Asylum to do a show and some workshops in 2008. I did the midnight show when I was home for Christmas last year.

WICF: You performed your stage show there pretty recently, right? How did it feel to come back?

Brian: It was a blast. It’s such a great space and performing in the round is really fun. Plus, lots of friends and family were able to come.

WICF: Have you gotten to perform with any of your former castmembers?

Brian: Cathleen Carr is performing a few scenes in the show with me, and we do some improv after my show, so I got to improvise with Norm and Chet and Jeremy Brothers. I think Marty Johnson will be doing some improv in the December shows.

WICF: Have you seen any of your former students or colleagues at your shows?

Brian: Yes. Which has been great.

Brian Gallivan
The Life and Times of Brian Gallivan:

WICF: Where are you from, originally?

Brian: I grew up in Dedham, MA.

WICF: Did you teach up until the time you left Boston?

Brian: No, I took a leave of absence my last two years in Boston, and I just never went back.

WICF: At what middle school did you teach?

Brian: I taught at the Chenery Middle School in Belmont. Before that, I taught at St. Anthony’s in Allston.

WICF: What prompted you to become a teacher?

Brian: My father was a teacher, and three of my siblings are still teachers. It seemed like a pretty good option at the time.

WICF: How did you first realize that you wanted to take an improv class?

Brian: I cannot remember when I thought I would like improv. I think I used to watch the British “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” on Comedy Central in the mid-90s. My family likes to joke around, so I’ve always enjoyed verbal humor.

WICF: A lot of comedians talk about picking up and moving to one of the big three comedy cities — Chicago, LA, and NY — but not everyone follows through. How did you decide that you were going to head to Chicago?

Brian: I had flown to Chicago to audition for their [Second City’s] touring company, and I totally bombed. When I went back there for a festival, another improviser told me that even if I had done well, they wouldn’t have hired me because I didn’t live in Chicago. That fact combined with the reality that I was becoming a “veteran” at the Asylum, made me want to try the move to Chicago. I remember the very night I decided. I was reading a book called Everything is Illuminated. Which seemed weird.

WICF: In which year did you move to Chicago?

Brian: 2003.

WICF: Did you teach in Chicago?

Brian: I did some substitute teaching my first year there, and I tutored some high school students as well.

Sassy Gay Friend: Romeo & Juliet

Second City and “Sassy Gay Friend”:

WICF: You were a member of the Second City touring company, and then a Chicago mainstage cast member for three years, is that correct?

Brian: Yes.

WICF: What was it like getting to perform at one of the best-known comedy theaters in the country?

Brian: It was amazing. I can’t even explain how much I loved it. To be able to perform your own material in front of sold out audiences almost every night on the very stage where so many comic geniuses have performed, it was just a thrill.

WICF: Can you compare the comedy audiences in different cities?

Brian: I don’t really notice the differences too much. The Boston audiences are pretty raucous. Which is fun. But that might be the buckets of beer at the Asylum.

WICF: To which cities did you travel with the touring company?

Brian: I remember the states more than the cities. I did a lot of shows that weren’t too far from Chicago: Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan. But we went on some great trips to Florida, Vermont, California, and, best of all, Hawaii, which was really fun.

Sassy Gay Friend: Othello

WICF: Your “Sassy Gay Friend” character started as a stage portrayal. Did you have any idea this character was going to be so big for you?

Brian: It was always a fun character to do at Second City, but when the show it was in (Red Scare) ended, I didn’t expect to do much with the character ever again. But Josh Funk and Mark Kienlen started The Second City Network in early 2010, and my manager had read some of my writing, and those sketches stood out to her, so we filmed the videos, and I was really shocked at the reaction.

WICF: How did you come up with the character?

Brian: Red Scare was the first show I did on the Mainstage at Second City, and our director Mick Napier had given us an assignment to come in with a couple of new ideas. For one of them, I wanted to do something with Shakespeare. I thought maybe a group therapy thing with different couples from Shakespeare, which made me think of who the therapist would be. I thought a sassy, gay guy would give it to the ladies straight, so to speak. And then I dumped the guys and made the therapist just a sassy gay friend.

WICF: Do you have the stats for the number of times your videos have been viewed? Could you give us an estimate?

Brian: Combined, the SGF videos have over 12 million views on YouTube.

Sassy Gay Friend: Eve

WICF: Do any of your other characters draw on your literary background?

Brian: I’ve done a character who hosts a PBS show about Young Adult Literature. He thinks YA Lit can solve any problem. Maribeth Monroe and I did a scene at Second City that was partially scripted and partially improvised based on an audience suggestion where I was a Mr. Darcy-type character, and she was an Elizabeth Bennett character.

WICF: Your “Sassy Gay Friend” character is playing off of some fairly iconic literary figures, but you’ve also set up each scene so that the back story is obvious, regardless of the viewer’s familiarity with the character. Do you ever wonder if some of your audience misses the literary reference entirely?

Brian: I think people who don’t know the stories probably stop watching at a certain point. As I make more of these videos, I’ll eventually have to choose some stories which are not as well known. And I’ll assume that not as many people will want to watch them.

I LOVE “GLEE.” What they’re doing with Kurt is historic. And his relationship with his father is so beautiful. I can’t get enough of that show. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that Kurt doesn’t just get an episode to deal with his struggles. He gets a whole series.

LA and Your Current Projects:

WICF: When did you make the jump to LA?

Brian: I moved here in Fall of 2007.

WICF: Where have you been performing in LA?

Brian: I perform some shows at Second City with Ditka. I perform at IO West on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. with a group called Powerhouse. And I do two shows at UCB. On Mondays I perform with a group called The Smokes at 7 p.m., and on Fridays at 9:30 p.m., I’m part of a show called Soundtrack, where people bring their iPods and iPhones, and our DJ picks songs to play which inspires the improv.

WICF: What projects are you working on now?

Brian: I wrote a sitcom pilot this year and some treatments for a couple of other sitcoms. I’m performing the live Sassy Gay Friend show at colleges in 2011. I’m hoping to do a few more “Sassy Gay Friend” videos and some other non-SGF videos too.

WICF: What other links would you like us to include?

Brian: Here is a video where I’m not playing “Sassy Gay Friend.” The actress in the clip is the hilarious Claudia Michelle Wallace. She and I originally performed this scene in a Second City Chicago Mainstage show called Iraqtile Dysfunction.

Claudia Michelle Wallace and Brian Gallivan How To Deal With RACISM At Work

WICF: What is this incarnation of your stage show featuring “Sassy Gay Friend” like?

Brian: The show is approximately 1/3 new “Sassy Gay Friend” stuff (or old SGF stuff with a twist), 1/3 SGF interacting with the audience, and 1/3 Brian Gallivan (me) doing my own material about times in my life when I’ve been a stupid bitch.

WICF: I have to admit, after watching your videos, I experienced a certain amount of cognizant dissonance hearing your natural voice on your voicemail. Have you had any interesting fan experiences once you’ve switched out of character?

Brian: No one’s mentioned it to me. I have to admit, I feel pretty powerful now that you’ve told me I’m capable of causing cognizant dissonance.

WICF: How do you cast the costars of the “Sassy Gay Friend” videos? Who are they, and what should our comedy audience know about them?

Brian: Originally, Jean Villepique, a hilarious lady I performed with at Second City, was going to play Ophelia, but she got sick, so at the last minute, I called my friend Colleen Foy, a friend from an acting class in LA. She’s such a great actress. She played Daniel Day Lewis’ grown up daughter-in-law in There Will Be Blood.

Stephanie Allynne played Juliet. I met her at UCB in LA. She has a great one-woman show, and also made a hilarious video about the movie Precious which I think is called Precious Moments.

I hope I encourage all comedians I come across, but I’m definitely drawn to lady comedy and gay comedy, and when I find some of that, and it’s really good, I am definitely encouraging. But again, I like funny, no matter who’s doing it. If I see someone who’s doing great stuff, no matter who they are, I try to make sure I tell them how much I loved it.

Maribeth Monroe played Desdemona. She played her when we first tried the scene at SC too. Maribeth is blowing up. She had a hilarious childbirth scene in J Lo’s movie The Back Up Plan, and she has a new show on Comedy Central which starts airing next year. She’s also in Ditka with me.

I had never met Milynn Sarley, who played Eve, but a friend recommended her, and she was a delight. She was very easy to get almost naked in front of. She’s also on a show, which I think is called Like Totally Awesome, and it’s about video games. Vince Allen, a student at Second City in LA (and a professional model) played Adam. Perfectly, I might add.

For “The Giving Tree,” Shulie Cowen, an SC alum, voiced the tree. She was wonderful. Rob Janas, a hilarious SC alum played the evil grown up boy, and Scott Narver, an LA SC training center grad, played Boo Radley. He was awesome.

Sassy Gay Friend: The Giving Tree

”Sassy Gay Friend” Has a Wider Impact:

WICF: It’s funny, when we were setting up this interview, you said, “Also, to be honest, my videos and shows do feature some great women in comedy, but they end up playing the straight role and don't get many of the laughs. [F]eel free to ask me the hard questions about that!” Do you think that artists who are fairly well known have a societal responsibility to provide opportunities for, or to help showcase, artists from marginalized groups?

Brian: I don’t know. I feel like comedy is fairly democratic. If someone is funny, they usually get noticed. The way the SGF videos are written, it seems better to have a “straight man” for SGF to bounce off. So the ladies get acting opportunities rather than more laughs. I don’t worry about any of these ladies though because they are all creating their own hilarious material for themselves whether it’s sketch or improv.

WICF: Do you feel a responsibility to help promote or encourage comedians who don’t fit the “straight, white male” demographic? Should successful gay comedians be cognizant of a responsibility to help promote performers whose opportunities may be limited because of their orientation or race or gender? Or age? Or creed? How about the responsibilities of successful female comedians? Or minority comedians?

Brian: I hope I encourage all comedians I come across, but I’m definitely drawn to lady comedy and gay comedy, and when I find some of that, and it’s really good, I am definitely encouraging. But again, I like funny, no matter who’s doing it. If I see someone who’s doing great stuff, no matter who they are, I try to make sure I tell them how much I loved it.

I have to admit, I feel pretty powerful now that you’ve told me I’m capable of causing cognizant dissonance.

WICF: You recently produced a video for the It Gets Better Project. Why did you get involved?

Brian: I knew that a large percentage of SGF fans were teenagers, so I thought it would be a good idea.

WICF: Since you were a teacher, I felt inspired to ask one of my teachers if she had any questions for you. I asked Deana Tolliver of ImprovBoston, who was one of my sketchwriting instructors, what she would ask you. Deana wanted to know if you’ve heard from anyone who’s been helped by your It Gets Better video.

Brian: Yes. I received a lot of messages from teens and adults about the video. One teen wrote that he was gay and having a really hard time at school, and the video made him feel better. So much of what I do as a writer and actor can start to feel like it’s all about getting somewhere in “the business.” So when he wrote to me, it made me happy that something I did had a positive effect on someone who was suffering. I’m always so grateful for the TV shows and movies that help me when I’m feeling low, so I’m glad I could do the same for someone else.

Sassy Gay Friend: It Gets Better

WICF: She asked, what would “Sassy Gay Friend” say to a bully?

Brian: Girls love guys who are nice to everyone. So if you want to get laid, start being nice to everyone!

WICF: She also asked, where do you get your fabulous scarves?

Brian: I only have the one, and I got it at a costume shop on Hollywood Boulevard.

WICF: In your video, you mention that you weren’t out in middle school, high school, or college because you were trying so hard to fit in. You also said that the reason you didn’t get into acting while you were a student was because you didn’t want anything to think you were gay. How do you see the It Gets Better Project, The Trevor Project, and GLSEN impacting gay youth today? What was available to students when you were a teacher?

Brian: Things are so much better now compared to when I was in school. They’re still hard probably, but a lot better. And I think they’ll keep getting better.

WICF: In your video, you tell viewers to think of their lives as a YA novel, because the protagonists are usually outsiders who find acceptance in the end. What are your favorite YA novels?

Brian: I love all the Judy Blume books. They’re so honest and really make you feel like you’re not the only person going through certain things. I like The Outsiders [by S. E. Hinton] too. Kids enjoy the honesty there too.

WICF: ”Sassy Gay Friend” became a part of the zeitgeist at the same time that the public consciousness of issues affecting gay youth was increasing dramatically. In the same year as an alarming number of teen suicides and Dan Savage’s launching of the It Gets Better Project, we have a hit network TV show, “Glee,” which features a gay teen character who has his own storyline, no longer the best friend, and last week the character sang the duet “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with another gay character — on Fox. What do you think about this character treatment and the affect it might have on “Glee”’s young audience?

Brian: I LOVE “GLEE.” What they’re doing with Kurt is historic. And his relationship with his father is so beautiful. I can’t get enough of that show. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that Kurt doesn’t just get an episode to deal with his struggles. He gets a whole series.

Sassy Gay Friend at Improv Asylum for tickets
Runs Tues., 12/21; Wed. 12/22; and Thurs., 12/23
Shows at 8 p.m. Tues. and Wed., 10 p.m. Thurs.

1 comment

  1. That was awesome. I also found this funny video on Youtube by a Canadian comedian. You might want to check it out.