The Sewers of Paris is a podcast about how queer people's lives were shaped by their favorite books, movies, music, and shows. Each week, guests open up about their secret struggles, hidden passions, and surprising triumphs by plucking a piece of entertainment from their past and answering the question: how did it change your life?
Sex Advice Columnist Dan Savage
Showtunes, The Boys in the Band, and the human menorah
If, like me, you are a huge fan of Dan Savage's work, you've probably heard him speak at length about sex and love and news and politics -- but this conversation is going to be a little different as we dive into 8-track tapes, secret bike rides, family arguments, and a rule-breaking theater troupe where Dan honed his sense of shock and showmanship long before he was known for dispensing Savage Love.
Drag Race Star BenDeLaCreme
Pee Wee Herman, Bugs Bunny, and Varla Jean Merman
I'm so grateful to Ben for sitting down with me to talk about how Bugs Bunny and Jessica Rabbit made him the man and woman he is today, the strategy that he devised for making the most of Drag Race, and why the producers of that show hated him.
Highlights of this week's episode: Ben's early forays into showmanship and drag, starting with news reports he'd stage as a child about what was happening around the house. Later, he appeared onstage in his boxers, and as Tina Angst in Chicago -- an angry punk-rock drag girl with pink and black dreadlocks. "I had such a crazy temper then," he said.
Have you ever been lucky enough to enjoy the sensation of villainy? My guest this week is Anthony Oliveira, who you might also know for his incisive tweeting as Meakoopa. Anthony's always felt a sympathy for monsters and villains -- or at least, the figures assumed to be monsters and villains -- even before he was old enough to realize that he might be considered one himself.
NPR Host Ari Shapiro
Cabaret shows, NPR, and Into the Woods
My guest this week is Ari Shapiro, host of All Things Considered. These days, he tells other people's stories on NPR, but his own story was considerably is more winding than you might expect -- behind his calm journalistic voice is a man who spent some time as an illegal immigrant, who carried mace for protection in high school, who nearly became an actor, and who might never have found his place on the radio if a gay icon hadn't intervened on his behalf.
Writer & Comedian Louis Virtel
Game shows, Clue, and great actresses of the 1970s
"For trivia people, Jeopardy! is The Hajj," Louis Virtel says on this week's episode of The Sewers of Paris. "You don't know what The Hajj has in store for you, but you have to make it once in your lifetime."
Louis' infamous snap, captured and deployed in countless GIFs since he appeared on Jeopardy!, happened in the spur of the moment. But in the lead up to his appearance, he was one big bundle of nerves.
Performer Zak the Barber
Dresden Dolls, No Doubt, Beats Antique, Pantera, AC/DC, M.I.A., White Zombie, Gogol Bordello
What happens when you grow up so fast you become an adult while you're still a kid? My guest this week is Zak, who was wise beyond his years by the time he was 14, thanks in part to a young love triangle and also being raised by a house full of strippers.Zak had barely entered high school when he felt ready to set out on his own, and start his own life. But he found that while you can grow up fast, you can't rush adulthood. That's how he wound up spending several teenage years drifting across the state, a runaway, in every sense of the word.
Comedian Guy Branum
Party Girl, Hello Dolly, and Margaret Thatcher
Why is "gay" the word that the world seems to have picked to describe us? My guest Guy Branum has some thoughts on the topic, and on many more. You can see Guy as the host of "Talk Show the Game Show," debuting April 5 on TruTV, where celebrities compete to be the best guest on a talk show. There could be no better environment for Guy, a brilliantly funny comedian with a superpower for first breaking rules, and then reassembling them into something far more fascinating.
Drag Queen Robbie Turner
Classic movies, Linda Ronstadt, and Shakespeare
Who taught you how to be beautiful? My guest this week made a lifelong study of the most beautiful woman he knew, his mother, even going so far as to transform into a character who bears an uncanny resemblance. You might know Robbie Turner the character from this season's Drag Race, or from her regular appearances at shows in Seattle and around the country. She might've hosted your Pride, or officiated your wedding. But on today's episode we're going to get to know Robbie Turner the man.
Opera Director Paul Curran
Donna Summer, Moliere, and Baz Luhrmann
At this point, we're all very familiar with the foundational queer story that many of us have lived: feeling like outcasts, fleeing from small towns to big cities, and searching for our tribe. But what happens once you get to that big city? What can you create once you're free to create the life you've always wanted? My guest this week is Paul Curran, who hitchhiked from Glasgow to London in search of something better at the age of sixteen. There he trained as a ballet dancer until an injury ended his career on stage, and launched a whole new career as a director.
Comedian Joel Kim Booster
Murder mysteries, stand up comedy, and Clue
When did you first escape your bubble? We all start life protected by adults, looked after and shielded from the harsh realities of the world. Some of us burst out of it as fast as we can, and others like to pretend they never have to leave. This week's guest is comedian Joel Kim Booster, whose parents tried so hard to control his life that when he finally did come out, it was with so much momentum he found himself homeless -- until a family he hardly even knew took him in.
Porn Actor & Academic Conor Habib
Superfriends, Buffy, and Porn
You may think you already know a lot about Conner, given that you've probably seen him naked in such films as Dad Goes to College, Hot House Backroom Volume 18, and Brief Encounters. But Conner actually holds his cards pretty close to his furry chest. Though you might've seen him naked in porn, you probably know less about his background growing up in Mennonite country, dabbling in the occult, getting lost in the Pennsylvania punk scene, and his secret super power.
Artist Fazaad Feroze
Gargoyles, John Waters, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer
How far up your family tree would you have to go before the way your family lives became unrecognizable? My guest this week is Fazaad Feroze, whose parents grew up in huts in Guyana before moving to the United States. As you can imagine, assimilation into American culture wasn't always easy.
Playwright Robert Patrick
Judy Garland, classic films, Bohemia, and off-off-Broadway
Before Pride, before gay marriage, before disco, before most of what we recognize today as gay culture, there was Greenwich Village. It's the gay enclave that invented gay enclaves, a place where you went to reject mainstream after the mainstream had rejected you. My guest today is playwright Robert Patrick, who wandered into the Village as an unsuspecting young gay man in the 1960s. He was only supposed to be there for a day, but he wound up staying for years, witnessing -- and participating in -- one of the most important periods in American theater history.
Big Ol' Nerd Charlie Logan
Star Trek, The Black Hole, Bye Bye Birdie, Portal, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Wham!, Erasure
When you think about the science fiction, what comes to mind? Maybe some silvery uniforms, blue guys with antennas, blinking lights. You know, the future. What's great about imaginary futures is that they're places of potential, an escape to a place where where everything's better, or sometimes worse. And whatever problems we have today have all been solved -- or maybe exacerbated. This week's guest is Charlie Logan, founder of the Pink Parties, a regular series of huge queer nerd gatherings that are timed to Seattle's biggest comic and videogame conventions. Charlie started throwing Pink Parties as a way to find other gays who shared his love of anything geeky, and his hope for a better future, and his need to escape. Because after all, as we'll hear, for a time there was a lot that he needed to escape from.
NPR Reporter Sonari Glinton
Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, Willa White, and Judy Garland
When you look back on your life, who are the adults who were wiser than you realized at the time? My guest this week is NPR's Sonari Glinton. He grew up in Chicago, surrounded by amazing artists and curators who managed to steer him in the directions that were exactly what a little queer kid needed.
E! Host Steve Kmetko
Hollywood, celebrities, and The Wizard of Oz
My guest this week is Steve Kmetko, best known as the face of the E! cable network from 1994 to 2002. He hosted countless Oscar and Emmy broadcasts, reported from film festivals, and interviewed everyone who was anyone in Hollywood. It was his dream job, but privately, he was being weighed down by a lifetime of baggage: a career that demanded he stay closeted, and a religious upbringing that burdened him with guilt.
Although his career was going great, the pressure of keeping a secret just kept building as the years went on. Until finally, after years of putting tough questions to everyone around him, it was time for Steve to tell the truth about himself.
It was a gutsy move. Risky. And there were times that he paid a price for being honest about who he was. But the acceptance that LGBTs enjoy today simply wouldn't be possible if not for the high-profile figures who stepped forward in years past, people whom we give particular thanks.
Game Designer Tork Shaw
Queer as Folk, Round the Horne, Gimme Gimme Gimme, Oscar Wilde, and Kenneth Horne
In the 1960s, fabulous queer characters were hiding in plain sight on the BBC radio show Round the Horne, which featured two squealing gays speaking in barely-veiled innuendo. They were using a form of gay British slang known as "Polari" that's all but died out today. Decades later, Tork Shaw would listen to tapes of the episode in the car with this family, and he'd hear something of himself in the bookish, aristocratic, quick-witted gays like Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick on the radio. He didn't quite fit in at school -- everyone around him was sporty and posh -- so he cultivated a caustic wit, modeled on the Round the Horne's Julian and Sandy, Oscar Wilde, and Noel Coward. But by the time he was teenager, he was feeling ready to set that aside. "I didn't want to be mean anymore," he said. "What happens if I let go of everything I've done in the past?"
Director Wes Hurley
Curly Sue, Hudson Hawk, Ghost, Labyrinth, Diana Ross, and Ben DeLaCreme
My guest this week is Wes Hurley, creator of the incredible web series Capitol Hill. Season 2 of the show just premiered on YouTube this week, and it's laden with references from all across the broad landscape of American popular culture. Growing up in Vladivostok, Russia, American movies and TV shows floated to Wes through secretive, often illegal channels, and they gave him hope that maybe someday he wouldn't have to walk a mile for clean water, or carry a knife to school, or find human remains washing past his house in a flood. Bootleg American movies kept his spirits up, but when he and his mother were finally able to escape to the United States, they found the country wasn't quite what he'd been led to expect.
Entertainer Mark Finley
Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Pinky & the Brain, Studio 54, Quentin Crisp, and HIV
"There was an incident and I was found to be insane," Mark reveals on this week's episode, "because my flamboyant behavior was disruptive."
Mark's been around long enough to remember when being gay was assumed to be a mental illness, and the very presence of an openly gay teenager was too much for anyone to bear. He fled his small hometown as quickly as he could, spending time in Japan, Cal Arts, and for a time at Brigham Young University where he says "I felt mighty comfortable. But apparently they didn't."
An unannounced exorcism made him aware that his presence might not have been entirely welcome at BYU. "I was sleeping with a lot of guys," he says. "Always there to lend a helping hand. I haven't been called 'The Golden Throat' all my life for nothing."
His wild life in the theater eventually took him to New York, where he took some advice given to him by Carol Burnett to heart: "you sound like you really love theater," she told him when he was young and wrote to her for advice. "And if you love it, keep doing it."
Mark Finley Part 2
My guest this week is Mark Finley. Again. I spoke to Mark last week about his career as an actor and talent coordinator, fleeing his small town and meeting his heroes. Mark shared so many incredible memories that I invited him back to talk more about his time in New York, traveling around the country, and how he survived after doctors told him six months to live.
As you'll hear, the audio of our conversation is a little echoey -- it's quite not as clear as a normal episode. But the memories Mark shared are just so incredible I had to share them with you, echo and all.