Five years ago the words "can you pass me a blanket" launched Graydon Sheppard and Kyle Humphrey and their project Shit Girls Say into viral infamy. The Twitter account (and eventually YouTube series) was part of a specific brand of online comedy, popularized by accounts like, Shit My Dad Says and its many imitators. The appeal was universal but uncannily accurate (I mean who hasn't solemnly muttered the words, "should I get bangs" deep into the unblinking void?). Sheppard and Humphrey spent a few years trying to shop the series into something bigger, but as the William Shatner-helmed Shit My Dad Says series proved, Twitter success doesn't always translate beyond 140 characters. Now, Sheppard and Humphrey have taken that same humorous approach to a new, much more controversial subject. The web series Coming In launched on November 21 and is a comedy about a gay man who wakes up one morning to find out he's straight. The first season follows his journey to "come back in." I talked to the creators about the courage to come out, finding universality in gay stories and the need to sometimes play it straight.
How did you come up with the idea for Coming In?Graydon Sheppard: We were really just walking around and it's kind of similar to howShit Girls Saycame up. You know,Shit Girls Sayhappened because we were sitting on the couch one day and somebody said, "could you pass me that blanket" and it just kind of spiralled off from there and the same thing happened withComing In. We just thought, what if one day you woke up and you weren't gay anymore, or you know, anybody woke up and their identity changed? How would you deal with that and what would that be like and what can we say differently about the coming out experience by doing it this way. So that's how we started talking about it and that was like, a few years ago, I guess. And now finally it's real.The politics around coming out are so loaded. Were you ever nervous how people might react to that?
Kyle Humphrey: I think we were conscious about that but at the same time we were kind of excited by that as well. I feel like with Shit Girls Say we created a bit of conversation around the way that we did it so we were excited to see if we could do that with the coming out process almost.Graydon: Yeah you know, we never wanna say that we want people to turn straight or we want anybody to wake up to not be gay or that anything like conversion therapy or anything like that works. I think we just wanted to tell the coming out story in a way that wasn't just for a gay audience necessarily. Because sometimes you see a coming out story—like I've seen so many coming out movies, but none of my straight friends or family have. And so, we kind of wanted to open up that conversation, because it's not just about coming out, it's about, you know, how straight men and gay men relate to each other. It's about modern sexuality overall, not just the gay story.
Do you think most film and television get the coming out process right?
Kyle: It's hard to say because it's always treated with such melodrama almost.Graydon: It's very earnest.Kyle: It's so earnest. And I feel like we have earnest moments in our show but I feel like we've tried to undercut it with humor for the most part. We didn't want it to be 100 percent dreary all the time.Graydon: There's often a formula in coming out stories, which is like, somebody gets teased for being gay and then they get beat up for being gay and then they, you know, finally they meet somebody and then either they're both threatened or one of them is threatened and it's something we see so often. And that kind of honestly scared me when I was a kid, seeing those kind of things. It made me feel more unsafe than I was and not that we wanna push anybody to do anything unsafe, but you know when I did finally come out it was to very receptive family and friends and I had feared the worst. So yeah, I think partially we just wanted to make something uplifting and funny and kind of a little bit more daring than what we see.
Do you remember when you came out?
Graydon: Oh yeah. Yeah.Kyle: Yeah, I think we both do. I came out to my mom when I was 13, or I was outed rather and I don't think I'll ever forget that. And when I was 18 I finally started coming out to people and it was really surprisingly easy and I'm so happy for that.
Graydon: We're both lucky in what we got to experience. But, yeah. It's like a defining thing and I think that part of what we're trying to show is that, like it takes—it does take a lot of courage to do it. And we admire people who can come out and who have the ability to.Kyle, you said you came out when you were 13 but did you ever find yourself in situations where you were playing straight even then?
Kyle: For me personally, even though I was out to myself in grade eight, I considered dating this girl because she was part of the cool kids. [laughs]Did it work?
Kyle: A little bit, but I couldn't do it to myself. But that was only, I mean until I was 18 I didn't really feel comfortable like being outwardly gay, so I did just play straight even though I knew I was gay for sure. To an extent. I mean I'm sure everybody else could tell.Graydon: Yeah, yes they could [laughs]. I used to quote unquote "date" the foreign exchange students so they'd have to leave before anything could get too serious. That's so terrible. And you know I still find myself sometimes on the phone making my voice more straight-sounding or, you know—and I think there's a moment in Coming In where Mitchell has to come out to the barista and that happens all the time. In a cab you'll get asked "are you going to see a girl?" or you know, you just kind of have to decide am I gonna come out today to this stranger? Is it gonna be a risk? It is, you know, gonna make things uncomfortable? Am I making him uncomfortable? It's just an ongoing process. So yeah. Definitely sometimes for self-preservation you feel a bit like you need to be straight.
Yeah I never really thought about that notion of having to almost come out everyday in different ways.
Graydon: Yeah, you kind of operate on the assumption that people know. But sometimes you're like, how could you be so off!Are you surprised there hasn't really been, you know, another mainstream network show fully about gay stories? It's crazy to think that the last time was really Will and Grace.
Kyle: Yeah, I mean in terms of like a network primetime show, yes. I mean there has been other shows like Looking on HBO and whatever, but I feel like a primetime show is really necessary and we really want to see it happen again.Graydon: Yeah we didn't—we weren't really thinking about that. We weren't like oh there's a real lack of that, but we realized after we finished we were like "oh wait there's not really anything," and there hasn't really been anything primetime in Canada, that's like full on gay show, made in Canada at least, you know? Except for like QueerTV and cool things like that, there hasn't really been any fictional, sitcoms about being gay. So yeah. It's kinda funny. It kind of—its like there's gay characters in every show now but it's not necessarily the main focus.And then how do you also make sure you do hit that universal audience?
Graydon: Well I think again it's partially—if it's just funny no matter what, then that attracts people, you know, I watched Girls and I'm not a girl you know? And then, it's just moving beyond the first season. Like we really do deal with Mitchell's story primarily, but we also start to branch out into Margo and Todd's story—that's Mitchell's best friend and her boyfriend.
Kyle: Yeah, and I think we're also trying to inject a sense of universality. Trying to make this a universal show that is dealing with relationships more so than just gay issues.Graydon: And I mean the main character is straight.Right, I'm almost surprised it hasn't been done.
Graydon: Same!What do you hope people do take away from the story ultimately?
Graydon: I think that it's nice to have empathy for both sides, like, to have empathy for, you know, straight guys and that they're not the devil in this situation or for people to have empathy for gay people that it's not just about being gay, it's about taking a chance and, you know, you're risking a lot when you come out and it doesn't matter which way you're going, whether you're going gay or straight or bi, whatever it is—it's about a risk. And it's about being honest with yourself and with the people around you. So, I think that we just wanted to do that in a funny way. We wanted people to be entertained. I think it's important for people who are growing up to see that it's not necessarily a scary thing or that you're gonna get beat up, necessarily you know some people have that still and we don't want to say that that doesn't exist and there are these, you know, people have that issue though and we don't wanna say that they don't exist, but that's not the only way that that happens.Follow Amil on Twitter