On Thursday night, Los Angeles comedians Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi visited the Oberon stage in Cambridge as part of their East Coast Throwing Shade Live tour. Like any good touring comics, these L.A.-by-way-of-Texaners made sure to include plenty of local humor, from Gibson describing her disappointment at the lack of women statues in Boston Common (“I did see one statue of a woman, but she was killed for being a Quaker”), to Safi’s take on Faneuil Hall (“Nothing moves me more than seeing a monument next to an Abercrombie”), to even taking a few moments to riff on the Salem witch trials (Bryan: “I don’t know if Erin would have been a witch, but I would have said she was”; Erin, explaining why she would have been a witch just so she could say the word “sashay” while she burned to death: because “nothing says ‘fuck you’ like the word ‘sashay'”).
Suffice it to say that on the comedy front, this duo knows what they’re doing, coming up with hilarious lines at the drop of a hat while also sporting the ability to be whatever they need to be to each other to make any given bit work, both of them changing from “straight man” to “funny man” and back with enviable fluidity and ease.
But it’s important to note that Gibson and Safi aren’t just interested in telling jokes. They’re also interested in, well, throwing shade (or publicly denouncing or ridiculing individuals or organizations they feel deserve it). More on that in a bit.
For the uninitiated, Throwing Shade is a comedy/LGBT podcast that, as it bills itself in its intro, “takes a weekly look at all the issues important to ladies and gays, and treats them with much less respect than they deserve.” Or, as Gibson herself put it on stage on Thursday, “with a loooot of disrespect; so much it’s disgusting.”
Enter the horse semen.
As part of the podcast’s traditional “Would You Rather?” segment, Gibson and Safi read hypothetical situations provided by the audience, almost all of which delve into the deepest, darkest recesses of sexual and scatological perversity you could possibly imagine. One such hypothetical on Thursday involved choosing between having to drink three glasses of horse semen every morning just to be able to open your left eye, or– actually, to be honest, I forget the other option. Probably something about having to eat out your own mom. Yeah, that sounds about right.
But as gross and cringe-inducing as much of Throwing Shade’s imagery is, you very quickly begin to appreciate the balls-to-the-wall outlandishness of it all–not to mention the attitude Gibson and Safi themselves take toward it, as they somehow manage to come off as simultaneously impishly gleeful and shudderingly self-reproaching about the filth they find themselves dredging up on stage. It’s that self-awareness that makes it all so much fun. Safi and Gibson know they’re crossing all sorts of boundaries–and the audience knows that they know it, can see it in Erin’s head-shakes and Bryan’s pained winces–which makes the whole experience a communally naughty (and goofy) field trip into the too-too-lubricated nooks and crannies of human sexuality. And if thinking about fisting your dad while surrounded by a bunch of strangers isn’t a blast, I don’t know what is.
Of course, a part of what Gibson and Safi are doing is satirizing the nonsensical notions that so many more repressed/conservative individuals have about other people’s sexual lives. As if to say, “Oh, you think it stops at anal sex? HAHA, wrong.” But the real trick that Throwing Shade pulls is that no matter how disgusting it gets, at the heart of it all is a very basic wink of a suggestion: that, hey, maybe it’s all okay. (Or at least, short of bizarre incest acts, maybe it’s all okay.) That maybe blowing on a woman’s vagina is a totally appropriate sex act, so long as both people are into it. That maybe kicking someone in the butt repeatedly “like you’re in Singin’ in the Rain“ is a totally normal way to have sex for somebody out there. And that maybe, as Bryan put it on Thursday–just maybe–“horse semen might be good for you.”
The improbable sincerity at the heart of Throwing Shade is no clearer than when Safi and Gibson discuss the week’s ‘ssues (short for “issues,” pronounced “shoes”). The ‘ssues segment gives them a chance not only to riff comedically on current events and LGBT news items, but to draw attention to (and, of course, throw shade at) some of the more ridiculously bigoted elements in the world today. Thursday’s ‘ssues, for example, included a bizarrely and comprehensively misogynistic Craigslist ad; Pat Robertson’s ill-informed comments about gays purposefully spreading AIDS by cutting people with their rings (possibly from Safi’s new jewelry line: Designer Diseases); and various politicians who are way more fascinated with (and confused by) how gay people have sex than they probably should be. (Just a taste: apparently some people don’t think gay men are able to look each other in the eyes while they have sex. Um. What?)
Gibson and Safi might say they treat feminist and LGBT issues with disrespect, but that’s really only part of the picture. After all, the most brilliant comic minds only really joke about serious things because they know they’re serious; otherwise the jokes wouldn’t work. In a way, it takes a real sense of the gravity and urgency of a situation to be able and willing to crack it wide open with a joke–and in the world of Throwing Shade, influential ignorance is about as grave and urgent as it gets.
Indeed, at the core of Throwing Shade’s comedy is an extravagant bemusement at just how ignorant, closed-minded, and hateful some people–especially people with power–can be. There are a variety of ways for progressive folks to navigate and exorcise that bemusement in the 21st century, and Gibson and Safi do so by uncovering oppression, hypocrisy, and hate, and relentlessly mocking it for all the world to see.
Public shaming of people who should know better but clearly don’t is one part–and an important one–of progress, and Safi and Gibson jump into said shaming with quirkiness, flamboyance, and gusto.
That they manage to be hilarious in the process is just horse semen on the cake.
Throwing Shade is a member of the Maximum Fun podcast network and is on tour now, heading to New York City on Saturday, August 31, and then back to the West Coast for the Los Angeles Podcast Festival in October.