Guy Branum is a Goddess

June 27, 2022

Photo Credit

Mindy Tucker


Valerie Lopez


Sara Cline

2022 Moontower Just For Laughs Comedy Festival Series

The Moontower Comedy Festival has returned in 2022 under the umbrella of Just For Laughs and blessed us with 10 days of comedy, film, live podcast, and afterparties. Comedy Wham is featuring our favorite conversations from this year's festival. Enjoy!

I love that this job I've chosen, lets me truly create things that use as much of me as is possible.
Guy Branum

This final inter­view from our 2022 Moon­tow­er series is a spe­cial one. Of course, it’s spe­cial sim­ply on the mer­its of our guest: Guy Branum, whose writ­ing cred­its include Chelsea Late­ly, Fash­ion Police, and The Mindy Project. But per­haps what was most spe­cial was the con­ver­sa­tion that unfold­ed between Guy and Valerie, which ulti­mate­ly end­ed up being an insight­ful and impor­tant dis­cus­sion of dis­crim­i­na­tion, diver­si­ty, and inclu­sion in our very own com­e­dy com­mu­ni­ties. But more on that lat­er. First, let’s talk Guy Branum.

Fas­ci­nat­ing­ly enough, Branum start­ed out as a lawyer. See, law was a safe,” and prag­mat­ic career path, as well as a par­ent-approved one for Branum. Of the shift from law to com­e­dy, Branum explains: Part of, like, com­ing out of the clos­et and accept­ing that I want­ed to lead a life that was my own was [me] say­ing, No, I don’t want to do this. I want to be a stand up.’”

Branum actu­al­ly knew ear­ly on dur­ing this life piv­ot that he want­ed to be a writer, but he didn’t have the con­sis­tent con­fi­dence in him­self yet to sus­tain it and com­plete a spec script or screen­play. For­tu­nate­ly, stand up was the per­fect inter­me­di­ary to build Branum up to that kind of con­fi­dence. “… [In] stand up, you know, you only have to believe in your­self for, like, the length of an out­go­ing mes­sage,” Branum jokes. Like, you just have to [fill] 45 sec­onds for a joke. And if you put enough of those togeth­er, you can do it.” Per­form­ing onstage proved an incred­i­bly use­ful method for build­ing his trust in his own instincts, as it allowed him to eas­i­ly get out­side input on the mate­r­i­al that worked and that didn’t. Along the way, he fell in love with stand up in its own right, even as he land­ed his first writ­ing gig for a cable network.

[In] stand up, you know, you only have to believe in yourself for, like, the length of an outgoing message.
Guy Branum

Hav­ing start­ed stand up in San Fran­cis­co, Branum is quick to praise the com­e­dy com­mu­ni­ty there, which he describes as a beau­ti­ful med­ley of club com­e­dy and alt com­e­dy. Branum fond­ly recalls per­form­ing at The Punch Line, but also per­form­ing for alt audi­ences who appre­ci­at­ed more than just the cheap­est jokes. On top of that, Branum artic­u­lates that San Fran­cis­co was the only place in Amer­i­ca oth­er than New York at that point in time where you had sort of a semi-flour­ish­ing queer com­e­dy com­mu­ni­ty.” In fact, it wasn’t until Branum moved out of San Fran­cis­co and into Los Ange­les that he real­ized, as he puts it, that gay­ness was going to be an imped­i­ment to main­stream suc­cess in stand up.”

Fun­ni­ly enough, one of Branum’s favorite facets of stand up is that inher­ent in it is a lot of adver­si­ty.” Branum goes on to explain, Stand-up audi­ences are more hos­tile to the per­former than just about any oth­er per­for­mance style. And it’s kind of what makes stand up good.” That being said, Branum rec­og­nizes that there is an added insti­tu­tion­al hard­ness that exists for women and peo­ple of col­or and for queer peo­ple that not every­body should have to slog through.”

For­tu­nate­ly, in his 20 years of doing stand up (near­ly 18 of them spent in LA), the com­e­dy scene and its cul­ture has shift­ed, mak­ing strides to encom­pass more diver­si­ty. Women and queer comics have appeared more and more on line­ups, beyond the sin­gu­lar, tok­enized posi­tions they might pre­vi­ous­ly take up on a show. Like, when I start­ed com­e­dy, I was nev­er on a show with [anoth­er] queer per­son unless it was an all-queer com­e­dy show,” Branum states. But I remem­ber the day in like 2012 or 2013, that I, for the first time, was booked on a show and there were three gay comics on it. And, like, it just had­n’t crossed any­body’s mind.” 

I had to go and find the spark
Guy Branum

In the same vein, Branum lauds the impor­tance of queer spaces for com­e­dy. He recalls how won­der­ful it has been to expe­ri­ence queer open mics in recent years, see­ing the comics get­ting to fail on their own mer­its, rather than due to insti­tu­tion­al resis­tance. Of course, queer spaces are impor­tant not just for the comics, but for audi­ences too: Branum recalls an expe­ri­ence cir­ca 2015 in which he clocked a group of gay men in the audi­ence of a show, and he then watched as every guy who got on stage said the word fag­got.” Branum recounts how this moment was unfor­tu­nate­ly a sig­nal to the queer audi­ence mem­bers that their pres­ence is con­di­tion­al — that … if they want to be here and enjoy the show, they also have to be humil­i­at­ed a lit­tle bit.” As the cul­ture con­tin­ues to shift, Branum believes that queer audi­ences are slow­ly com­ing to real­ize that com­e­dy that isn’t drag, that isn’t explic­it­ly queer com­e­dy’ can be for them.”

Branum also recounts some of his unfor­tu­nate first­hand expe­ri­ences of that insti­tu­tion­al hard­ness” for gay comics. He start­ed on Chelsea Late­ly in 2007, and no stand-up man­ag­er was inter­est­ed in rep­re­sent­ing him. Final­ly, in 2013, he had to active­ly ask and con­vince a man­ag­er to rep­re­sent him based on his demon­strat­ed income. It wasn’t until 2015 that his cur­rent man­ag­er saw Branum at a fes­ti­val and approached him to rep­re­sent him. Now, Branum is pleased to see queer comics backed by main­stream man­agers, but he admits his frus­tra­tion that even as recent­ly as 2015, he was being passed up by reps despite mak­ing con­sis­tent­ly good mon­ey, mean­while nice, attrac­tive, straight white guys” with lit­tle mon­ey to show from stand up were land­ing great reps because peo­ple under­stood where [they] could go. Peo­ple did­n’t under­stand where I could go,” Branum states.

The same kind of struc­tur­al dis­crim­i­na­tion could be found in the writ­ers’ rooms, too. As Branum worked on Fash­ion Police (you’ll have to lis­ten to the pod­cast to hear his per­son­al Joan Rivers sto­ries), he watched oth­er roast-style shows fail­ing to look for the writ­ers that could per­haps fit those roast writ­ing roles best — women, queer folk, and POCs. And things are bet­ter [now],” Branum con­cedes, but he believes that even as diver­si­ty has become more of a con­sid­er­a­tion in employ­ers’ minds, the meth­ods tak­en so far to find and posi­tion those peo­ple have not been giv­en as much thought and care as they tru­ly need.

Inter­est­ing­ly enough, Branum’s first album came after 13 years of doing stand up. What was the lynch­pin, you ask? The fes­ti­val scene — from Bridgetown to High Plains to our very own Moon­tow­er. It was these envi­ron­ments that intro­duced him to a whole new gen­er­a­tion of comics, as well as to com­e­dy record labels who were keen to encour­age him. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as proud as he was and is of that album, the fol­low­ing year Branum faced a pret­ty dev­as­tat­ing rejec­tion from Com­e­dy Cen­tral. This blow was quick­ly cou­pled with anoth­er slew of emo­tions as the 2016 elec­tion con­clud­ed. I tru­ly did­n’t know what I was sup­posed to be doing or say­ing as a come­di­an, and I felt real­ly lost,” Branum admits. “… I just feel like I was in the wilder­ness for, like, six years.”

It was only in sort of, like, the last year that I was like, I have to — I have to get over this hump, but I need to start find­ing mate­r­i­al that I love again, and fig­ur­ing out what my per­spec­tive is, what I need to say,’” Branum mus­es. It turns out that the pan­dem­ic, too, was actu­al­ly a much-need­ed kick in the pants to final­ly let go of old mate­r­i­al. That being said, Branum is quick to caveat that redis­cov­er­ing his spark was not a pas­sive, mag­i­cal process: I had to go and find the spark,” he says.

Per­haps in those tough times, it helped for Branum to lean on the mytho­log­i­cal sto­ry that informs the title of his book, My Life as a God­dess. The sto­ry in ques­tion is one that Branum would often tell his friends when they were feel­ing defeat­ed: a sto­ry of Leto. “… Some peas­ants are mean to her, and she gets real­ly hurt,” Branum explains. And then she’s like, Oh, shit, I’m a god­dess.’ And she turns them all into frogs.”

For­tu­nate­ly, now god­dess Branum gets to work on projects that allow him to flex and show­case as much of him­self as pos­si­ble. After all, stand up is all about want­i­ng your voice to be heard, and Branum feels that his voice has tru­ly got­ten to shine through projects like Talk Show: The Game Show, writ­ing for The Mindy Project, and, most recent­ly, work­ing on Bil­ly Eichner’s upcom­ing rom-com: Bros (which has an all-queer cast!).

Branum’s future can prob­a­bly best be fore­cast­ed by, well, Branum him­self: What­ev­er I do, suc­cess or fail­ure, it’s going to be flow­ery and fun. It’s going to have lots of good times,” Branum says. And I’ll enjoy it, regard­less of whether the uni­verse decides to enjoy it back.” And that’s exact­ly the kind of god­dess ener­gy we should all be tak­ing into the future. Every­thing else can be frogs. 

Fol­low Guy

Guy can be seen, heard, and read:

  • Movies
    • Bros — Star­ring Bil­ly Eich­n­er (Sched­uled Release Sep­tem­ber 2022)
    • No Strings Attached — Star­ring Natal­ie Portman
  • Book — My Life as a Goddess
  • Oth­er Writings
    • Slate​.com
    • The New York Times
  • Album — Effa­ble
  • Pod­cast — Pop Rocket
  • TV (Appearances/​Writer)
    • Talk Show: The Game Show (TruTV)
    • The Mindy Project
    • Chelsea Late­ly
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Guy Branum