If you’re reading this right now, chances are you’ve heard of the show Queer Eye. And have you asked the question “Why has a female makeover show never existed?”
Butch Pal for the Straight Gal is a mockumentary comedy series about the first-ever queer female makeover show. But it also so much more than that, because instead of relying on queer tropes and stereotypes, Butch Pal aims to change how we see ourselves, each other, and in fact where we see reflections of ourselves.
I spoke with creator and star Ally Johnson about what Butch Pal really is, what it’s really about, and how it’s going to change the world.
It’s Non-Reality Reality
Unlike a classic mockumentary, Butch Pal takes the fourth wall head on. A traditional reality TV show rarely steps behind the scenes, giving you their alterna-crafted universe. Instead, Butch Pal pulls back the curtain, giving you a taste of what it would be like if we had this show.
I wanted to make a show within a show. A comedy about what the female version [of Queer Eye] would be like […] Any time I looked at talk online about what the female version would be, it usually came with a great string of jokes like, “Oh yeah we’ll just have a bunch of lesbians telling a straight girl to throw out her makeup and give her a rescue dog.”
I wanted to find a space where both of us could live, where we are making people’s lives better and are teaching good values and female empowerment and self love, and all those good and important things that women need to be hearing right now but also telling that story in this comedic context.
Giving it a little bit of a comedic spin allows us to have both of those things exist within the same space. You get to have fun with it, you get to poke a little fun at reality show and at those queer stereotypes, and also have an empowering message for women.Ally Johnson
On Beyond Sterotypes
One of the biggest concerns anyone has about shows like this is that they devolve into punching down, where we’re making fun of the queerness. Instead of that, Butch Pal is making fun of our own preconceived notions of what each archetype of a makeover TV ‘character’ should be.
[I] went with the dichotomy. I went the opposite of what you might expect for each of the expertises. For example, the grooming expert is Tegan who is the quote-unquote “granola” lesbian. She’s a little bit of a hippie, she doesn’t shower a whole lot, she’s all natural, she barely puts on makeup, and she doesn’t have a lot of hair products.
That’s the person I thought would be great for a grooming expert because she would be teaching most women to scale it back rather than glam it up. I really thought that was a cool opposition for the show in general. […]
With the culture expert, too, originally she was supposed to be an introvert. And a person who never really liked the big trends, usually can be found at the front row of a tiny band that no one’s really heard up, super into comic books, board games. One of those people who’s just really eclectic and not really jumping on the bandwagon and isn’t always on the mindset that we need to be engaged in a conversation all the time, which would make for some awkward moments on camera.
I liked exploring different people in the queer space, but also finding characters that were almost the antithesis of the expertises.Ally Johnson
Our Own Preconceptions
Beyond just shaking off the normal for the delicious antithesis, Butch Pal makes us question ourselves. We all have these thoughts about people on reality TV that are, generally, not the kindest. We make assumptions about their actions and raison d’être that speak more of ourselves than of them.
[T]he first person we’re making over is a woman named Meckayluh, and she is an instagram celebrity. She is somebody who, for all intents and purposes has a great life: she has a beautiful house, her wardrobe is incredible, she’s always at yacht parties. You think that she has this great life that she doesn’t need a makeover, but then the Fierce5 arrive and they’re like “Oh god, this woman needs help.”
It was hard for me, I really had to investigate the character of Meckayluh and find a lot of three dimensional truth for her. On the surface, I had judgements on a person like that. “Why do you care so much about what other people think? Why do you need to post so much? Why do you need to stream everything that you’re doing? Why is she so attached to these shoes?”
That’s inherently comedic for me, but to find the drama there with her of why she really feels so connected, what is underneath that. Finding the hurt that she feels, separating herself from social media, and why that’s there. Rediscovering herself and finding the parts of herself that she got rid of in order to become what she thought everybody else wanted.Ally Johnson
A New Target
While smaller, indie productions have generally found a home on self-managed platforms like YouTube, Ally is reaching for the stars. She wants Butch Pal to be picked up by mainstream, and is treating her pilot exactly like classic linear pilot season used to work. She’s created the pilot, she has the show bible for four seasons, and she’s going to premiere at ClexaCon 2020 before hitting the circuit.
I think that this show could be that show [to break through with linear television]. It’s queer, of course, so we’re gonna have our queer supporters that have been wanting and craving a show like this. They’re gonna be there to watch this.
We’re also going to be there for straight women. They love reality type shows and having these empowering messages for women, and that makeover show — that applies to a lot of straight women too. But also it’s a comedy. A comedy is a great unifier. If you look at The Office and Parks & Rec. and Curb Your Enthusiasm, a lot of those shows have a very diverse range and demographics.
We’re hitting three different demographics within the same show. This is why this should would be great for a network like Hulu. I really think that once we can get in that room and sell it, I think we could do really well. I think that we deserve that.Ally Johnson
In many ways, this dream may only possible because of the leaps made by shows like Twenties by Lena Waithe, which was originally a webseries and is now an upcoming, rebooted series on BET. We can begin on mainstream, and inspire the next generation of indie creators.
The Reality of Reality
Being a tightly scripted show, it was still important to cast queer actors as queer characters for that authenticity. If, for example, down the road the show is less line-by-line scripted, then the improvisation needs people who exist in a queer space to reflect their truth to the camera.
I know it’s a comedy about a reality show, but I did want the Fierce5 to naturally exude their characters. […] I want these these actors to be able to portray these characters easily and be able to improvise easily and have it be very natural. To make those jokes that maybe a person who doesn’t identify as queer wouldn’t think of.
I wanted that reality to be inherent in the person, as well as on the screen in the context of the character.Ally Johnson
While they filmed the pilot on a short time-span and a tight budget, Butch Pal still made room for every scene to have a by-the-book take and then one where the actors could do what they wanted. Ally hopes, in the future, she can be more loose with the takes, much like traditional series (like One Day at a Time) do with their takes.
The Real Future
The reality is that Butch Pal wants to be the start of a movement where queer content crosses into more genres. We can move beyond cop and medical dramas, beyond comedy and mockumentaries, and well into things like horror series and just normalize queerness. We can look beyond someone’s entire being as queer and into them being people who happen to be queer. Casual representation.
We can change the lives of women and people in that [mockumentary/comedy] format. People think that because it’s comedy, it’s just going to be funny and jokey. There is a space where we can have an empowering message in the context of and through the lens of comedy. I think it’s really important for people to know that the message is there and the comedy is there.Ally Johnson
By giving us a world where people are just who they are and queer, the Fierce5 will be helping us look inward. It’s not a factor of them being queer, but is a focus through which we can see our flaws and biases and come out reborn. Like a phoenix, Butch Pal will help us rise beyond.