You always hear people complaining that we can’t tell funny jokes anymore, or that being politically correct sucks the life out of humor. These Thems destroys that notion and manages to be educational and hilarious at the same time.
Filled with zingers worthy of the snappiest CW series, These Thems is a fun new series by Gretchen Wylder which tackles the complex world of being queer and trying to teach the straights a thing or two. In the series, four friends navigate New York City, coming out, learning about who they are and what they like and how they want to identify.
I talked to Gretchen about her series, the real life behind it, burlesque, The L Word, Tanya Saracho, and had basically the most laugh-a-minute interview ever.
Mika: I’ve had the pleasure of actually watching your entire series already. I loved it! At first I was wondering, where is this going, and then it just became so much fun to go through this journey with all the characters. What was your inspiration for this series?
Gretchen: The direct inspiration was, I really wanted to put my energy into creating something that would benefit my community. I’ve been an actor for almost 2 decades and, honestly, I started writing the show the day after Trump was elected.
Mika: I can feel that.
Gretchen: I was at a place where the only thing that I can feel I can do to bring change is to create something that will make the world a better place for the people that I love the most.
Mika: I honestly think that you achieved that. So many of the situations that the characters face, they’re relatable because we’ve been there. That first scene with the explanations about non-binary and I sat there going “Yes! This is what our life is like all the time!” How did you manage to balance what we all see as the hilarious insanity of having to explain this over and over again, with the fact that we’re actually talking about something that’s serious?
Gretchen: I think the best way to educate is through humour. That was really important to me. I never wanted the show to feel like someone was being preached to, I didn’t want the show to feel like it was a boring lesson. It took me many many many re-writes and table reads in front of various New York audiences, to make sure the humour landed. A lot of it just based in reality. I’m sure a lot of us have had these conversations with people who aren’t queer, being like “this is this and this is this”. I think a lot of the humour just kind of lies in the reality of having to educate people.
Mika: At the same time there were a lot of _almost_ queer caricatures, just enhanced aspects of the queerness that we all know in love. There’s some people I felt they weren’t over the top, but they felt like they were attempting to be humorously _near_ the top. Was it difficult to balance the realistic representations without making them be laughed at, instead of having them be laughed with?
Gretchen: All of that credit goes toward my co stars and my director, Jett Garrison. One of my favourite things when I watched the show is just how beautifully nuanced everyone’s performances are. So much of that was Jett bringing that out of people and allowing us to play on set. And also because the characters are represented accurately. It’s just like we have a tap into our own humour, our own life experience. It didn’t even really feel so much like, “Oh, I’m playing a part a part” — it was “Oh, this is a version of me. This is something I’ve experienced.” Fortunately my costars and Jett and our producer, Sophia Clark, and pretty much everybody who worked on this, is a lovely person who has a great sense of humour. It just felt so natural because it is pulled from our natural life experience, really.
Mika: Of the characters, Vero carries so much of the emotional weight for the whole series. Halfway through it was jokingly thinking of Vero as sort of like the queer Jesus — “Everyone is going to come to me and I will explain all the things.”
Gretchen: [laughter] Sure! That’s funny!
Mika: It’s funnier when you realize I’m Jewish and you know my understanding of lesbian Jesus is very vague. Was it intentional to always have them be the centrepiece to be the guiding — “I’m gonna make all the things happen from the centrepiece of Vero.”?
Gretchen: There’s a fine line that I had to tread here because the cast is really intersectional, as we can see. Vero is the only character that was written as a person of colour. I think the backbone of our community are queer people of colour. They always have been specifically — I mean, pride itself was started because of black trans women — it was really important to me to make the character of Vero someone who was the creator of change in this series. So the person to kind of bring the world’s together.
At the same time, it is tricky, because that is a real struggle that queer people of colour have to deal with — where they do a lot of the emotional labor and are expected to educate, even when it’s never their job to educate someone else. That’s why it was also really important to me to address that specifically in episode three, where my character and Vero are talking. I directly address my privilege, Vero and I have a few lines of dialogue around it, and then the conversation concludes with “Not everyone is down to educate, you dig?” “Not everyone is down to educate, you dig?”
Vero also was inspired by my good friend Ellie Contant who passed away three years ago, and she was a big lesbian party promoter in New York City. She was so passionate about bridging the gap between the queer community. I kind of imagined Vero, like, what would Ellie’s energy possibly be like? What would she have been doing with her life, had she been around still? Vero to me is very much is grounded in that bridging the world’s energy.
Mika: It’s really lovely how much thought goes into comedy. Everybody says, “Oh, comedy, it’s got to be easy.” It’s insanely hard to talk about this stuff and you were very successful in telling these jokes without any sort of punching down going on. I never thought anyone was the butt of a joke. Well, not anybody queer. There might have been moments where I thought. Yeah, that’s the joke we’ve all made about everybody. What is your favourite scene in this whole series?
Gretchen: Oh, my God! You’re going to ask me that?
Mika: Yeah, I’m gonna ask that one because I have so many scenes that are some of my favourites, that I can still visualize. I want to know what stuck with you while you’re making this.
Gretchen: Oh, my God. Okay, well, you know …
Mika: I know they’re all your favourite child. It’s okay.
Gretchen: It’s so true. Well, as I’m marinating on that, I would like to say thank you for acknowledging that there isn’t any punching down. That was very intentional. It was also very intentional that nobody came across as a villain. Not any of the queer people, not any of the great people. Even though there are straight characters that learn their lessons, same with some of the queer characters in the show, you know, people mess up and learn their lessons. Nobody is vilified. And that was very important to me.
Mika: It absolutely came across.
Gretchen: Cool. Thank you. Okay, favourite scene, you know. Oh, my God.
Mika: It can’t be the favourite to film, the most difficult to work on…
Gretchen: You know, honestly, I love the burlesque number in the Club Cumming episode. “Listen to my pussy.”
Mika: [laughter] I had it playing audibly in my office because I was only one there when that song came up. I’m like, “I better put headphones on now, or I’ll have some explaining to do.”
Gretchen: [laughter] I love that moment because, first of all, that was like the most chaotic day to film. We had such a short amount of time in that space, and the whole burlesque number was filmed in 45 minutes.
Gretchen: The whole, yeah.
Mika: The whole thing?
Gretchen: Not the whole episode, the whole like before—
Mika: Oh yeah! I’ve seen actual tapings. I know how long these things take.
Gretchen: We got down to the wire and we were like, “All right, let’s slap some red lipstick on or put her and a dress and let’s move it.” It was super chaotic, but I love that moment because I love the character of Gretchen’s trajectory, from seeing her go from really insecure and confused and kind of sexually repressed, to then seeing this super liberated, completely life take over the top flirty sexual creature and embracing it and not feeling shame around it. Plus, it was really fun to just like, you know, be a tart.
Mika: Did you write that song?
Gretchen: I did not write that song. Natalie Tenenbaum is an incredible composer. She has worked with Tina Fey on the Mean Girls musical. She’s legit. And [her and] Kevin Wanzor did the music for that. I reached out to the two of them and said “This is where my character story is going. Do you have any ideas?” And they came back to me with “What if we do a song called ‘Listen To My Pussy’?” and I was like “My mother might die. I love this idea so much.” The two songs in the show, I did not write, and that’s pretty much like the only stuff that I didn’t write.
Mika: I was wondering, “Can [Gretchen] do music writing as well? How amazing that this [series] gonna get?”
Gretchen: Maybe one day!
Mika: Maybe one day! So a lot of early web series were done in this traditional like vlogging style. Like even Carmilla, which is one of the more famous early web series, you were always right in front of a camera and somebody was recording. Did you ever consider doing something like that, or was this always “No, I’m gonna go out and be basically a regular television series just on a web series.”
Gretchen: You know, when I first started crowdfunding for this almost two years ago, I had no idea — This is my first film project. I had never done anything outside of the stage. I kind of thought it would be really low budget. Like camcorder feel. I just wanted to get these stories out there. I had no idea it would look as beautiful as it ended up looking. Once word got out about the show, and I did four table readings of the script as I was in the process of of rewrites, and during that time people just gravitated toward the project. I barely had to —that’s not true, I hustled a lot. Fortunately, the people who were drawn to the project were people that were really excited about it and passionate about it and wanted it to look as good as possible. Our crew is incredible, the production team is incredible. People really put their all into something, and nobody got paid what they should have been — what they deserve. The hope for future seasons is that people actually get paid money for creating the art that helped heal the world.
Mika: I am well versed with the difficulty of paying people with their worth for queer content. You know, you answered my next question, which was gonna be about your previous experience with filmmaking and cinematography because I walked into this thinking, “Oh, she must have done hundreds. I bet there’s stuff I’m missing.” This is your first film project that’s insane. Talk about hitting a home run in your first at bat!
Gretchen: Thank you. Honestly, I’ve always been of the mind set of go big or go home. I’ve been an actor for almost two decades, doing mostly musical theatre, and I knew that if I was gonna crowdfund, if I was gonna put my energy and time and everything into something, that I wanted it to be as great as it could be. No moment of this has been easy! It’s been the most difficult experience of my life for sure. There were many times along the path where I was like, “Oh, shit. I should have just made a short instead! What I’m doing?” But it’s .. if someone had told you how hard it was gonna be when you started, you never would have started in the first place. It was definitely that experience. By the time I was in it in the middle of it, it was already too late to turn around.
Mika: It absolutely worked. And I watch a lot of web series made by a totally varying skill level of producers. Everybody has the same heart, that they all really want to tell the stories we’re not seeing. That’s actually a lot of why we made LezWatch.TV, we wanted to make it easier for people to find these shows, to see themselves and find things. Can you remember when you first or if you ever saw someone that made you think “Hey, wait, that that’s more me.”
Gretchen: You know, The L Word was really powerful for me. As many faults as it has, it was the first time I saw representation of lesbians. But that being said, I identify now as a queer femme, [and] like the character of Gretchen in the show, I tend to date more masc presenting queer folk. So, butch lesbians, more masc non binary people, trans men. That really is not shown much in media at all. That was really important to me as I was creating this, I was like, damn what would have been easier for me when I was a teenager? I wish I could’ve turned on the TV or YouTube or whatever, seen someone having experiences like mine. You know, “Oh, I feel seen.” Here’s a feminine presenting, lesbian queer, identified woman who is having sexy, fun, interesting relationships with masc of centre people.
Mika: Have you seen Vida?
Gretchen: Yeah! I love Vida!
Mika: You described that and I was like “That sounds like season two of Vida!”
Gretchen: You know what? You’re so right. Yes. I love Vida and Tanya Saracho has been a really big supporter of These Thems actually.
Mika: She is great to have in your corner. I love her.
Gretchen: Yeah, she’s incredible and super inspirational. I look up to her a lot and I absolutely love that show.
Mika: I mean, if you say Vida, then you’re also saying that the first time you saw yourself was last year, and that’s crazy!
Gretchen: Right! We already filmed by that point, too. Absolutely. It’s totally crazy.
Mika: If you were given the chance, would you do These Thems all over again for traditional linear streaming media like Netflix or Hulu or CBS even … you might have trouble with them with a pussy song on CBS, though.
Gretchen: Listen, if I’m dreaming big here I would love — it would be great to end up on HBO, it would be great to wind up on Showtime and be great to wind up on a network where you know, we can get it good funding to tell these queer stories and to really blow out the world. To give more characters, more arcs, like, really, really expand the world in a big way. I would love to go that or, aside from that, like on the opposite side of the coin, I would love to go the EastSiders route, which was a web series that then got picked up. I would love to be able to do that, too, and for us to just plop our first season down on Netflix or Hulu or Freeform or whoever and for them to then fund our future seasons. You know, if HBO comes knocking and is like, “We want to refilm this.” I’d be like, “Great. Yes, thank you. It sounds good.”
Mika: It really does. I’m looking forward to when more things are on television television as opposed to … I’m trying to frame YouTube, because I still consider it television because I’m watching a whole series on YouTube or Vimeo wherever and it’s complete and its television. It’s just smaller streams. And I think that there’s always going to be a place for that. No matter how many amazing shows get moved over to traditional television, we’re gonna have this space where indie people are gonna want to get started. You think you’re doing the festival circuit right now? Is that right?
Gretchen: Yeah, we’ve been on the festival circuit. We had our world premiere at Inside Out. We just did the first episode there. We wrapped filming in December of 2018. So we really quickly started postproduction. We had our first episode ready, we did Inside Out. Then we screened the first three at Outfest LA.
Mika: Ah I missed that!
Gretchen: It was a blast!
Mika: It was the same weekend as [San Diego] Comic-Con. I was a little bit torn.
Gretchen: Yeah, for sure. Since then we’ve been screening mostly the full series at film festivals.
Mika: Where and when can people find the show? Because I know I’ve seen the whole thing, but not everybody has.
Gretchen: Will be dropping on YouTube on the OML channel. That has 500,000 subscribers right now. The date will be February 27th! You can go to www.TheseThems.com to watch or straight to Youtube at www.youtube.com/onemorelesbian
Mika: Asked this just in time.
Gretchen: Yeah, really! […] we’re going to be dropping episodes on a weekly roll out with our finale corresponding with ClexaCon, which is super fun.
Mika: Are you going to be at ClexaCon?
Gretchen: Yes. The whole dream team will be there.
Mika: Oh, well, that’s gonna be great, because one of your actors is one of my favourite people to see all the time on television.
Gretchen: Oh, Vico?
Mika: All over the place. I’m watching trailers for new shows and I go “That’s Vico!”
Gretchen: I know, they’re a star.
Mika: They’re jumping right now. It’s amazing. Well, I will be at ClexaCon, and I will absolutely be thrilled to see there. Is there anything you really want to make sure people know about this show that I haven’t asked or just something that really makes the show. Besides “Listen to my Pussy,” which is now gonna just be like, that song was stuck in my head for days and now it’s back.
Gretchen: Awesome! Happy to be of cervix. [laughter]
Mika: [laughter] Oh that was great!
Gretchen: I hope that people can sense the love. I hope the people know that. above all else, this was made to bring education and positive representation to our community through a humorous lens and through a really loving, happy story line. Where we see young adult queer people leading happy, successful, fulfilling lives which, you know, is possible. And so it was important to have that represented in this.
Mika: And I have to ask the question that everybody hates but what are you working on next?
Gretchen: I am outlining season two, with hopes that some some fancy producer will see this. And I’ll be able to line up a pitch meeting with the hopes of selling the show. I’m also working on a one woman show that I have plans to put up in the spring or in Los Angeles.
Mika: Well, great. I will hope to be able to tell everybody where to catch your show when that comes out to Thank you so much. Gretchen. You were a a dream to talk to.
Gretchen: Oh, thanks. Same.
If you like original music, burlesque, and struggling queers finding themselves in this world, you’ll find that These Thems was made for you. You can watch it tomorrow! So don’t wait, go watch!
It’s like a tomato. Is it a fruit, is it a vegetable?
In the end, we’re all these thems.