“You are an angry, Jewish gay man and we need you out here, so thank you,” guest Wanda Sykes tells host Guy Branum on an early episode of TruTV's new series Talk Show the Game Show. “Political grandstanding,” panel judge Casey Schreiner chimes in, adding, “Two points!”
While it's true that white male comics traditionally get the industry breaks, there’s little that's traditional about Guy Branum. The West Hollywood-based, in-demand writer is a bona fide trivia expert, was recently described on Comedy Central’s Roast Battle as resembling “a Jeff Ross beanbag chair,” and doesn’t shy from exploring his Jewish upbringing or sexual orientation onstage. Highly political and well-versed in world history, his exasperated demeanor belies a penchant for undercutting idealistic cultural perceptions.
With behind-the-scenes and on-camera credits including Chelsea Lately, The Mindy Project and Another Period, Branum has combined his dual love for both game shows and talk shows with the April 5 debut of Talk Show the Game Show. The competitive half-hour chatfest awards points for timed anecdote telling, political grandstanding and flirting with the host.
“It’s always been my opinion that there is a right way and wrong way of doing talk shows,” Branum explains. “Your job is to effortlessly name drop and mention your charity and self-aggrandize, and do all of that without it feeling mercenary or overwrought.” Contestants on TSTGS’s first 16 episodes include Maria Bamford, Margaret Cho and Chelsea Handler; filmmakers Diablo Cody and Paul Feig; musicians Moby and Kelis; and The Walking Dead’s Josh McDermitt.
Raised in Sacramento outlier Yuba City, Branum started performing during his senior year at UC Berkeley, where his Daily Californian newspaper column’s satirical suggestion that fellow students murder Stanford student Chelsea Clinton brought the secret service to his apartment door. The subsequent boredom of University of Minnesota Law School inspired him to turn his comedy hobby into a full-time pursuit. Soon a writing gig at San Francisco’s TechTV led to a stint at the now-defunct G4 channel, which shared a NBCUniversal building with E!
“I was complaining about my job one day to a gay assistant who was my workplace frenemy,” Branum recalls. “He was like, ‘Well there’s a job opening on Chelsea Lately. Would you want to submit for that?’” After pulling an all-nighter putting together a packet, Branum became a writer, regular panelist and all-purpose “Staff Homosexual.”
Branum missed the rhythm of talk shows after departing Chelsea Lately in 2010. He learned how to do “very pranky, heterosexual-boy comedy” at Punk’d, watched Joan and Melissa Rivers bicker over Passover dishes at Fashion Police and took pride in highlighting the New York drag community on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. He also developed an annual Hanukkah party game that involved scoring his friends on their ability to create the best 90 seconds of small talk.
An initial slot in the Hollywood Improv’s experimental Lab room begat a monthly spot at the NerdMelt Showroom. Through champion player Karen Kilgariff (host of My Favorite Murder, and an Emmy-winning former head writer for The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Rosie Show), TSTGS gained the attention of actress Sykes’ Push It Productions. Co-exec producer Kilgariff also serves as panel judge alongside writer Schreiner, who Branum first befriended at G4.
Filmed at Hollywood Center Studios (“Same lot as @midnight, same studio as Drag Race!”), TSTGS's Talk Show Stadium boasts retro set design and wardrobe, a breezy vibe, fast-paced interplay and plenty of subjective “Lightning Round” trivia. Sample question: “A wolf can eat up to 20 pounds of meat in one sitting. What makes vegans horny?” Incorrect answer: asparagus. Correct answer: eggplant.
“A lot of people are doing conventional talk shows, but I think it is also a deconstruction and parody of a talk show that gives a good opportunity to take some old-school TV tropes and screw with them,” says Branum. TruTV, which was revamped in both 2008 and 2014 to include more comedy programming like Impractical Jokers, Friends of the People and Adam Ruins Everything, was eager to keep the Billy on the Street contributor in the fold.
“These are shows that start people questioning the way we look at things,” Branum continues. “I also think the network has been good about embracing a diversity of voices. A parody talk show like this is a fun way of getting a lot of different voices and perspectives and having a good time. Every network needs a cocktail party.”
Talk Show the Game Show premieres tonight, April 5, at 10 p.m. on TruTV.