Virtel first snapped his way into the public consciousness as a contestant on Jeopardy!. After correctly answering a Daily Double, he threw out a snap so retro-cool that within a short time it had garnered more then 3 million views on YouTube. Even the GOP appropriated a GIF of it (to Virtel's horror) to promote its Snapchat feature, “Snap of the Union.”
To many in the gay community, Virtel's Jeopardy! performance was nothing short of an exclamation point. But to Virtel it was a lost opportunity to actually say the words “I'm gay” on television.
“I'm obsessed with game shows,” Virtel says. “I grew up with them. But I never saw gay people on TV. And in retrospect I just wanted people to acknowledge that about me — to let them know that gayness exists. So I had no choice but to throw a seismic gay tantrum.”
Growing up in a large Midwestern family in Lemont, Illinois, Virtel didn't even know such a thing as gayness existed. He figured it out on his own only after a chance encounter with a gay neighbor who was, as far as teenage Virtel knew, the only other gay person in Illinois.
“I had no choice but to throw a seismic gay tantrum.” —Louis Virtel
A journalism degree from the University of Iowa and an internship with The Advocate soon followed. In Iowa City, one of the most gay-friendly cities in the nation, Virtel found both his crowd and his calling.
After graduating, he moved to L.A. to write about pop culture for Movieline. He did stand-up comedy on the side for fun but never seriously considered it as a career. Others, however, took notice, particularly after he debuted his YouTube series Verbal Vogueing, in which he snapped away while exploring “the most important issues of the day, like pop culture and pop culture.”
The series landed him a gig writing first for MTV's gay blog, After Elton, and then for his own series called — what else? — The Snap for entertainment news website HitFix.
But it wasn't until 2014, when he began writing for Funny or Die's gay game show Billy on the Street, that he realized he was better at being funny than he was at “insightful journalism.”
The truth, however, is that Virtel is one of those rare comedians who manages to do both at the same time, for instance when in December he tweeted, “Mick Jagger is having kids in his 70s but please call Madonna desperate for dancing in a car.”
Today Virtel spends his days honing his pointed social observations for TV Land's Throwing Shade, which he describes as “a gay, feminist Daily Show.” During his downtime, he plays pub trivia while wearing a T-shirt from his impressive collection, all featuring images of classic actresses: Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda as Cat Ballou, Cate Blanchett as Carol.
No one would ever mistake Virtel for straight. And he's good with that. “I want to be the Madonna of stand-up comedy,” he says. “To let people know that gayness exists and it's OK.”