“Husbands” could be one of the greatest shows I’ve ever found on YouTube, and I don’t pick favorites just willy-nilly. By the time 4 o’clock hits after having written about the digital space for 16 hours straight in the sweatshop called NMR, one of the last things I want to do at home is watch YouTube videos. But with “Husbands,” it’s an entirely different story.
Watching the pilot episode, I quickly became immersed within the show and its twist on the traditional American sitcom. “Husbands” follows baseball player Brady Kelly and his boyfriend, Hollywood darling Cheeks, who sparks a media storm after they accidentally get married in Vegas. Instead of following their shotgun wedding with a shotgun annulment, the two lovebirds decide to make a go at the married life, which is quickly tested by the prejudices of those around them. This show leaves audiences both rooting for these two sweethearts while simultaneously taking an honest look at where society stands on the issues of marriage equality today. Since its creation two years ago by co-creators Brad Bell and Jane Espenson, “Husbands” has gone on to become one of the most critically acclaimed shows on YouTube and the only show to date that has been written about by The New Yorker. Brad Bell, the writer and star of the show, talked with NMR about how “I Love Lucy” inspired him to create content that challenged the status quo and why YouTube was the perfect platform for discussing the volatile topic of same-sex marriage.
What was the original inspiration behind “Husbands”?
Brad Bell: Well, it was during a dinner I had with Jane Espenson, where we were talking about “I Love Lucy” and how it was groundbreaking in its day because an American woman was married to a Cuban man and considered controversial material by the television industry. I started wondering if that could even be done today. What story today might seem controversial and risqué, only to be considered completely harmless years later? Most content that’s thought to be edgy is intrinsically R-rated. Do we even live in a time when what pushes the envelope is actually quite tame? About the same time I asked the question, a voice in my head said, “Duh, gay marriage.” It was kind of funny because this was before marriage equality was as prominent as it is now, which is hard to imagine, but Prop 8 had passed, California started working to fight it, and other than that it wasn’t really in the headlines. It had kind of just died down and wasn’t a huge part of the national conversation like it is now. Then I started working on the script and New York passed their marriage equality law, so the topic just kind of started blowing up at the same time we were putting “Husbands” together. I’d like to sound strategic and smart and say we planned it that way, but maybe it’s cooler that we sort of psychically sensed it. Yeah, let’s go with that.
Marriage equality has been such a hot issue. Why did you decide to approach this topic with humor?
I don’t really know any other way to approach things [laughs]. I guess because it’s almost humorous in its own way already. It’s just so absurd —this idea that anti-equality advocates actually think they’re justified in their reasoning as to why people shouldn’t be married — and, I don’t know, the absurdity that pro-equality advocates think somehow real equality will happen after they get a piece of paper. Granted, it is incredibly important that that happen and for those rights to be given to LGBT people, but legal protections won’t equal acceptance or mean that you’re going to be judged equally by society, which is kind of the point of “Husbands.” Yes, legal equality important, but you’re still going to be unequal in terms of social acceptance and how you’re perceived. For example, women can vote, but the objectification of their bodies remains. It may always remain. Basically, all women should just give up and become strippers. That’s really what “Husbands” is about.
Was that one of the major goals when writing “Husbands”?
I don’t know if it was a major goal, but it was definitely one of them. There are a lot of double standards for LGBT people, and I think some pro-marriage equality proponents don’t think beyond legal rights; it’s the end goal for them. And certainly, like I said, it’s very important we keep working toward those right, but the point of view in “Husbands” is that real equality is in the mind. It’s in the heart. That was the overall message, for lack of a better word, along with the notion that real equality means having the freedom to make mistakes and be human, not a paradigm of perfection. Oh, and the all-women-should-just-be-strippers thing.
How have you seen the show grow now that you guys have two seasons under your belt and are hopefully moving forward into a third?
Yeah, it’s grown in really huge ways. It’s broken some digital ceilings, really. It was the first — and I think only to this day — new media series in The New Yorker, as well as the first to be hosted and presented at The Paley Center for Television. It’s taken on an incredible life among the fans and within the industry; the number of guest stars that wanted to work with us on Season Two, and yeah, it’s really taken off. It’s gotten a lot more critical attention and positive reviews than most things I see online.
Do you sometimes have to pinch yourself?
Yes! I don’t realize how surreal it is until certain moments happen. I’ll be at Starbucks, and somebody is like, “Oh my gosh, I love what you do. It’s so important. ‘Husbands’ is great.” And I’m like, “What? I’m getting recognized in public — this is weird.”