Bryan Safi, Erin Gibson
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 10:30PM
When it was announced that “Throwing Shade”, Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi’s long-running cult podcast, was being turned into a television show, there seemed to be a ripple of concern through its fan-base. Part of what makes the podcast feel so vital and vibrant, so ready and willing to respond to an ever-changing political landscape, is its looseness and raucousness; two things that don’t always make good bedfellows with the television format. The podcast “Throwing Shade” is rarely anything less than insightful and funny, warm-hearted and angry, astute and ridiculous.
The premise of the show, however, is the same as the one for the podcast; Gibson and Safi tackle subjects that are important to women and the LGBTQ community and filter them through a simultaneously serious and silly lens. Each of them picks a problem to pull apart, and together provide a list of things that deserve to have shade thrown at them, all whilst doing character work and skits.
Thankfully, the structure of the podcast has proven to be a solid one for a half-hour late night show that offers up a unique and much-needed voice and perspective. If the pilot was a little shaky, as pilots tend to be, then that just shows how much stronger the whole thing gets each week. It’s a testament to how well the hosts know each other, and how much faith they seem to have in each other’s comedic abilities, that the later episodes feel so spontaneous and edgy. Late night shows can die because of an awkward adherence to the scripted format, but Throwing Shade feels as if there’s a lot of space for Safi and Gibson to explore. When Gibson shouts that her attitude to a recent piece of legislation is the same as her one to superhero tentpole movies, namely “fuck you”, it’s laugh-out-loud funny and odd; two things amplified by how impulsive it feels. Fans who were apprehensive that the stars’ energy would be contained needn’t have worried; both are firing on all cylinders, cycling through jokes with ease and good pace.
In fact, one of the things that threatened to derail the first episode was the calibration of the leads’ presenting styles. Safi’s unbridled energy could at times feel overwhelming, like being trapped in a room with someone desperate to prove their talent when nobody would’ve questioned it in the first place, and Gibson seemed slightly reticent, as if she didn’t think the full force of her abilities would work with a new format. Part of what makes Gibson such an appealing comedic force is her occasional and refreshing staunchness; she often nestles into an idea and the comedy comes from people trying to nudge her from it.
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These, however, are slight criticisms, and actually speak to how quickly the show has found its footing. By the second episode, everybody seemed more confident with the material, a confidence that’s continued and grown. A throwaway joke, in which Safi repeats the word none whilst pictures of movie nuns are projected behind him, demonstrated his ability to plug into a kind of demented steadfastness that’s one of the funniest things on TV. Safi and Gibson have distinct viewpoints and voices, but together they feel like a hilarious and pointed freight train; both are able to reach a fever pitch that feels oddly respectful of the subject matters they discuss.
It’s always powerful to hear these issues be dissected and respected, but it is, somewhat surprisingly, even more powerful in this visual form. Perhaps the smartest thing about the whole enterprise is the fact that it never loses sight of how fundamentally serious are the subjects they tackle. These are issues that affect real people in both seismic and small ways, and they are treated as such. Those who are familiar with the podcast will recognise the opening gambit, in which the duo will “take issues important to ladies and gays and treat them with much less respect than they deserve”, but that doesn’t actually tell the whole story. Safi and Gibson aren’t chained to the seriousness of the topics, but their irreverence is actually reverential, their funniness is a sharp weapon. By poking fun at legislation that’s specifically designed to limit other people’s fun—not even mentioning, you know, their right to live peaceful lives—they manage to reveal things that are genuinely cathartic. The show runs from angry to sad to jubilant seamlessly, and that array of responses makes the show feel very humane; neither didactic nor neutered.
It’s righteous, riotous, and exactly the right time for it, making it feel necessary. Other shows offer more in-depth political analysis and provide a wider remit of discussion, but Safi and Gibson throw their punches at very specific targets, and they almost always land. They are speaking truth to power in a way that is refreshingly forthright; they don’t suggest they’re impartial, and that frees them up to be very precise with their evaluations.
Of course, they’re preaching to the choir – it’s hard to imagine anyone who’s against their politics sitting through a dayglow opening sequence—but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. It feels like it’s most successful when it constitutes a kind of glitter-strewn call to arms, a makeshift family of people who think and feel the same way but are forced to bump up against multiple stumbling blocks. Neither host is afraid to acknowledge their own personal stakes in the politics they discuss, and that provides a level of earnestness that mixes well with the spikier themes and aesthetics that the show offers up.
These discussions are mixed with an array of pre-filmed sketches that are at least tangentially linked to the topics being debated. In other words, the talk show aspects are the thesis statements, and the sketches are the little flourishes. The sketches are, as with all sketch shows, hit and miss; a less reliable source of humour and bombast, but usually funny and always well acted. Even those who can’t plug into Safi and Gibson’s personal brands of comedy have to acknowledge that they commit to character with an admirable tenacity.
The latest offering provided a sketch about the ridiculous luxury tax placed on tampons that felt like something that only Throwing Shade could pull off: absurd, vulgar, political, and dynamic, this bit served as a pretty good amalgamation of what the show has to offer. Another sketch, in which the hosts dress as clowns and chat with teenagers, tackled the hate being directed at woman who wear yoga pants with panache and intelligence.
If it feels like these sketches “get in the way” of the more traditional late-night set-up, that’s a testament to how good the latter is more than it is a criticism of the skits themselves. It’s one of the rare examples of a show that could be much longer without outstaying its welcome; you get the vague sense that the show is straining against its running time, able and willing to expand and dig deeper.
Overall, Throwing Shade is a show that we maybe didn’t know we wanted and needed. It’s consistently and wildly funny, and has quickly established its own rhythm. For those audience members on the same wavelength, it proves to be an outrageously enjoyable weekly treat that’ll both fuel anger and show audiences that there are other people who feel the same.
The late night genre is a crowded one, with a seemingly endless array of voices and viewpoints, but Throwing Shade offers something uniquely smart and exciting. It’s a show that won’t be for everybody, but that is because it’s so authentic and uncompromised; fans of the podcast should run to the TV set, and those who aren’t should dip their toes into Safi and Gibson’s wacky, loopy world of compassion and concern.