This morning, I had the pleasure of talking to Daphne Brogdon, the host of FOX's upcoming show Playing It Straight. If our interview is any indication, Daphne's wit and personality will contribute greatly to the show's success. Here's what she had to say:
First of all, Daphne, how did you hear about the show?
I was driving in the Hamptons, and my agent called and said, "A producer is going to call you. They want you to do this show." All they told me at that point was that it was The Bachelorette on a dude ranch with a twist. (*laughter*). And that's all I knew even when we went through contracts, etc. Then, once I was in Nevada, they told me the concept.
So, when you found out the concept, what did you think?
I thought, "Leave it to British producers to come up with this", because I think Brits are far more easy-going with homosexuality than Americans are. And I thought, "Yeah, it's time."
How long in real time does the show cover?
Almost a month. I guess it was about three and a half weeks.
So, it must have been tough being surrounded by 14 good-looking guys for almost a month, huh?
(*laughter*) Oh, it was brutal. It was brutal, because I had to be professional and not cross the line. I was actually dating somebody at the time, and it was like…you know, it was like…I felt like a male gynecologist most of the time. (*laughter*) I mean, even though you're professional, you know what looks good and what doesn't look good, you know? And I did not know who was gay and who was straight.
Well, that was actually my next question. You learned of the twist once you got to Nevada, but you didn't know particulars about who was gay and who wasn't, right?
Right. Also, I didn't know the ratio. And, I was stunned. I mean, I lived in San Francisco for 8 years, and I thought I had very good gaydar. Well, my gaydar sucks. (*laughter*) This show broke my gaydar. There was only one guy I was sure was straight, and I was right. There was only one guy I was sure was gay and I was right.
Other than that, it was all up in the air?
Well, on some of them I was dead wrong. I would have bet a million dollars on one particular guy being straight, and well…he wasn't.
Well, so what do you think of the whole concept of gaydar?
I think it's…I mean, people cannot get uptight about that. We all do it. We do it every single day. I'm at a party, and I see a cute guy, and me and this girl start talking, "Hey, isn't he cute? Is…is he gay?" And I think it's even become more prevalent because gays are more in the mainstream, and the gay aesthetic has been adopted by straight men. So, it makes it very hard to know who is gay and who is straight.
It's like the whole "metrosexual" thing…
Exactly. It's a huge issue. I mean once…I mean, straight men now shave their hoo-has and wear the "right" shirt and maybe even get a facial or a manicure once in a while or whatever. Does that make a person gay? No. It's very hard to tell.
So, you've had quite a diverse background—stand-up comic, you worked at an NPR radio station, you've done some other hosting of shows. So, what do you think it is about you that made you the right host for this show…besides the fact that you don't have a British accent?
(*laughter*) I think they wanted somebody who could think on their feet….somebody who could handle any situation. Because when you're on a show like this…I mean, sometimes I'm just hanging out at the hotel at the bottom of the hill, and something comes up and they're like, "You gotta get up there. You gotta go up there and talk to them right now." You've got to be able to think fast. Also, I'm kinda acting as a friend to the cast—to the guys and to Jackie. I mean, the crew is always there with their microphones and their cameras, but they don't really interact. I mean, there are a couple of producers that kinda do, but I'm in a sense like a bridge between the two. So, I think you've got to have a pretty likable personality and to be able to like people and get along with them pretty easily. It helps to be improvisational. Frankly, I would have liked to have been more funny on the show, but I have to kinda play "the heavy" more than I would have wanted to and more than I was comfortable with.
Yeah. Like, the producers would have to say to me, before I would go in and talk to the guys about something, "Now, they're always happy when they see you. The love it when they see you, but you've got to be serious. You've got to be serious." At first, it threw me. But, I finally said, "You know what you're gonna have to do? You're gonna have to let me go in and play with them for about 5 minutes, and then I'll give you a 3-2-1, and I'll say what you need me to say. I can't go in cold." I mean, these guys are in a sense my friends.
So, aside from the obvious twist, what do you think makes this show different from other dating reality shows?
I think we do try to use humor. I think it's two things: one, that there's a lot of humor to it, but also that there's a dead-on, serious, social and political statement in it, which is that you cannot stereotype people. It gets very emotional, and not in a "You didn't give me a rose!" kind of way. It's very emotional when you see a grown man stand up and say, "I will never do this to myself again. I will never closet myself again. This was painful." There is one guy who, when he leaves…we have this thing called the "closet confessional" where the gay and straight guys would go and give their innermost feelings…and I really hope they put this in the show. But, when he finally leaves, he said to the camera everything he felt and he was crying. And then he looked at the camera and spoke to his lover, said his name, and said, "I'm coming home." I was watching it in the mobile van, and I was bawling. I went over and I found him, and I threw my arms around him and I said, "I'm so proud of you. You've really done something good." I'm not sure how much you're going to see of that, though. It may be on the editing room floor.
Well, I hope they at least put some of it in. That sounds like it was a really big moment.
It was a big moment, and I gotta tell you, that's the unsung, thankless thing about being the host of a show like this. I keep saying it's like being Pete Best—you put in all of the work and get none of the credit (*laughter*). I mean, I was very…I was very emotionally connected and stuff, but it's not my story. I'm not who the drama is about for the purposes of this story. Although, I did make my own connections, and I have stayed in contact with three of the guys.
Even when you found out the twist, you still didn't know which specific ones were gay and which were straight, right?
Right. What happened is that the crew were all wearing badges with the faces and the names of the guys. So, if someone said, "You need to follow Ryan right now" or, "You need to put the camera on Luciano", they could look at the card and find out who was who. So, I looked at the card as soon as I got there and made assumptions just from the pictures. I was like, "This is gonna be a piece of cake. I lived in San Francisco for 8 years. Please, give me a break." So, I said right away, "Do not tell me." I didn't want…they would have told me, but it would have altered how I dealt with them. I mean, if a gay guy was gonna flirt with me, I didn't want to roll my eyes and be like, "Oh, please…go do my hair." (*laughter*) I would flirt with him back. If that's how he wants to be perceived…I wanted to treat them all how they wanted to be perceived. And that's what was very emotional for me during the filming of it, because that further alienated me from the crew. I mean, they all knew, and I'd start to overhear something and…so I couldn't really hang out with them. So, I was either comfortable with the cast or I went to the gym or I'd go hang out at the coffee house or…that was it. That was my life.
So, for all practical purposes, you didn't find out until Jackie found out.
Right. What happened was about two days before it comes to the end, I couldn't stand it anymore and I went up into the producer's booth when it was just down to a couple of the guys, and I was floored.
So, how is this going to work? Is Jackie going to tell XXX, "Well, I'm sorry, but I don't want you to continue", and that's when we find out if XXX is or isn't?
Yep. There's elimination all through it. She says, "Gee, it's been great, but I think you're pitching for another team", and then he says, "You've made a big mistake" or "You made the right choice. You're a nice girl, but we could never be together."
So, how did the show change any perceptions or stereotypes you yourself may have had about gay men? Or did it?
You know what? It did. I think I didn't think a gay guy could seem so…straight. I mean, I also usually think of gay guys being really sociable, really fun, the life of the party, the guy the girls love to hang out with. And that's not always true. They can be dour, they can be conservative, they can be jerky. They can be combative, they can be mean and manipulative. So, I suppose I had a stereotype even though it was a positive stereotype.
So, tell me a little about Jackie. How does she handle learning about the twist?
She's very upset. She's a nice, Midwestern girl…pure as the driven show.
Do you think we'll get to see any of that reaction?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I mean, we've seen the commercial where she's just like, "WHAT?"…
Yeah, and what's really funny—and I don't think this is on camera—is that when I leave the room, all the guys try to convince her that that is a joke in the show. They're like, "Daphne's not telling the truth. We're all straight." And she walks out onto the porch, and I see her, and the tears are welling up in her eyes, and she says, "Is that what this is about?" And I felt like dog meat. I wanted to give her a hug, but they're like, "Nope…time for a point-of-view interview." So, that was tough. But, she really eliminates them, at least in the beginning, based on whether she's just attracted to them or not. I think she could not wrap her brain around it, to be honest.
If you were in her position, do you think you could have done a better job in identifying who was gay and who wasn't?
I think that sometimes, yes, I could have done better. But, I don't know to what end. I don't know that I could have done so well that I would have won, necessarily.
Did you find there were times—and you obviously couldn't—where you wanted to pull her aside and say, "Girl, please. XXX is obviously gay."
(*laughter*) Yes, yes. Absolutely. But, you know what I did more was…I was actually closer to the guys and could relate to their vulnerability. I mean whether they liked her or not and whether they were gay or not, they knew that at any moment she could send them to the cornfield. So, I started to feel for the stress that they were under. There were some times when I said to some of the guys, "Get a grip." I started to see them get…
…get a little too queeny?
Yep. Yep. Now, that's not on the camera, but I did say that, and I did say once to a guy…You gotta understand. There wasn't any sort of "gay brotherhood". The gays could out each other. They don't know…I mean, when some of them went up and said, "Jackie, you're right. I am gay."…I hope they have shots of some of the guys. I’m talking chins on the hay bales.
Were the straight guys told in advance that there were gonna be gay guys in the group?
Oh, no! They thought they were going on something like The Bachelorette.
You mentioned that you found some of the gay guys got a little too queeny and you had to try to rein them in a bit. Did you find that some went the other way—that they went overboard in trying to be "too straight"?
Yeah, there were a couple. Uh huh.
So, did any of the guys—gay or straight—catch your eye?
(*laughter*) Well, yeah! I'm not a cadaver…come on! Let's just say it like this: If I was really at a ranch in Nevada with those guys…puhleeze. I mean, they'd be strapped to the bedposts. Now, some of them I'd kick out sooner than the rest, but there are about 5 of them…they'd never see the light of day. (*laughter*) They would have the Daphne brand on their behind…
…and the Lobeck brand on the other cheek.
(*laughter*) Now back off, baby…(*laughter*)
Well, OK. We'll talk about it for Playing It Straight 2…
I know you can't reveal too much, but what kind of behind-the-scenes thing can you tell us about that we might not see on the show?
Well, I've already told you a bunch. But, let's see…there's one point where some of the guys are really ganging up on this one guy. That happens to a couple of guys towards the end, because towards the end it gets very tense. Any fraternity of the boys really starts to go out the window. And there was one guy when we're about to do a scene that I actually said to him, "You've got to watch your back. People are saying stuff." And I probably shouldn't have said that, but I was getting worried for him. The eliminations were very hard. I mean, I can't tell you how many takes we had to do of that first elimination. She (Jackie) was dissolved in tears. I mean, by the end of it, she was Ethel Barrymore, but at the beginning, she was dissolved in tears. And, you know, I would go over to her and hug her and say, "You're doing really well. I know it's hard." I was really trying to be a big sister to her, which is what the producers had said from the beginning. They knew that would be an important role for me. And you don't see that. It just feels so much more real than you think it's going to.
You know, you've done a lot of hosting in your career. Is that what you'd like to do, or would you rather go back into acting and stand-up? What do you want to be when you grow up?
(*laughter*) Wow, that's a good question. Um, I love doing comedic hosting. What I love is improvisation. When people hire me, they know that's what I'm good at. I mean, I can read a prompter until the sun goes down, but I'm a great interviewer, and I'm good on my feet. And I love doing anything related to comedy. So, I'd love to be stretching that comedic muscle more. But, yeah, I'm very comfortable hosting. I think I’m good at it.
Do you think if the situation were reversed—if it was one guy with 14 women and some of them were lesbians—that the show would have worked?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, you've got to remember…most homosexuals, at some point, led a straight life…whether it was that they had asked somebody to the prom so their parents would get off their back or they actually got married and then got divorced when they figured out what was going on. So, gay people are pretty adept at "passing" as it were.
And not to get all "Afterschool Special" here, but…
(*laughter*)…but, in the end, what do you hope this program teaches the audience, and do you think it accomplished the goal?
Um, yes and yes. Gay men are three-dimensional people who cannot be stereotyped, and straight men are three-dimensional people who cannot be stereotyped. Straight men can be just as constricted by society as gay men in terms of how you should be and what you should be. It's really…it's not about sexual orientation. It's about personality, and it's about character. Because, you see people's character emerge. Sometimes it means they aren't going to win the money, but they have the best character.
Well, Daphne, this has been great. I've enjoyed talking to you, and thank you so much for your time.
Well, bless your heart. And if you ever want to do a follow up while the show is going on, you just let me know.
I will do that! And if you have time, please feel free to stop by our website and say hi.
I will. And put a link to my website out there (www.daphneb.com)!
I will definitely do that. Again, thanks so much Daphne.
No problem. Thank you. Bye bye.
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