StraightioLab, The Gay Podcast About Straight Culture


StraightioLab, The Gay Podcast About Straight Culture

Comedians Sam Taggart and George Civeris launch their deconstructive masterpiece into its fourth year

Little Fires Everywhere. Tiger King. Quibi. History will prove unforgiving to the cultural relics of spring 2020. And yet, there are precious few exceptions, like the satirical gay comedy podcast StraightioLab, which debuted on March 20, 2020, and has continued to surge in popularity, despite — or perhaps in service of — a precarious new world order. What began as a recorded experiment among beloved Brooklynites George Civeris and Sam Taggart has evolved into something of an institution; StraightioLab’s Patreon boasts over 700 patrons; live shows consistently sell out in NYC and LA, and guests have included Alison Roman, Jia Tolentino, and Jeremy O’Harris.

Of course, in early 2020, Civeris and Taggart couldn’t have seen their show’s success coming, nor the freak show it would be born into. They just wanted to start something. Both were mainstays in the so-called Brooklyn alt-comedy scene, a surging micro-ecosystem in which someone you know is always blowing up, getting canceled, or just on the verge of something. Among the indie comedy mishpucha, they were highly esteemed. But neither felt satisfied.

“You do these bar shows where you’re a random person on a lineup, and people don’t even hear your name when you’re being brought up,” Civeris tells NYLON. “It just feels like you’re another voice in the void.” Taggart was similarly restless. “I was like: I’m good at standup, but no one cares who I am.”

There wasn’t much of a concept at the start, just an intention. The road had been mapped by friends and comedians like Catherine Cohen and Pat Regan, whose podcast Seek Treatment commanded a ride-or-die audience, and Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers, who had made Las Culturistas into a career-launching vehicle. “When Sam and I first had this idea, it was almost… I don’t want to say cynical, but it was calculated,” says Civeris. “We see what podcasts have done for our friends. What if we tried that? What if we built a fan base and had people come to our live shows?”

The first few episodes were recorded in a bubble, in January and February of 2020. As if guided under the wing of fate, the boys had freedom to record and play around, live, in a studio, blind to the isolation and doom that March would bring. Because StraightioLab would arrive into a saturated market for comedy podcasts (which, compared to 2023’s menu, feels absolutely spartan), Taggart and Civeris had to assume that their audience was as canny, cutting, and clever as they were. Everything would be up for satire, even the idea of making a comedy podcast.

In that first episode, they ask guest comedian Marcia Belsky what she thinks of their title ideas, tied between “Straighter Things,” or “StraightioLab.” Eventually, Civeris explains the mission statement: “We unpack the rich tapestry that is straight culture.” Taggart adds: “and our complicity in it.” After that, it all fell into place.

Here’s the general gist: In each episode, a guest introduces a topic they deem essential to straight culture. Prompts have included: “The Beatles” (Eudora Peterson); “Celebrating Love” (Pat Regan); “The Entourage Series Finale” (Jo Firestone); and “Fear” (Kiko Soirée). By this mission statement, you could call StraightioLab a gay podcast. But that feels reductive, like describing Seinfeld as a show about standup. What ensues aren’t takedowns by an angsty outsider opposition, or twee deconstructions of big bad capitalism. Instead, the hosts and guests — who are often straight — enter into a layered, liminal, plentifully nonsensical mapping of our social reality.

The pair make for an ideal conversational duo. Civeris is known for his monster wit and broad palate; because he devours, synthesizes, and savages all manner of culture — from Rachel Cusk to Nicole Scherzinger — he can meet any guest in their arena of interest. Taggart, meanwhile, has the learned flexibility of an improv master, honed through collaborations with just about every alt comedian you’re obsessed with, in now-defunct Brooklyn theaters, dating back to when Obama was president. He’s jovial, game, and able to bring harmony to the conversation. “I like agreeing and I like improvising,” he says. “It’s like: I never would have thought of this. Let’s go on that train.

The two make no pretensions to self-righteousness. “Self-deprecation comes second nature to both of us,” says Taggart. “I’m a big believer that the smartest person knows that they know nothing, so I’m always like, well: you shouldn’t look up to me. I’m not the greatest example of a gay man. I’m sure there are better ones. That’s ingrained in both of us, which I think is a helpful moral compass, generally.” Civeris agrees: “Both Sam and I barely have any kind of connection or actual opinions when we’re talking on the podcast. We’re trying to find a punchline.”

By the onset of summer 2020, StraightioLab had run out of pre-lockdown episodes, and the two were engaging live on Zoom. In real time, as sh*t was going down, the show only got better. Thanks to Civeris and Taggart’s distaste for self-seriousness, StraightioLab felt like a refuge, a fortress from the wails of virtue signalers, slowly bleeding out on the crucible of social media martyrdom. Though they hadn’t been particularly close before the podcast, the two found themselves aligning. “[The comedian Jo Firestone said our comedy values are the same,” Civeris says. “We end up having similar tastes even if we come at them from different perspectives.”

“Sam and I have an allergic reaction to manipulative comedy that is trying to tug at your heartstrings, like saying the word storytelling, or saying that comedy is what unites us at difficult times,” says Civeris. “One of the things we both are skeptical of is the sort of idea that comedians are inherently more vulnerable and traumatized but beneath the act there is this supple person that’s so sensitive. For a while, there was a stereotype of a comedy interview podcast, which was that everyone was like, opening up and talking about their past traumas and crying.”

Because of their aversion to feigned sentimentality, moments of genuine connection and kindness — especially as the show navigated an era of unprecedented global instability — bloom organically. Indeed, those unexpected pearls of tenderness are among the show’s most memorable moments: when the straight-leaning comedian Nick Naney joins for the “VHS Tapes” edition, he and Taggart unpack their shared sexual history, with Civeris gently midwifing the conversation; the 2022 “Awkwardness and Randomness” episode, with Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers, is largely a recap of their previous night at the Chromatica Ball, and a rejoicing of old friends embracing, after long years apart, to “Sine from Above.” The hosts, both Cancers, were surprised to find an audience clamoring for more moments of so-called vulnerability. To address the demand without losing their “comedy values,” StraightioLab now features “Earnestness Bonanza” specials, often around holidays (and more regularly on their Patreon) during which Taggart and Civeris unload the yoke of having to be funny.

Going into its fourth year, the show is now a force, occupying a distinct, uncanny space in the realms of criticism and comedy. In 2022, Vulture Festival featured “StraightioLab Presents: What is Podcasting? A Conversation.” Live shows continually sell out in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, and the hosts hope to tour, and even experiment with filmed content. Individually, the two are more or less doing what they’ve always done, only now with a vast audience eager to support them. Civeris is experimenting with new material at his show Almost There, on July 8, at Littlefield. Taggart, meanwhile, has revived his musical paean to Brooklyn Nightlife, Club Comic, in New York and Los Angeles.

The fear with any friendship podcast is that the affection, once genuine, will wither away, leaving only the stale whiff of expired chemistry. Not so much here. StraightioLab is as cynical as ever, but more than anything, it’s just as sweet. “Sam still makes me laugh every time we talk, whether it’s recorded or not,” Civeris says. “I really have never had this functional of a working relationship with anyone, nor have I ever had a creative partnership that has felt this healthy or this productive, so there’s no part of me that is sick of it. If anything, I wish we did more episodes, just the two of us.”

The world shows no signs of steadying, nor do our lives appear to be getting any easier. StraightioLab roared to life during something of a cultural extinction event. It will likely only evolve, adapt, and expand to face — with serene cleverness — whatever terrors await us next.