After a successful debut season on FX, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell moved from being a weekly show to nightly on sister station FXX. Produced by Chris Rock and hosted by comic W. Kamau Bell, the show is a funny take on news, politics and pop culture with special guests like Rachel Maddow, Whoopi Goldberg and Wanda Sykes. One of the reasons to tune in is out writer and frequent segment host Janine Brito who appears to comment on things like Kate Middleton‘s bikini photos and why Jason Collins coming out was not that big of a deal (“dykes have been doing it for decades!)
We talked with Janine while she was hard at work, something she’s become accustom to but generally fine with since working on a hit show.
AfterEllen.com: I love the show. Congrats on going daily this season. What’s been different for you both on camera and in the writers’ room?
Janine Brito: I think the biggest thing is time commitment. Being essentially a daily show and us figuring out how that process works for us, we’ve just kind of all been coming in really early, staying really late and then going home and going to bed. We have meals here in the office. The biggest difference is essentially we live in the office. But it’s still fun. If I’m going to spend all my life doing a job, it would be the job where I get to, you know, work on comedy with my friends and do fun things like that.
AE: It seems like an awesome gig. Did you know the people working on the show? How did you get involved?
JB: Yeah, a lot of the people on our staff go way, way back. I helped on a pilot along with a lot of the writers, a lot of us were there from the get-go and we all know Kamau personally through the San Francisco comedy scene. I met Kamau when I first moved to the Bay Area five or six years ago and he took me under his arm as his “comedy daughter” and really mentored me in the process. So I’ve known him five or six years through comedy and working together and being good friends. It’s the same with a lot of the writers. That’s how we got brought into the fold of the show.
AE: You’re kind of the resident gay on the show. I love when you frequently come on as the lesbian opinion. Is that something you have to pitch or do they come in and say “Do you want to take this one, Janine?”
JB: It’s a little bit of both. There’s also another gay writer on staff, Guy Branaum, the two of us together kind of represent the lesbian gay man duo. It’s a little bit of both: Sometimes something really piques my interest and other times they see something that they bring to me.
The biggest example of something they brought to me was the piece about Kate Middleton, sort of the idea of the struggle being a lesbian and a feminist, where you know you shouldn’t objectify women but sometimes your animal instincts get the better of you and you do it. That was actually based about a bit I do in my stand-up about Christina Hendricks. When that news story came about Kamau was very familiar with that bit in my stand-up because he’d seen it and was like “You should do this on the show for this news piece.” And that’s how that one came about.
Most of the other ones have been things that really spoke to me in the news and I pitch those angles from the perspective of me. I am a Hispanic lesbian so that’s part of my identity and the way I speak to a lot of things happening in the news.
AE: I watched a video interview in which you talked about how starting out doing comedy in the Midwest helped you to learn how to speak to audiences that weren’t Hispanic lesbians and how you want Middle America to understand what you’re saying and think it’s funny. I feel like Totally Biased might have a little more intelligent and forward-thinking audience than what makes up most of Middle America.
JB: Right. Certainly starting out in the Midwest, the idea that i was like “See, I’m a nice person, you guys like me. Oh by the way, I’m gay and Hispanic.” And I think there’s definitely an importance to that.
I think the biggest icon who has done that the most successfully is Ellen DeGeneres. That’s a large part of her fanbase is, you know, people from all walks of life but specifically older American seniors, which historically on a wider scale have been less tolerant of queers. And I think her likability has changed a lot of minds and she kind of opened the door to allow younger queer comics to be a little more radical and a little more nuanced in what we say and what we present to America. So I think the work she did opened the door for a show like Totally Biased to present a harder line when it comes to any issue including queer issues.
AE: One thing I love about the show too is that so many times people assume it’s people of color that vote against gays, like Prop. 8. I love that he is obviously an ally and he’s a person of color. Is that something that is an important part of the show to you, too?
JB: Absolutely. I know he has a bit in his stand up where he speaks to that but we definitely want to break those boundaries and the idea that all people of color are homophobic. I think it speaks to him personally. He lived in the Bay Area for, like, 12 years, 12 or 15 years so he was immersed in queer culture—a place that is so queer that it’s not a big deal at all to be queer. Like he was immersed in that place where it was not even an issue, it was an afterthought that you were surrounded by queer folk that don’t fit the hetero mold and the gender binary.
I think it’s important to see someone like him, a 6’2″ black guy, come out and say “This isn’t a big deal at all. These are my people as well.” And I think it helps to break down this idea within the queer community that brown people are the enemy. That’s not the case, it’s not true. It doesn’t break along those lines as clearly as we’ve been led to believe. Anytime we can bridge any gaps between disenfranchised groups is a huge step because the sooner each of these groups band together against all intolerance, I think the wider steps we’ll make toward improving the lives of disenfranchised people, whether they’re disenfranchised from their sexuality, their gender identity or their race.