Throwing Shade at Throwing Shade: How TV Land’s New Show Leeches Off Black Gay Culture

Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi
Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi

I imagine that Erin Gibson and Bryan Safi are lovely white people, but that doesn’t make the formal rollout of their new TV Land late-night show Throwing Shade any less grating. And before anyone else mentions it for the umpteenth time: Yes, plenty of us are well aware that these two have been using that title for some time.

The show initially launched as a podcast in 2011 before moving to Funny or Die, which then produced 80 episodes after acquiring it in 2013. The duo recently completed a 17-city tour last summer. For them, this run—including the pilot order to series order—likely feels like hard work paying off.


No one should deny them their journey, but that doesn’t make this news any less of a reminder that black cultures and subcultures can yield much more success when delivered from the mouths of white people. Nor does it exclude them from the recognition that their work ethic notwithstanding, white folks continue to collect cash and cheers from our creativity.


“This amazing, weird brainchild of Erin and Bryan translates perfectly into a weekly late-night show,” TV Land Executive Vice President of Development and Original Programming Keith Cox explained to the Hollywood Reporter. “We can’t wait to see them take on the most recent and ridiculous news of 2017.”

That turn of phrase—“weird brainchild”—makes one want to fall down before a picture of Black Jesus and cry out, “WHY?!”

Although the Throwing Shade trailer makes clear that Safi is gay, he is a white gay—thus he came late to the shade room like the masses. Cox should be singing the praises of gay black men like Dorian Corey and the other gay black men of that ballroom era. The same goes for the gay black men who not only have continued on with that subculture but have expanded it with our wit and brilliance. It is gay black men who built that bridge; Gibson and Safi are simply cruising across it.


Per the show’s site: “From Funny or Die, it’s Throwing Shade! The new late show that treats politics and pop culture with much less respect than they deserve is coming to TV Land in January!”

Oh. OK. If you say so, sis.

I don’t want to begrudge Gibson and Safi. I’m fully aware that subcultures typically cross over into the mainstream—a process now expedited with the advent of social media. That said, word of their show doesn’t feel any less insulting.


As a gay black man, I’ve been told so many times that who I am makes me limited in scope. I have heard this through the years from television executives and producers, people in publishing, and in some cases, others who serve in media. They use words like “niche.” They claim that my sexuality, coupled with my race, prevents me from attaining certain levels of success; thus they dare not take a risk on me. After all, I’m less than even if I’ve done more than the white folks they rush to rally behind.

And yet for several years now, I have seen and heard so many instances of gay black culture being found in media, only to be delivered by those who look nothing like its inventors. I see gay white men get to be all things to all people while watching black and Latino gay men continue to be viewed only by means of periphery and pathology. This is something I know still happens to black women—notably ones who don’t fit some very rigid notion of who they are “supposed to be.” It happens to black men, gay and straight alike, too.


Still, for me as a gay black man familiar with this world, a show called Throwing Shade hosted by two white people is bothersome. Maybe Gibson and Safi will try to be inclusive in their show. Perhaps they can hire and feature those whose faces mirror the colloquialisms on which they’ve coasted. It wouldn’t fix the problem, but it would suggest that the duo is cognizant of it.

Then again, it would still be fronted by white people standing before black culture, reaping the benefits without any of the burdens we deal with. So much of blackness is stolen from us. Even worse, we’re then often excluded from it. It’s a new year, but as far as this tradition goes, it is as vibrant as ever.


It feels defeating, although, if there’s any single consolation, it’s that despite all of this, black people only get more creative. It would just be nice for us to get rewarded accordingly. Or, you know, they come up with their own s—t for a change.

Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.

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