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“Ding dong, Las Culturistas calling!”
So declare the harmonizing voices of comedians Bowen Yang and Matt Rogers at the top of their Shorty-nominated Forever Dog podcast, Las Culturistas. Spunky, brash, and a touch absurd — after all, what is a “culturista”? — the introduction perfectly sets the tone for this delightfully screwy show.
On paper, Las Culturistas appears to be only the most recent of a seemingly endless stream of similar programs. From WTF to Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, podcasts centered on conversations with famous and/or funny people are a dime a dozen. Most are redundant, and many are bores, with guests mined from the podcast circuit often rehashing stories they shared elsewhere.
But since launching Las Culturistas in 2016 with a point-by-point look at the Grammys, Yang and Rogers have turned their two-headed snark routine into something greater than the sum of its parts: a culture show as enchanted by pop iconography as it is willing to interrogate it. While Matt can be mothering and overly complimentary – an advocate even for the sloppiest of media personalities – Bowen is quick to deploy his lacerating tongue when aesthetically offended. Few podcasts so heavily rely on their hosts calling one another “hoes,” but because both Yang and Rogers are equally culturally literate, their bickering never dips too far into savagery or sentimentality.
Each episode launches with an interview, followed by “I Don’t Think So, Honey!,” a 60-second game in which hosts and guests alike rail against their social pet peeves (“I don’t think so, honey: fantasy movies with long-ass titles!”). Interspersed among these segments are nuggets of faux-wisdom invented by Yang and Rogers called the “Rules of Culture.”
In early episodes, Yang, a writer and upcoming cast member for Saturday Night Live; and Rogers, an Upright Citizens Brigade mainstay, pulled their guests primarily from the somewhat exclusive New York comedy scene. As a result, while the hosts gagged equally for everyone they spoke to, some of those first interviews descended into inside baseball. For every instance of, say, Sudi Green celebrating America’s love for Ellen, there was Joel Kim Booster making minced meat of hyperspecific Off Broadway theater.
As the show and its adored live spinoff, I Don’t Think So, Honey!, became more widely known, however, Yang and Rogers opened it up to guests from outside their personal circles. Their ability to wax rhapsodic about awards shows or RuPaul ad infinitum quickly grew into a shared skill for creating a bouncy, buoyant chemistry with both friends and complete strangers from the world of show business.
At no time (except in their conversation with Vulture’s own Jesse David Fox, of course) was this newfangled chemistry more electrifying than in the aptly numbered 69th episode, “Constant Comment,” featuring the reigning king of charisma, Nathan Lee Graham.
When the episode was released on January 31, 2018, Graham was not a household name; his most famous role is probably still as Mugatu’s assistant, Todd (“My mistake, Jacobim!”), in Zoolander. Yang is quick to point out that even though Zoolander was one of the most formative films of his and Rogers’s lives, Graham’s visit was not their idea: It was pitched to them by their producer, HPJ (Hot Producer Joe, a.k.a. Forever Dog co-founder Joe Cilio) while Graham was promoting Fox’s LA to Vegas.
Nonetheless, their excitement to have Graham in this “gaggerino” of an ensemble is palpable. Rogers even kvells, “When I found out that we were going to have our guest on the show, I had kind of a moment!” Graham seems thrilled, too, revealing that he brought multiple pop-culture grievances to share during the climactic round of “I Don’t Think So, Honey!”
The conversation turns warm fast, with much praise given to Graham’s career as an actor in shows like The Comeback and Scrubs (“That’s actually Rule No. 64 of Culture: Come through, Scrubs!”). Eventually, the subject of his good looks comes up. “There’s cheekbones for days! And jawline!” Rogers says as a compliment. “Well thank you — no work done yet,” jokes Graham. “But I’m not above it!” From this emerges the Culturistas’ Rule of Culture No. 4: If you look like you had work done, it didn’t work.
It’s not long before the men are calling one another “bitch” affectionately. Such talk, which on any other show might feel superficial or catty, actually provides the gateway into the episode’s deeper waters. Yang and Rogers, both gay men still in the early stages of their careers, seize on their comfort with Graham by probing him with questions about being black and queer on a mainstream show like LA to Vegas. When he scolds uninformed listeners to keep up, Yang deadpans: “It’s not a lightning round — it’s an en-lightening round.”
As the joking turns a touch serious, Graham reveals that he’s proud to “make some history here” as “the first out flight attendant on network television.” This landmark of representation — a common, historically queer character actually played by a gay man — is not lost on the hosts, who gasp in response.
Graham then uses the platform to advocate for similar characters throughout entertainment. “I just think we should be everywhere, in every story. It’s not like ‘Oh, he’s gay.’ No, this is another person; this is another narrative; this is another fabric of human existence.”
So earnest and profound is the moment that it takes Rogers and Yang a full 20 minutes of Zoolander stories to return to their familiar, snappier on-air personas. Finally, with only 12 minutes left in the episode, “I Don’t Think So, Honey!” kicks into high gear. Rogers decries, “When I watch an awards show, and it’s as if there’s only one movie or one song or one album that came out that whole motherfuckin’ year,” while Yang scolds, “Las Culturistas listeners who keep telling Matt and I to comment on Britney Spears’s Instagram!”
Yet it is Graham, equipped with a host of complaints, who again takes command. “I walk fast enough, but if you think you’re gonna get your little butt in front of me, AND THEN WALK SLOWER?” He then proceeds to annihilate people who don’t understand Jordan Peele’s Get Out: “It’s a satire. ‘What’s a satire?’ Read a book, bitch.”
The hosts, upstaged and awed, instantly declare the episode one of their favorites, even suggesting that Graham become their third co-host. He agrees to the job, but has not returned to the show since. Looking at the nearly two years of Las Culturistas that followed, as the show has grown into a minor phenomenon, this may have been the right decision. After all, you have to honor Rule of Culture No. 17: Always keep them wanting more.
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