Second City Television’s latest breakout star is a Massachusetts’ native who honed his performance skills at various Improvs and even in school rooms as a teacher.
The Second City hit series, “Sassy Gay Friend,” features Brian Gallivan, who combines clever embedded advertising with hilarious rants that tackle the bereft and befuddled maidens of the Bard. Gallivan’s character, Sassy Gay Friend, pops up as if transported through a time machine to console and buck up historical hysterical women who could have used some plain old good advice.
MiO, a Kraft foods product, has hitched their wagon to “Sassy Gay Friend,” the series Gallivan created and produced along with The Second City. The viral videos starring Gallivan usually invoke famous scenes from various Shakespeare plays, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, or Ophelia’s suicide in Hamlet. The twist is when “Sassy” steps into frame and changes the outcome of the literary classic.
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“Sassy Gay Friend” Brian Gallivan spoke to Monster and Critics about his MiO fueled new-found celebrity.
Monsters and Critics: I understand you hail from the Greater Boston area. Please tell me where you went to school, and where you wound up teaching school before your Improv skills were honed at the Improv Asylum? Are you from a big family? Was comedy nurtured in your home? Or beaten out of you?
Brian Gallivan: I am a South Shore boy from Dedham. I went to Dedham High School and Holy Cross in Worcester for college. I taught middle school at St. Anthony’s in Allston and the Chenery Middle School in Belmont, MA before I started taking classes at Improv Asylum in the North End. I am from a big family! Three brothers, two sisters.
I credit my family with helping me develop my sense of humor. They are all funny, especially my parents. We all wanted attention, so we used humor to try to get it. Except for my mother, who had to provide the attention.
M&C: How did you find your way to the Improv Asylum? Did you open mic or were you recommended?
Brian Gallivan: I actually took my first improv class at Improv Boston, which, strangely, is in Cambridge. And I loved it, and then Improv Asylum has auditions, and I almost got hired, but they said I needed more experience, so I started taking classes at the Asylum, and then ended up becoming part of their cast and working there for three years.
I learned a lot and met some of my best friends there. They do improv there, rather than stand-up, so the audition was improvising scenes with another person, or a group of people.
M&C: When did Sassy Gay Friend become this idea/character that you ran with?
Brian Gallivan: I first created Sassy Gay Friend in 2004 when I was part of the Mainstage cast at The Second City in Chicago. The shows there involve a cast of six actors writing and performing a series of sketches.
So in a show with over twenty-five sketches, two of them were Sassy saving Ophelia and Juliet. I played other characters in that show too, and the show ran for over a year. And then I did not do very much at all with Sassy Gay Friend until early 2010 when The Second City started their youtube channel, The Second City Network. The Sassy Gay Friend Hamlet video was one of the first ones they released.
M&C: Talk to me about the scarf, why is this prop so important to SGF?
Brian Gallivan: On the day we were shooting the very first video, Mark Kienlen, who shoots and edits the videos, saw my shirt, and he liked that, but he felt like I needed a little something more.
I ran downstairs to the costume store that is right below Second City’s offices in Hollywood, and I found that scarf. It’s fun to toss it around. So it wasn’t really a big thought out thing, but now when I do live shows, people are like, “T-shirts are fine, but you should really sell scarves!”
M&C: The great literary heroines – so many were penned by men – who are the most ripe for a Sassy makeover and buck up session? Whe wil the tragic dudes get a SGF therapy session?
Brian Gallivan: I think the ladies Sassy has dealt with so far, are the ones, who are most ripe for a Sassy intervention. That’s why we dealt with them first, but there are always more to be helped!
And Sassy will be helping some men in some upcoming videos sponsored by MiO. I won’t say who, but I think we all know that men can be stupid bitches too.
M&C: Modern politcal women, say, Nancy Pelosi, Ann Coulter, Michelle Bachman, Sarah Palin…would you attempt to send up any of them in a skit?
Brian Gallivan: I could deal with women in politics, but so many people do such a great job with political comedy, like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Bill Maher, among others, that I feel like I’m better off in the little world of ladies I’m dealing with.
And when you deal with ladies from literature, the videos can still be watched in a year or two years or ten years. With some of the ladies you mentioned, hopefully in a year or two, no one will even remember their names.
M&C: Inflection is everything. Saying “Stupid bitches” would get you in a major girl-fight in some parts of town. Yet the way you say it is like a term of endearment. When did you know you had gold with the “What What What” preface SGF is so known for?
Brian Gallivan: I think when I first tried the sketch on stage at Second City in Chicago, the “What, what, what are you doing?” seemed to get a pretty good laugh, so I’ve stuck with it.
M&C: What is the most annoying thing now that happens to you as people recognize you from your MiO ads. Do you really like MiO? What does it do for you?
Brian Gallivan: I actually like getting recognized. I’m still desperate for attention! It doesn’t happen all the time, so it’s fun. And if other people are recognizing me, it gives my mother a break from having to give me attention.
And I do like MiO. It does a lot for me. It helps me personalize my beverage and make it tasty. MiO also helps me make more Sassy Gay Friend videos. Which is also pretty tasty.
M&C: SGF is a huge hit, how far do you want to take him? What do you, Brian, want to do, SNL, movies, all of it? Any new projects?
Brian Gallivan: I’m not sure what will happen with Sassy Gay Friend in the future. As an actor and a writer, I’m working on more Sassy videos and some non-Sassy stuff too, so I’m just having fun with all of it.
We’ll see what happens. I spent a few years really worrying about where I should be with my career, but now I’m having fun just working hard on stuff I love and seeing what comes my way.