Your Netflix obsession Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt drops its entire second season today (April 15). The Tina Fey-concocted comedy series stars Ellie Kemper as Kimmy Schmidt, a bright-eyed 29-year-old who flees to New York City after escaping an Indiana doomsday cult. Quickly, she befriends the boisterous Broadway hopeful Titus Andromedon, played brilliantly by Tituss Burgess. Some believe Mr. Andromedon’s unapologetically flamboyant characterization perpetuates gay stereotypes, but Burgess thinks differently. (*cough* They’re downright wrong! *cough*)
And the stereotype talk isn’t the only thing Burgess is sick of. He’s over gay men–yes, gay men–shaming Titus’ colorful personality. To him, an internalized homophobia gay men have toward effeminacy–Grindr talk: “No fats, no fems”–keeps them from embracing his Kimmy Schmidt alter-ego (and people just like him).
Burgess covered all of this and more during our chat with him earlier this week. We guarantee by the end of this interview, you’ll be screaming “YAAAS” uncontrollably. (As a fem-leaning gay men, I certainly did.) Don’t fight it. Let it flow.
What did you think of Titus when you first saw him on the page?
I knew exactly who he was right away. I recognize elements of Titus in many of my colleagues in New York from our early days when I got there around 2003. I thought he was funny. I thought he was mean. I thought he was self-centered. I thought he was everything that, at that age, New York would have made a man into given his backstory and his inability to achieve his dreams.
What do you think makes Titus different than some of the gay characters we’ve seen on television?
I would attribute it to the writing. I would say Tina [Fey] and Robert [Carlock] make Titus. They don’t draw attention to who he sleeps with. It’s not about his…effeminacy so much as it is about what he is doing and how he is trying to move through it. It’s just an examination of another human being who happens to be gay versus the “gay best friend stereotype.” We just don’t care. They didn’t make him an ornament on a Christmas tree. He is the Christmas tree.
One criticism people have of Titus is that he portrays a flamboyant stereotype. What are your thoughts on this?
It makes me wonder where you guys live and who you guys hang out with. If you can tell me you know a version of Titus, then he is fair game to be played. We film this in New York City, and it’s about a man who wants to do theater. Come on, who else is he supposed to be? If you’ve encountered some like that, it is fair game to offer a representation of him.
I think that the criticism of any of the characteristics that Titus houses is almost a bizarre discrimination—in-house discrimination, if you will. An unwillingness to see oneself inside another character. An inner hatred, if you will. An acknowledgement that those people in our community exist. People stop at how Titus says things and the sway of his walk and aren’t paying attention to the plot. There is major plot happening.
Have you come across criticism within the gay community about Titus’ characterization? Is internalized homophobia toward effeminacy at play?
Oh honey, yes! Please. Absolutely. It’s so peculiar how we shame each other and not celebrate the parts of us that make us us. There are some gay people who don’t act like Titus and who more closely resemble that of a heterosexual, more masculine male, but that does not a better gay make. It’s just a different breed of a gay make…In season two, we will meet that person that they are insistent that they don’t see in TV. I’d be curious to see if we get backlash for this more “straight-acting” gay man, and if we don’t, I would in a way say, “Shame on you.”
…There is still a great deal of self-hatred that we refuse to deal with because we are still measuring ourselves against the norms of a masculine, heterosexual world. That is the backdrop with which we measure the man. It is so deep-seated that we subconsciously strive to be it and shame the colorfulness–or refuse to embrace the colorfulness–that truly begins to set us apart…There is nothing stereotypical about who Titus is particularly if he exists.
Who do you hope Titus reaches and affects the most?
The little 9-year-old boy that’s running around a church in Mississippi right now that’s trying to emulate those uncles who are insisting that he hang outside with them as they’re doing yard-work around the church versus singing in the choir with all the girls. If I had a me growing up, you guys would’ve seen me a lot sooner than two years ago.
Where would you like to see gay characters head in 2016 and beyond?
I’m not so much concerned about where these characters are gonna go versus the discussion that’s around these characters. I’m excited to see when we no longer have to have interviews about these characters—when people finally have other things to discuss. When it is so normal that journalists and the community—gay community and beyond—are actually discussing the adoption process, when we are discussing which schools to choose for our children to go to…When the fact that we exist and are on all these television shows is no longer a novel idea.
Titus’ “Pinot Noir” song was one of our favorite TV moments in 2015. Find out our other ones in the video below.