Q&A with Interested In’s Michael Witkes

Created by Michael Witkes, Interested In (now available for streaming on Dekkoo) follows the story of Parker, a recently out young gay man exploring his sexuality and identity through the lens of hookup culture. This queer comedy series portrays Parker in an array of scenarios reminiscent of the shared experiences many gay males encounter after coming out and diving into the murky waters of gay culture.

I sat down with Michael Witkes to discuss what inspired Interested In and what the process of creating the series was like.

First off, what are you interested in? Who is Michael Witkes?

My name is Michael Witkes, and I’m an actor, producer, director, and writer focused on showcasing LGBT stories in an authentic way. I’m originally from Philadelphia where Interested In takes place, and I currently live in New York City. Artistically, I am most interested in works that explore gay shame, LGBT identity, and expands representation. I also love froyo, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and queer history.

What was the inspiration for the title of the series?

I called the show Interested In because of the tumultuous moment when I first changed my Facebook status to “interested in men.” It felt so official that I was announcing to the world that I was gay, and I wanted to explore how labels can both help and hinder someone, how important they are in shaping identity, and how they can mean both everything and nothing at the same time.

Parker finds himself in some pretty sticky situations. What was your main source of inspiration for the events that take place in Interested In?

Some things are based on events that actually happened to me and some are fabricated. I wrote the first draft in 2013 after I came out in college, and I was trying to express those initial personal moments when you finally come out of the closet and how you can feel so uncomfortable in your own body. As a writer, I see the world in vignettes, and I selected moments that were exemplary of one person’s struggle of coming into himself.

Still from the new gay series Interested In - Now Available on Dekkoo!

How did you curate these vignettes for the screen?

The development of Parker’s character was really the driving force behind the storyline. I wanted to show that character’s journey from being someone who is so freshly out and awkward into someone who is more comfortable in his own skin. At the end of this season, he might not be totally there just yet, but I think he’s making significant progress to get to that point.

What was your personal coming out experience like?

The relationship that Parker talks about in the first episode where he said he was with this boy who wasn’t ready to come out yet and then they broke up because of that—all of that was true for me as well. I was so ready to come out for like a year before I actually did. When it finally happened, all of my friends and family were so supportive, but—at the same time—I was dealing with the loss of my first love so it was bittersweet.

In Interested In, Ep. 3, Parker and his Grindr date not only get intimate physically but emotionally as well. However, in the finale with the lawyer character, there’s more of a “no strings attached” vibe. Why did you decide to showcase this broad spectrum of intimacy in the show?

Representation is so important. Growing up, all the movies and series I watched always showed young gay kids either committing suicide or coming out then living happily ever after. I wanted to show what being gay is really like by exploring both the positive and negative aspects of gay dating in a realistic setting. I was interested in showing how in Grindr culture every interaction can be different.

Still from the new gay series Interested In - Now Available on Dekkoo!

Is Parker a no-strings-attached kinda guy or do you think he’s looking for more?

Parker deeply wants a boyfriend, but he’s very ignorant of the gay dating lifestyle. He goes into these situations expecting a true connection and then is really surprised when that doesn’t happen. For Parker, each episode is a learning moment that he takes onto the next interaction. He figures out things he didn’t know before which is very indicative of how LGBTQ people in real life have to learn things the hard way as they go along.

It’s no secret that in regards to gay culture, there’s a “whole animal kingdom out there.” What is your take on the roles LGBTQ people are expected to take on when participating in the culture (i.e. top, bottom, gay, straight, bi, twink, bear, otter, etc.)?

At first, I was so terrified of coming out that it took me a long time to take on the label of “gay.” But then once you’re out, everyone says, “Oh, now you have to be a twink or an otter, and a top or a bottom.” I was so frustrated by all the boxes I was getting put into. On one hand, I do think that labels can be helpful. Now, I’m so proud to be gay despite the fact that the word used to hold such a stigma for me. But at the same time, I think labels can hinder people. In Interested In, Parker’s journey is figuring out which labels he wants to take on and which ones he can say “thank u, next” to.

In the fourth episode, we get to see an interesting side of Parker when he has a sexual encounter with his ex-girlfriend. As far as sexual orientation goes, what does Parker identify as?

Parker is gay, but that moment with his ex-girlfriend is really important in helping him figure that out and that it’s also okay to keep your options open.

Still from the new gay series Interested In - Now Available on Dekkoo!

What do you think modern-day LGBTQ youth will gain from this series seeing Parker experience the nuances that come with the territory of being a gay man?

I hope Interested In will help queer youths by showing them a story that’s about what comes directly after coming out of the closet. My goal with these vignettes is to show sex positivity and openness in regard to real issues so people can feel more comfortable with themselves. I want people watching the show to go out into the world and have their own vignette moments.

What would 15-year-old Michael Witkes say about seeing something like Interested In on screen?

It would have meant everything to him! Seeing someone struggle to take on their identity would have prepared me to do that before I even had to. Watching the show now, I get nostalgic for what it was like when I was a baby gay.

Why do you think it’s important to show these experiences on screen?

Sex is such a taboo subject, but I don’t think we should feel uncomfortable talking about it. After being closeted for so long, unapologetically showcasing intimate moments between queer people is so important to me. I want to change the conversation about sex and make it more open, comfortable, and sex-positive. Also, showing uncomfortable sexual situations is important because that’s a big part of sex, too. It’s not always this beautiful, perfect moment every single time. There’s a lot of awkward things that happen when you’re being intimate with someone, and that’s okay!

Still from the new gay series Interested In - Now Available on Dekkoo!

What is your take on Grindr and other dating apps, especially the “headless torso” phenomenon broached upon in Ep. 2?

There used to be so much stigma surrounding Grindr. It was something you had to hide on your phone and be embarrassed about, but I don’t think that should be the case. Now that straight people are using dating apps, too, there’s definitely less stigma. Unfortunately, Grindr can represent all the problematic things within the LGBTQ community. It can turn into a big cyberbullying moment with the whole “no fats, no fems” thing which is horrible. I think Grindr is doing a lot to try and change that, but, still, it’s hard to police such a big forum where you can write pretty much whatever you want anonymously.

What plans for Interested In do you have for the future? Can Interested In fans be interested in a second season?

Yes, it’s already written! The second season is going to explore Parker developing into a more confident person with some of the previous characters popping up.

What’s it like to have Interested In featured on Dekkoo?

When I wrote the show, I was writing for a very specific, niche audience, and I think that’s exactly what Dekkoo is for. I’m so grateful that they gave me this unique platform and that they’ve chosen to cater to an LGBTQ audience. All I wanted as a gay kid was something like Dekkoo to watch.

Still from the new gay series Interested In - Now Available on Dekkoo!

Aside from the show, what are you interested in for the future?

I’m just really excited to make more work that explores similar themes but also dives into other topics as well. Since Interested In, I’ve written a lot of content, and I hope this show will give me the platform to bring all of those stories to life!

You can keep up with all things Interested In by visiting their website, Facebook page, and Instagram account. Watch Interested In on Dekkoo today, available now!

Drag Heals is “part theater, part performance art and part group therapy”

Produced and directed by prolific writer/director/actor/author Charlie David, Drag Heals is a terrific new documentary series that follows men who have never worn heels or make-up but have always dreamed of letting their inner drag queen out to play.

These men, and aspiring queens, enter Canada’s first-ever drag class to explore how to create a compelling drag persona based around their own personalities and life experiences. Deeply persona and raw, these queens tackle prickly issues like gender identity, mental illness, heartbreak and feminism to better understand themselves and their queer experience in an otherwise straight world.

RuPaul brought “Drag Race” into the homes of millions and made the once-taboo art form mainstream. This newfound renaissance has inspired a new generation to explore the art of drag and challenge the constructs of gender.

While “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is a competition, Drag Heals is much more of a journey. For most of the participants, this experience is akin to a second coming out process – and the workshops end with a public performance where they each have to face down their fears of stepping into the limelight.

The show gives viewers unparalleled access to the creation of a performance that is more than just your average lip sync. The classes are structured so that the men must reveal their true selves in preparation for their public performance. In order to do it, they must be brave and vulnerable. As performance time draws near, the urgency to create a compelling piece forces them to face down their nerves and personal demons in order to deliver a quality performance for people who have shelled out money to see just that.

The full first season of Drag Heals is now available on Dekkoo! Watch the trailer below.

 

 

 

New This Week – 3/1/19

Shane, a gay Anishinaabe teen in Northern Ontario is struggling to support his family after his sister’s suicide. Torn between responsibilities at home and the promise of freedom calling from the city Shane must decide his true path. ‘Fire Song’ is available to stream now on Dekkoo!

The boyfriend of a handsome photographer tries to deal with his jealousy after finding nude photos he took of a gorgeous model. Dekkoo Films presents ‘The Jealous Sea’. Watch it now!

‘Drag Heals’ is a documentary series that follows men who have never worn heels or make-up but have always dreamed of letting their inner drag queen out. Stream the entire series now on Dekkoo!

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Coming next week: Four friends. One swimming pool. One house. One phone call. One question – What if the love of our life came back 10 years after everything was over?

Why “OUT on Stage: The Series” is Very Important

It’s no secret that straight, white males have dominated the stand-up comedy scene since its creation. Luckily for members of the LGBTQ community, there’s a new TV series dedicated to changing that. OUT on Stage: the Series showcases LGBT comedians breaking OUT of stand-up comedy’s status quo and presents to the world something groundbreaking that will make a place for queer comics in the stand-up comedy world for years and years to come.

Hosted by Zach Noe Towers, OUT on Stage was filmed in L.A. in front of a live audience and features comics Gloria Bigelow, Janine Brito, Chris Bryant, A.B. Cassidy, Anthony Desamito, Joe Dosch, Jared Goldstein, Eric Hahn, Casey Ley, Julian Michael, Jordan Pease, Raneir Pollard, Jonathan Rowell, Brendan Scannell, Kyle Shire, Irene Tu, and Daniel Webb. The series consists of six episodes that run roughly around 35 minutes, three queer comics performing each episode and sharing their comic routine. You may be asking what’s so revolutionary about that?

After all, LGBTQ comedians aren’t exactly new. I mean, hello? Ellen Degeneres, Tig Notaro, Wanda Sykes, Lea DeLaria, and Jaffe Cohe n are only but a few of the many revered queer comics. The list goes on and on and hopefully will continue to grow as we move forward into the next decade and progress as people. But here’s what really sets OUT on Stage apart from the LGBT comedians before it: it’s queer comedy for queer people.

In the past, LGBTQ comedians performed for primarily straight, cisgender audiences which begs the question: were they truly being accepted or were they just the butt of the joke the whole time? In the world of stand-up comedy, most comedians will take whatever laughs they can get whether it’s at the expense of other people or even themselves, and queer comics are no exception. “I have built a career out of self-deprecating humor, and I don’t want to do that anymore… I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission to speak, and I simply will not do that anymore, not to myself or anybody who identifies with me. If that means that my comedy career is over, then, so be it,” says queer comic, Hannah Gadsby, in her Netflix special, Nanette (2017). But what if this arena where self-deprecation is key to a queer comic’s success is based more on the heteronormative audience than the comic themselves? More to the point, maybe Gadsby’s notion of quitting stand-up comedy isn’t quite the right idea. Maybe all queer comedy needs is the right audience.

With that in mind, what makes OUT on Stage so great is that it doesn’t cater to a straight, cisgender audience, and actually supplies these queer comics with a primarily queer audience. It’s in this uncensored space where LGBTQ stand-up comedians can unabashedly thrive without fear of judgment or persecution, sharing their queer experiences with queer people. In fact, the key to this show’s magic is the experiences that both the audience and the comic share having lived the life of someone who identifies as queer. Whether intentionally or not, this series has given queer stand-up comedy the chance to truly come OUT of the closet and show off its big guns.

While OUT on Stage is a major step for queer-identifying people everywhere, there were also a few drawbacks (that—for the record—could be chalked up to these comics being used to catering to non-inclusive, patriarchal audiences in order to make headway in the stand-up comedy industry). The biggest flaw with the series was that it was incredibly male-centric (although it could also be argued that gay men haven’t had a chance to thrive in the comedy industry because straight men find them threatening to their ideas of manhood and that lesbians created a space because they’re deemed “non-threatening”). Lesbians Irene Tu, Janine Brito, A.B. Cassidy, and Gloria Bigelow showcased their talents on the show, but a more diverse group of LGBTQ comedians would have been even more revolutionary.

In fact, aside from the gays and lesbians, it seemed that the other letters of the acronym were particularly lacking. Seeing as we’re still fighting for trans rights to use the bathroom, maybe comedy isn’t yet quite a safe enough place for transgender people. And bisexuals, I’m sure, are clinging to the low-side of the Kinsey Scale in order to relate to their straight audiences. You can’t exactly blame the oppressed for playing the hand they’re dealt.

Another observation that was less than ideal was the reinforcement of some negative stereotypes amongst the community such as enforced “traditional” gender roles amongst same-sex partners, unsafe sex positivity, and fat shaming. Maybe this analysis is a bit too critical considering it is a stand-up comedy show where political correctness and progressive ideals are put on a slight pause. Regardless, OUT is innovative, and hopefully, we can look forward to the second season of OUT to break down some of these barriers.

At the end of the day, OUT on Stage is a great show for the LGBTQ community to finally get a taste of what comedy aimed at their own experiences is like. If you’re looking for some gut-wrenching laughs, OUT on Stage the series can be streamed on Dekkoo, a gay-centric streaming service. It’s what queer people deserve. One step for gays; a giant step for LGBTQ-kind everywhere.

Very special thanks to Austin for sharing! You can watch OUT on Stage now on Dekkoo.

New Series: Single Record

Single Record is a hip-hop series shot as a narrative documentary. The series tells the story of Aaron (Nelson Moses Lassiter) a young rapper fighting through depression as he breaks through in the music industry while coming to terms with his sexuality. As his inner circle witnesses his unraveling, they must work behind the scenes to save his stalling career and ultimately his life, at the same time they manage the fallout in their own personal lives.

The show is designed to illustrate how people can often ignore calls for help and not realize something is wrong until its too late. Single Record is told through the perspective of Aaron’s friends. Each one of them have a different idea of what is going on and each perspective has some truth. The whole truth is revealed by combining all the perspectives. The idea of perspective is to illustrate that we are often unaware how our decisions and actions impact other people and their actions.

“I wanted to create a show that touches on sexuality, identity and self acceptance. I used Hip hop because it is a genre that has strong views on sexuality. I wanted to show the impact these views can have on someone’s life and hopefully change the way people think,” said Lassiter, the show’s creator and star. “As a gay black man who is also a rapper, I deal with these issues and I wanted to create a world that shows what others like me have to go through and ultimately encourage others to accept themselves and others.”

The first six episodes of Single Record are available to stream now on Dekkoo.

New This Week – 1/25/19

Aaron, an up-and-coming young rapper, is starting to find career success. Unfortunately, his rise is tempered by a volatile music industry, his dangerously jealous older brother and his own insecurities surrounding his sexuality. Binge the first season of ‘Single Record’ now, only on Dekkoo!

Dekkoo Films presents the gay short film, ‘1992’. Martin is seventeen and spends all day recording everything with his Hi8 camera. One day Martin meets Dominique, who works as a watchman at his school.

This documentary discusses how a small Mediterranean fishing village of some 3,500 people in 1900 has now become the Gay Mecca of the Mediterranean and can serve as an example for other less tolerant countries of harmonious LGBT integration. Watch ‘The Gay History of Sitges’ now on Dekkoo!

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Coming next week: “An exploration of identity.”

New This Week – 1/18/19

Dekkoo and Comedy Dynamics present ‘OUT On Stage’, an absolutely hilarious and one-of-a-kind original stand-up comedy series. Hosted by Zach Noe Towers – OUT Magazine’s “One of the 10 comedians to watch in 2018”, ‘OUT On Stage’ brings sixteen of the funniest LGBTQ comedians working today into your home! Binge the entire first season of ‘OUT On Stage: The Series” now!

Award-winning male-erotic photographer Ohm Phanphiroj’s explores desire in a singularly artful and frank way with these short films. ‘DESIRE: The Short Films of Ohm’ are available to stream on Dekkoo!

When his partner Cody dies in a car accident, Joey learns that their son, Chip, has been willed to Cody’s sister. In his now solitary home life, Joey searches for a solution. The law is not on his side, but friends are. ‘In The Family’ is available now on Dekkoo!

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Coming next week: A gay series about an up-and-coming young rapper fighting the music industry and his own insecurities surrounding his sexuality.