Funny or Die’s show Gay of Thrones has spent the last two seasons giving fans one of the best Game of Thrones recap shows anywhere on the internet. With their last season recently wrapped up, I got a chance to chat with the show’s star, Jonathan Van Ness, about how it all came together, and what it’s been like for him ever since coining the nicknames “Blonde Cher”, “Brother D,” and “Munch Munch” (that’s Cersei, Jamie and Tyrion Lannister to the uninitiated), as well as taking Daenerys’ phrase “Where are my dragons?” and making it his own.
Note: There are massive SPOILERS for seasons 3 and 4 of Game of Thrones in this interview, not to mention the first season of Penny Dreadful, and maybe even some tidbits about future seasons of the show… a fair warning to those squeamish about spoilers. You have been warned, spoiler-phobes!
Nerdist: So how did Gay of Thrones even come about? You’re not a professional actor by trade, right?
Jonathan Van Ness: Gay of Thrones happened because I do this woman’s hair, Erin Gibson, she is a writer/director at Funny or Die, and I’ve been doing her hair for years. And I just remember back in 2012, I was just doing her hair like normal and the guy in the chair next to me started talking about Game of Thrones and I was like, “Oh my god I love that show,” and then I did an impromptu recap of it, and I was convincing his stylist she should be watching the show too, and then I looked back to Erin and she was looking at me and had her like, jaw to the ground, and she was like “Ok, can you do that for Funny or Die?” and I said sure, and that’s how Gay of Thrones was born.
N: Did you ever think it was gonna blow up as much as it has?
JVN: No, not at all! I mean, when she first asked me I thought… I don’t know, in my imagination it was gonna be like me talking about Game of Thrones into my iPhone or something. I’ve never been in front of the camera before. I really do hair, and I’ve always been behind the camera… or really, behind the chair. And so the first time I went to set, I was like, “Oh my god, this is like a real thing.” And then by the second episode, because we’d had Alfie [Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy] on the second one, the series had already had a million views between the first two episodes, so we were off and running.
N: Alfie Allen was the first person connected to the show who showed up in your chair. How surreal was that?
JVN. Yeah, it was totally surreal, but Alfie was a pleasure to work with, and really everyone who guest starred was a pleasure to work with. Thank god when I moved to LA, one of the very first people I worked with was Raquel Welch, she was one of the first people I worked with when I got to the salon, so all that “star-struckness” got beat out of me by that first year, which totally worked to my advantage ultimately.
N. Speaking of Alfie Allen, he totally won in the game of life, so to speak. I mean, his sister (pop star Lily Allen) wrote this hit song about him about how all he does is smoke pot and watch TV and play video games, and now he’s like, “Bite me sis, I’m on one of the biggest show on TV.” That’s the best revenge.
JVN: Thank God I didn’t put two and two together when I met Alfie, because I love Lily Allen, If I knew would’ve been all, “Oh my god, can you say hi?” But I never knew ’til later, so I never mentioned it.
N: Since Alfie, you’ve had a lot of celebs sit in your chair on the show. Who’s been your favorite?
JVN: It’s hard to say. Margaret Cho was such a dream come true, because I’ve always looked up to her since forever and she’s always been an inspiration, she’s incredible. She was a big one, and I laughed a lot with Margaret there. Bryan Safi, who did the episode five recap last season, I remember when we first started shooting that episode he said something so funny I almost buckled at the knees I was laughing so hard. He is absolutely hysterical. But really, everyone’s been fun, it’s hard to pick a favorite.
N: Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights and you guys have your episodes up on Tuesday morning. That’s a fast turnaround… do you guys get screeners from HBO or what?
JVN: We don’t actually. We watch the east coast feed on Sunday nights at 6, then Erin the creative director, she kind of determines which scenes are the most important ones to talk about, and then we’ll do a really loose bullet point of what we’re gonna hit, and then we go down and basically kind of “scriptprov” it. Then we shoot from around 8-10 p.m on Sundays, and then they edit it all together and have it done by Tuesday morning. It’s really an amazing team they have down there at Funny or Die who does all that. They’re really really good.
N: You guys do it so fast, I was convinced HBO gave you guys screeners. And you know what? They should give you screeners from now on! You guys are like the unofficial companion to Game of Thrones now.
JVN: But it’s become kind of a ritual now! We order take out, and then watch the show on these fabulous couches, and it’s all on this massive screen, it’s fun and we really have such a good time doing it. I think that’s the cool part of Gay of Thrones is that’s it’s really a genuinely good time and we all really love watching Game of Thrones so much, that it’s really just fun.
N: And it’s so fun to watch. I know I’ve been talking with friends who are fans, and we’re like “I really miss Game of Thrones…but I miss Gay of Thrones just as much.” It’s like you’re officially part of the whole GoT experience now for so many people, especially LGBT fans of the show. And we’re so bummed it’s all over, we’re like “ugh, we have to wait a whole year.”
Now the big surprise this year was the appearance of Game of Thrones creator George RR Martin in the season finale. Were you there for when he filmed his cameo?
JVN: I wasn’t there for his cameo…they had like an hour to shoot that. But they did such a great job. I actually met him last year at Comic-Con, because last year HBO they invited me to work with the cast of Game of Thrones at Comic-Con and I met him there.
N: George RR Martin’s cameo was so great and unexpected. I thought the surprise in the season finale last year (where they revealed that you were really Roz the prostitute in disguise, and they brought in the actress who played her on the show) was great, but you guys totally topped it.
JVN: That was SO fun. I still do her hair actually. She’s also so amazing in real life as well, she’s just great.
N. So all the characters from Game of Thrones have awesome nicknames you give them. Daenerys is “Christina Aguilera”, Joffrey was “King Power Bottom”, and this year Prince Oberyn was “Mr. Sofia Vergara.” As one of the few LGBT characters on the show, were you sad to see him go?
JVN: I was SO sad to see him go! But we still have Margaery’s sister (a/k/a Sir Loras Tyrell) and there’s still Brothel Aaron Carter (a/k/a the blonde dude in Littlefinger’s brothel), and of course Tilda Swinton (a/k/a Brienne of Tarth) …but she’s not really “L” is she? Because she’s falling for Brother D (a/k/a Jamie Lannister.)
N. We all wish she’d just come out as “L”. Maybe she’s “B.” I just can’t swallow that she’s totally straight. But she does love her some Brother D.
JVN: Do you read the books?
N: I don’t…but I kind of know some things that happen later because I have friends who do read them who’ve spilled some of the beans.
JVN: Ok, because Mr. Sofia Vergara has these daughters, and they’re gonna totally show up and go like Uma Thurman on everyone. So it was devastaing to lose him, but then it opens up this whole new bad ass storyline with these girls who are fabulous.
N: So if they came to you and were like “Jonathan, we want you to do another recap show on Funny or Die, and you had your choice, what show would it be?
JVN: Well, I love Downton Abbey. but part of what makes Gay of Thrones so funny, is that you have me recapping so much stuff that you wouldn’t think is particularly up my alley, just knowing me, because it’s a show that has so much going on and is kind of confusing at times…but confusing in a fabulous way. The only other show I can think of that would work is maybe The Walking Dead. You can recap your butt off on The Walking Dead. I love that show, and it gets me through the forty something weeks they force us to wait for more Game of Thrones.
N: I would watch your Walking Dead recap show. Have you seen Penny Dreadful yet? It’s really good, and they’ve got some gay action happening in that show.
JVN: I’ve heard it’s really good, does Josh Hartnett get gay on it?
Nerdist: Yes he does, girl, with this totally hot guy who plays Dorian Gray, and it just comes out of nowhere and it’s hawt.
JVN: (gasps) oh my god….we’re gonna have to start watching this show aren’t we?
N: So for my last question, I gotta ask, do you get recognized all the time now? I mean, with Gay of Thrones getting a million plus hits all the time, you’ve gotta be recognized now.
JVN: Yeah, I do…a lot actually. Of course it depends on what part of town I’m in. If I’m on the West Side not so much, but if I go to West Hollywood, then people want to take a selfie or chit chat, which of course I totally love, I always get a little perk in my step whenever it happens, so always come and say hi. But that’s been one of the most surreal things. Another thing that’s funny is when people wave because they’ve seen you on the show ,because they think that they know you, and I just wave back and I’m like “hey girl!”
N: Well, I just gotta say, I think you should have your own podcast or YouTube channel or something. I wanna hear Jonathan’s thoughts on pop culture and whatnot when Gay of Thrones is on hiatus.
JVN: Podcasts are hard! I mean, you gotta get the microphones, and all these things…there’s a lot going on there. I never really realized how much goes into producing things till I did Gay of Thrones. I do love that idea though, I’m gonna look into it.
N: It would be great…we’d get to hear what you think of Walking Dead and Downton and just whatever, and you’re so funny and you have a unique perspective. I’d listen to it all the time. So you at least know you have one fan, of your podcast that doesn’t exist yet. You’ve got one subscriber.
JVN: Well thank you! And one is a good place to start!
You can catch Gay of Thrones on Funny or Die. What’s your favorite episode or Jonathan-ism? Let us know in the comments below.