Chozen (Bobby Moynihan), Crisco (Hannibal Burress) & Ricky (Michael Peña)
Can an animated series focusing on a gay white rapper make us laugh without offending us at the same time?
If you’ve seen the FX animated comedy Chozen (which premiered last week), the answer is not clearly yes or no since, as we previewed last month, the series will surely offend some people with it’s tone and sense of humor, but it is also rife with genuine laughs that don’t demonalize being gay.
The series begins with a quick prison montage, the titular character (voiced by Saturday Night Live’s Bobby Moynihan) serving ten years in prison for a crime for which he was wrongly accused. Chozen’s experiences in prison (and shower rape is a part of that montage) shape how he views the world and interacts with other people. When he’s finally released he has two goals in life that he’s not subtle about – to become the biggest rap star in the world, and to get laid. A lot. With men.
Series creator Grant DeKirnion and Executive Producer Tom Brady sat down with TheBacklot during the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour to talk about the show and if they’re worried about offending some viewers while comic actor Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project), who voices Chozen’s love interest, Hunter, weighed in on his role via email.
TheBacklot: Talk to me about walking that line between creative choices and not offending people. I know Chozen says in the show he doesn’t want to be labeled…
Grant DeKirnion: Well, the character is gay, but when I thought of the character, to me, Chozen is many things. Gay is one of them but he’s many other things and to me that’s not the most interesting part about him. He’s a rapper. He’s an ex-con. There are all these things he is and so when we created the character and when we write the character, I just think in my head, what would he do, what would he think, and he obviously can be a bit aggressive. He can be a bit horny and so I don’t think of the sexuality when I write him. I just think of him, well, he’s this kind of rough around the edges ex-con. He likes to get laid and this is what that looks like for him.
Chozen’s relationship with Hunter starts out as sex but develops further.
He seems to make no apologies across the board, not just his sexuality but everything he does.
GD: Right. And he would be the last character to apologize for his sexuality, nor do I believe anyone should apologize for that.
The raps in the show surprised me because the songs are actually good and we might laugh at the lyrics but not the actual song. [DeKirnion writes and performs the raps]
Tom Brady: I came on board after the pilot. When I first heard the rap, I mean it could have been parody rap. It could have been silly. But it had enough integrity that that story of him trying to have a career at it ‘All right. I can see him having a career at it.’
What can we expect with Chozen and Hunter since there is a relationship that develops there?
GD: Chozen and Hunter have this tryst over an evening and then you’re left with Hunter perhaps wanting more and Chozen stuck [in prison behavior mode]. He kind of objectifies men a little bit and ‘this is how I do it.’
TB: And coming of age in prison that’s all he knows, so he’s got a lot to learn or evolve.
GD: I think we’ll see a little bit of a struggle with Chozen to try to be that because in my mind Chozen wants that too. I mean he doesn’t want to be alone, and I think a lot of his behavior and the way he thinks keeps him alone. So we’ll see that pan out and see where they go, see whether it works or not…he’s 28 and this is his first time in what could be like a real relationship dynamic. How does he handle it?
The Mindy Project’s Ike Barinholtz voices the role of Hunter.
Ike, any difference in how you approached playing Hunter over other roles, either because it’s voice work or just for the role itself?
Ike Barinholtz: When I first read Hunter I thought ‘Okay, Chozen is insane and super agro…how can I cut that?’ so I just tried to play Hunter as a big sweetheart who wants romance. So it’ll be funny when Chozen is like, ‘Hey, why don’t you crawl under the table and hit it.’
Hunter and Chozen have a unique relationship. How would you describe it?
IB: It’s like a giant grizzly bear dating a beagle puppy. The bear is out of control and the puppy just wants to snuggle.
Chozen isn’t really about intimacy — why is Hunter drawn to him?
IB: I think Hunter sees Chozen as exciting and still believes that underneath it all he is a sweetheart. But he’s not – Chozen is an asshole.
Is this your first gay role? It’s almost like a rite of passage now for an actor’s career, right?
IB: When you move to Hollywood you sign an agreement that at some point you have to play gay. I’ve actually done it a bunch on MADTV. I grew up in a very liberal household and my parents had a lot of gay friends, so I’m familiar with the world.