If you haven’t seen The Benefits of Gusbandry, imagine The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, meets, Will & Grace, meets My So-Called Life, with a sprinkle of Shameless. Alicia J. Rose talks with us about her hilarious new show.There are so many different relationships in this life that we go through, many of which are undefined. The relationship between Gay men and Straight women, is one that has been touched on only a handful of times.
In TBOG, Brooke Totman (Jackie) and Kurt Conroyd (River) become best friends after Jackie’s disappointing 40th birthday set in Portland, Oregon. What happens afterward is a hilarious series of adventures between to deeply close friends also known as “Gusband” and “Swife”.
Alicia J. Rose has created a show that is undeniably funny but also poignant in the way she unravels the deep relationship between immensely close friends.
We spoke with Alicia and got inside the mind of the woman who took the age-old relationship from a caricature, and explored the deeper side of it while still keeping us teary-eyed with laughter.
SALUTE: I binged Gusbandry the other day, I have to say you have got the dynamic down to a T.
AJR; Yeah? You dig it? You got the “Gusband,” “Swife” Dynamic? It’s based on real life you can’t bullshit that.
It’s like husband and wife privilege but better.
SALUTE: How did you come up with the concept for this show? The idea has been around for a long time but how did you put your own spin on it?
AJR: It’s based on real relationships, and this type of relationship has been around for a long time. The thing is if you look at relationships and the kind of relationships that have been represented in the media, there are maybe three representations of this type of relationship as opposed to 300, or 3,000 of any other kind. It is something that I think shows the different perspectives of this type of relationship it’s not all one.
The quick and dirty of it is I was directing, and I didn’t feel like I had made or filmed something that I felt like was the beginning of me showing who I am as a woman and a filmmaker. I’m in my 40’s, and I may not have a child, but I definitely have a biological clock of accomplishments.
AJR: I met my primary gusband about 7 or eight years ago now and that relationship became the most healing and safe relationship in my life. He’s a beautiful soul, and a few years ago he and I went on went on a month-long vacation in Thailand.
We took the most beautiful picture at sunrise. It was something you would take on your honeymoon and it was just us on vacation, we’re best friends and I posted that picture on social media. That was the first time I used the hashtag #thebenefitsofgusbandandswife.
We took this vacation, and I got back, and I was depressed, and I thought well what am I going to do with my life. I knew I wanted to do a project, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I took a workshop a friend of mine Diane Bell was running, and she told me to think about different details of my life and brainstorm.
I started thinking “well what about the benefits of gusbandry?’ This relationship has so much there, and it’s so personal; it’s just a small slice of my life, but it’s a significant part of my life as well.
So, it felt manageable enough to turn into an episodic, and as soon as I sat down and started writing I had 25 episodes, and I knew exactly who I wanted to talk to as collaborators, and it took on a life of its own.
SALUTE: Yes as a writer we know the muse comes and goes you never know when it’s going to show up.
AJR: It really worked out and we’re already in the second season. You’re right this isn’t a new relationship it’s one of the oldest relationships in the world it’s been going on forever. There is a safety in that relationship especially with all of the different situations going on that we have seen recently with abuse and harassment.
Having people in your life who can give you that male energy, without taking away your feminine energy or power within that process is very important.
SALUTE: People who don’t have gusbands don’t understand how much as women we need that relationship and how nourishing it is to have that relationship. Especially being a strong woman, it is difficult to have that type of vulnerability with anybody.
AJR: Exactly, and I think showing that was very important to me. Other shows are really funny but they are so schticky that it doesn’t show the deeper sides of the relationships. Having someone get you through the tough moments in your life.
SALUTE: there are so many deep moments where you need someone and you don’t get that type nourishment from a spouse or a female friend or vice versa. Sometimes you need that delicate balance between the two. That is what it means to me. I would take a bullet for my primary gusband.
AJR: I am sure he would for you. There are no conditions on it what I feel is unique from a romantic relationship. Romantic, sexual relationships, are conditional sometimes in ways you don’t want to admit. There is so little out there representing this; I had to do something.
SALUTE: Many people that I have spoken to feel there is a lack of representation of a smart, funny, intelligent gay man, who is comfortable in his sexuality and his masculinity who is not afraid to have this type of relationship. It is so refreshing to see River and Jackie and how comfortable they are with themselves and with each other; they are great sidekicks to one another.
AJR: Those two, Brooke and Kurt, the chemistry is real. They became real gusband and swife. Their chemistry is so powerful.
SALUTE: That was my next question, how was their chemistry initially when you first sat them down for a read?
AJR: We initially contacted Brooke (Jackie) a few weeks after we spoke to her and saw her do a stand-up show. The role of “River”, we cast more traditionally. When I cast both roles I wanted them to be genuine, so I wanted an actual woman in her 40’s for Jackie, and an actual gay man to play River. I didn’t ask people questions about their sexuality but I was thrilled that it actually turned out that way.
The night they first read, they sunk into this couch together and within 15 seconds they were conspiratorial, they were plotting against the world. It was an instant friendship. They are both so incredibly talented as actors, writers, and improvisations that they bring so much to the table for both of their characters. Some of our favorite lines are lines that they came up with.
SALUTE: What do you think connects Jackie and River the Most?
AJR: I think their sense of humor, also their problems with men, mostly trust. They are family. I think once they realized they could be vulnerable to each other more than they could with anyone else. I believe that is what connects them the most. Once you know you can have that with someone, it is rare.
SALUTE: What do you think makes the perfect gusband or swife?
AJR: Being completely imperfect, and willing to share it. Anything else is not enough. It is a soul connection. I think soul mates can be partners of all kinds. No matter what sexual preference you are, having that relationship with someone of the opposite sex is important. I don’t think there is a perfect gusband or swife, but I do know the more messed up we are we seem to find each other.
SALUTE: Tell me about your writing process, how do you work off of your writing partner? Navigate through episodes?
AJR: I will come up with the story outline and then Courtney and I will sit down and go over them and map them out by episode. It is an absolute collaboration. I think we both bring ourselves into it on a very funny, real, authentic level because we both are in our 40’s we both have gusbands, and we have been friends for many years. She is a brilliant writer and someone who I have appreciated for years. Step by step, idea by idea we go through them all.
For this season we tried something different when we were writing the story arches. We wanted to create the episodes in a way that they connect but they could stand alone as their own episodes. That way the viewer could be drawn into the show without having seen the entire storyline. It was a nice challenge and it will probably continue to go on like that. It created a much longer storyline. We’d love to bring in more characters and add more meat to the story.
SALUTE: Are you writing season three?
AJR: We are still writing the second half of season two which will be out next year.
SALUTE: One final question, who would be your ultimate celebrity Gusband? I’ll tell you mine; mine would be Titus Burruss.
AJR: Oh! That is a good question. Dead or Alive?
AJR: Freddy Mercury, Neil Patrick Harris, Rupaul, Tim Gunn, there are so many!
The Benefits of Gusbandry is a show with many facets, and it is clear that Alicia J. Rose not only writes it, but she has a genuine relationship with her own Gusband(s) that is not only fulfilling but a lesson for life.
For more information about The Benefits of Gusbandry visit www.thebenefitsofgusbandry.com
Watch: The Benefits of Gusbandry Season 2 Teaser