Josh Gad, a Tony Award nominee for The Book of Mormon, melted hearts as the voice of lovable snowman Olaf in Disney’s Frozen. Now playing a fictional version of himself opposite Billy Crystal in the FX series The Comedians, which premieres April 9, Gad explains why he’s always liked warm hugs with gay men.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: I saw The Wedding Ringer. That was made for straight dudes, right?
Josh Gad: Yes, it appeals to heteros. But at its core, we always saw it as a bromance between my and Kevin Hart’s characters, especially with our big dance sequence.
A.V. Club called it “a 100-minute gay joke masquerading as a buddy comedy.”
That’s a surprising and completely inaccurate description. I hope it hasn’t offended anybody. Having seen the movie many times with many gay friends, I’ve never heard that criticism. I tend not to read reviews.
The film features a gay wedding planner who’s stereotypically effeminate, but it’s later revealed that he’s putting on an act to attract more rich clients.
Right, I loved that. You’ve got this gay character who never apologizes for the way that he is, and then there’s a hilarious twist that doubles down on our commitment to the fact that he’s not your typical gay character. We find out why he’s putting out that over-the-top quality, and we also find out that his lover is someone you might not expect. I thought that was so wonderful and surprising.
If we’re being honest, Mardi Gras: Spring Break was not without its homophobic moments.
Well, we all do movies that we regret. Sometimes we take what are called “money jobs,” and that’s one that I would love to eradicate from my résumé.
You’ve supported LGBT rights on Real Time With Bill Maher and as a guest columnist for USA Today. Why have you been so vocal on the subject?
First and foremost, my oldest brother, who’s my role model, happens to be gay and married. About 90% of my friends are gay, so I actually celebrate gay marriage on a monthly basis. It’s a bit of a problem, really. Now that the weddings have doubled, so has the amount of money I’m spending to travel to them.
Do you feel a responsibility to use your celebrity to bring awareness to LGBT issues?
Oh, absolutely. It’s imperative. Like when all that Prop. 8 nonsense was happening? Sometimes you just scratch your head, because it comes down to common sense. I have a difficult time understanding how people can deny someone their rights. It’s important that someone like my brother, who happens to be in love with someone of the same sex, can celebrate that union in the same way that I did with my wife. They got married in California, in a court, right after the marriage equality legislation was passed. It was so unbelievable to see my brother and his future husband standing in line with all these different couples, being allowed to do something that they should’ve been entitled to do a long time before that.
You co-created and starred in the short-lived NBC series 1600 Penn. What inspired the lesbian character Marigold, the president’s youngest daughter?
My brother, but also Jon Lovett, one of the writers on the show, who felt very strongly about that character. The network, by the way, could not have been more supportive. My favorite episode was the one where Marigold comes out to her brother Skip, my character. The pure, joyful response that we got on Twitter after that episode aired was the proudest moment for all of us when it came to that series. We knew that we were doing something important and special with that character. My brother knew from a very young age that he was gay, and it was very hard for him, especially growing up in the time that he did, to come out of the closet. When he saw that episode, he called me up and just gushed about how proud he was that we went there and showed a side of that story that people don’t generally get to see. I just wish we could’ve told more of that story.
How did your brother come out to you?
Well, everyone in my family assumed I was gay, because I was an actor and more than slightly effeminate, so they were surprised when it was my brother who came out. He told me when I was about 12 years old, and I was so proud, but I had sort of always known. More than anything, I was proud of our incredible mother, who was so unbelievably supportive. She embraced it and celebrated it, which was the coolest thing to witness.
You reported from New York’s LGBT pride parade in 2011 as a correspondent for The Daily Show. What was that like?
I had to convince my best friend and Book of Mormon co-star Rory O’Malley, who’s at the forefront of the gay rights movement, to make out with me for that. We were roommates all through college, and we’re like brothers, so it was very upsetting to him. Other than the fact he felt completely violated by my tongue down his throat, it was such an incredible day.
Was that kiss a first for you?
As a matter of fact, it wasn’t. I’ve had other male-on-male kisses, onstage and otherwise, that I’m very proud of.
Did you get a crash course on gay culture at drama school?
I had to give my friends a crash course on heterosexuality. I was an endangered species. I was the white rhinoceros of Carnegie Mellon. Every other month, one of my friends came out of the closet. I’m not joking. At a certain point, it almost became farcical. By senior year, I was the only straight one left.
Were there any perks to being the token straight guy?
It was great for me, because I was racking up all the ladies. But I usually had to do whatever my friends did, so we were always at some gay bar in Pittsburgh. It was very rare that we went to a straight club. I remember when Rory and I went to New Orleans while we were in college, and for the first three days all we did was go to gay clubs. Finally, I asked Rory to go to a strip club and experience the other side. So I took him to some hole in the wall, and a morbidly obese stripper came out and started dancing for us and the 80-year-old couple sitting in front of us. Rory turned to me and said, “If this is what the straight life is, I want nothing to do with it.”
You were used to being in the minority long before Broadway.
It’s all I’ve ever known, like Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Growing up in the theater, I naturally surrounded myself with gay people, so it’s always been the norm. When my wife met me, she was convinced I was gay and wanted nothing to do with me. We have two kids, and I think she still suspects I’m gay.
Do you hear from LGBT fans on Twitter?
Oh, yeah. When I wrote an article on Supreme Court Justice [Antonin] Scalia for USA Today, I got an enormous, heartening response from the LGBT community, which I didn’t anticipate. I was just angry and felt that Justice Scalia was coming out fervently on the wrong side of history. After Frozen, I’ve felt embraced by the community. I’m so proud that “Let It Go” has become an LGBT anthem. I can’t tell you how many people, gay and straight, have told me how that song took them out of some dark places. The fact that so many people have embraced Elsa as a character they can relate to and look up to is probably the proudest achievement for the entire Frozen creative team.
What about conservatives who claim that Frozen pushes a gay agenda? Rosie O’Donnell loves it, so it must be true!
Oh, I love it. It fills me with such pride when someone says that Frozen is pushing a gay agenda. It just makes me laugh. You know, I went on The View and Rosie beat me in a contest to see who knew Frozen better. It was really embarrassing, especially when my 4-year-old daughter watched that. She was like, “Why does that woman know so much more about your character than you do?”
Has the bear community reached out?
I’ve gone to gay nightclubs with my brother and definitely felt welcomed, specifically by the burly boys.
Billy Crystal recently made headlines for his comments about gay scenes on TV being “too much” and going “too far.” Does that mean The Comedians won’t have gay content?
No, and he’d be mortified you thought that. The show’s about two comedians from different generations forced to work together. It shows Billy and me in a hypermeta way that lets us make fun of things like, say, statements that sound far more incendiary than intended. It pokes fun at our egos and what can happen when you’re a celebrity. We’re not perfect, and sometimes we step in shit. It’s like when Kevin Hart said he didn’t feel comfortable playing a gay role. He was trying to say that he wouldn’t be doing the character justice, and I get that. It was just unfortunate their comments came out the way they did.
You were sitting next to Crystal when he made his comments at a Television Critics Association presentation. Did you immediately know that those remarks were going to create controversy?
Yeah, I sort of knew, but I immediately knew that’s not what he meant, and I was bummed because I knew how it was going to be framed. It was literally one of those vomit moments in a world of gotcha journalism. Having spent the last five months with Billy, I can assure you that the man is incredibly liberal and unbelievably supportive of so many causes, gay and straight. When it comes to social causes like gay rights, he’s always been at the forefront. He won GLAAD’s Excellence in Media Award. I know how it sounded, but he’s not somebody who would ever say, “I hate the way those gays shove it in your face.”
What do you think he was really trying to say?
What he meant to say — because we’d had a conversation earlier in the day about this — is that, in general, TV is pushing the sexual envelope in a way that he’s uncomfortable with. His example, earlier in the day with me, was Girls and the now-infamous [rimming] scene with Allison Williams. We come from two different generations, because I grew up watching Dream On, so I’ve always been subjected to more sexualized television. Billy comes from an era where the suggestion was more powerful than showing anything, and I think that’s what he meant by his comments. It’s unfortunate that it was expressed through the prism of a question about gay television.
Would you play a gay character?
I’ve only been cast in gay roles in college theater. I’ll put it out there now: If there are any great gay roles available for a young bear like myself, I’ll take them. You guys can trust me.
Any chance that Olaf’s gay?
[Laughs] Well, there’s no mention of a love interest. Who knows? Maybe that’s what the inevitable Frozen sequel will be about.
The Advocate, April/May 2015 issue; extended online version.