LOS ANGELES – Before taping his new truTV series “Talk Show the Game Show” — part mashup, part parody of the two genres — host Guy Branum got some advice from good friend Chelsea Handler.
“She told me the most important thing about being a host is listening,” he said, holding court recently in a hotel lobby. “I’ve really tried to get better at that, creating a space where my guests shine and it’s not all about me. There’s not like a monologue at the top where I get to dazzle. Part of me is like, ‘I have to show everyone why I’m great!’ No. Calm down. Let these people do what they have to do.”
You can see why Branum may have a hard time pressing his inner mute button, especially when he dives into his juicy personal life, which includes a short but pivotal chapter set in the Twin Cities.
While attending the University of Minnesota Law School, Branum checked out Balls Cabaret, the anything-goes variety show that continues to run Saturday nights at the Southern Theater, and Acme Comedy Company’s open-mic night. Both were critical in his realization that he would rather play to drunken patrons than a jury.
It was also the period in which Branum came out of the closet.
“Minneapolis is where I learned to be gay,” he said. “Everyone was nice and supportive. The right-size town. Not overwhelming. Nights at the Saloon and the Gay 90’s. That was my first gay pride parade. I barely remember getting to Loring Park.”
It may seem surprising that Branum wasn’t comfortable enough to come out in the Bay Area, where he grew up and did his undergraduate studies, but it was important for the now-41-year-old to separate himself from the world he had come from before being open about his sexual orientation.
“The space made me feel distant and safe,” said Branum, who also spent six months writing theater reviews for City Pages. “Minneapolis was the first place I felt like a grown-up.”
The seeds for “Talk Show” were also planted during his time in the Twin Cities.
“I was in a van on my way to a quiz bowl tournament,” said Branum, who was on a University of Minnesota team that placed third at nationals in 1999. “I said, ‘There should be a game show where you have to prove what a good talk-show guest you are.’ And, like, five years ago, I had awkwardly left ‘Chelsea Lately’ and I did not have a job. So I was like, ‘Why don’t I create that show?’ ”
Branum, who this day was sporting suspenders over a vertically striped shirt with a pocket handkerchief, launched the concept as a live show. He recruited celebrity friends who would score points for such things as plugging their pet projects — and lose points for such things as excessive name dropping.
The TV version amps up the star wattage — Wanda Sykes, Maria Bamford and Margaret Cho are among the first-season guests — as well as the pressure. But Branum said he feels that there will be a demand for his offbeat approach.
“A beautiful talk-show appearance should not be a synthesis of the work of a publicist, a celebrity, a production staff and a host,” he said.
“I’m not saying every publicist is bad. I’m saying we as viewers have allowed these kinds of things to go on. We have so many Jimmys hosting our TV shows right now. If we vary that a little bit, we might have different kinds of conversations.”