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Alan Cumming wants to celebrate queer life in all its forms – even the ‘wet, sloppy, stinky’ stuff – as he joins acclaimed Homo Sapiens podcast

Reiss Smith April 30, 2020
Alan Cumming joins Chris Sweeney for Homo Sapiens.

Alan Cumming joins Chris Sweeney for Homo Sapiens. (Homo Sapiens)

Alan Cumming is joining Chris Sweeney for a new season of the award-winning queer podcast, Homo Sapiens. PinkNews caught up with the pair about meeting icons like Patti Smith and Stephen Fry, giving a platform to intersectional identities and why sex needn’t be a dirty secret.

Homo Sapiens has, over the past three years, become the darling of the (admittedly, small) LGBT+ podcast world. It’s a warm, inviting hour that moves deftly from weighty topics such as sex work and HIV to inane, but hilarious, chatter.

To date, each episode has taken the form of a conversation between hosts Chris Sweeney and Will Young, and their chosen titan of the community, with part of the show’s success boiling down to the pair’s easy, familiar dynamic. But for season four, which begins April 30, the singer is nowhere to be found, having decided to sit this round out while returning to his pop career.

In his place is actor and all-round queer icon Alan Cumming, whose filthy sense of humour and habit of pulling anecdotes out of his – let’s say, back pocket – shine through from his first episode, a conversation with Stephen Fry about life, love and sex.

Will Young and Chris Sweeney
Will Young was the original co-host of the podcast. (Getty)

Reclining in his dressing room at London’s Old Vic Theatre (we met just a few weeks before coronavirus cut short the actor’s run in the play Endgame) Alan revisits the latter topic.

“I think there’s sort of shame associated with sexuality of all kinds, but especially homosexuality, and so I think it’s best to just not make it dirty shameful secret,” he says, as Chris nods intently.

“It’s good to be reminded that it’s OK for it to be a kind of wet, sloppy old stinky mess sometimes. All sex is messy, there’s fluids and spurty things and drippy things, but young people today… there’s been some very interesting articles about how young people are actually having sex, because they see so much of it in porn.

I think it means the expectations that young people of all genders have about sexuality is really skewed. I wish porn was better at being more frank about sex. Some of it is, sometimes. But a lot of it is glossy, and there’ll be ‘x’ number of minutes where they’re blowing someone, then it’s the f**king, there’s never any ‘ow, ooh’, it’s all just suddenly there.

Alan’s frankness about sex and sexuality is one of the big reasons Chris was so elated when when he agreed to step in for Will.

Homo Sapiens was always meant to be a friendly chatty thing,” he explains, “But we talk about stuff that we feel is important. And Alan Cumming is someone who’s been a trailblazer in that area.”

Unwittingly, the series comes at the perfect time as social distancing measures leave many LGBT+ people isolated away from their community. The podcast will, hopefully, serve as a life raft for many who feel adrift, a place to luxuriate in queerness in all its forms.

Instinct star Alan Cumming
Alan Cumming was previously a guest on Homo Sapiens. (David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

“We’re talking about people we feel have, just by being themselves, changed the world for the better,” says Alan. “People who LGBT+ people relate to. Some of them are in that acronym, some of them aren’t, but they still have a connection to us.”

Alan Cumming and Chris Sweeney want to celebrate LGBT+ life.

The Homo Sapiens approach to tackling the big topics is honesty. But just as importantly, the pair try to strike an upbeat tone throughout.

“We want to look at the positivity,” Chris says. “Someone said to me once: ‘Why don’t you get a homophobic preacher on,’ and I said: ‘No that’s not what it’s for. It’s supposed to be a space where you know you wouldn’t ever hear that, because in everyday life that’s a real risk.'”

Alan adds: “You know, we’re in a f**king s**tty time, and it’s a scary time to be any hue of queer. But nonetheless, we’re here to celebrate ourselves and to celebrate life.

The point of the show, he repeats throughout our chat, is that it’s “two queer men who are funny and chatty, and are talking about things that need to be talked about but with really fascinating and fun people”.

“Where else do you hear that?” Chris chimes.

I think loads of LGBT+ people, and specifically gay men, love things like Loose Women and Woman’s Hour because it’s chatter that’s specific, but not the patriarchal narrative, for want of a better description.

“There’s not much toxic masculinity,” Alan says. “There’s masculinity, and there’s femininity. Me, I’m butch,” he laughs, before digressing into one of his trademark anecdotes.

“Did I tell you about my friend Matthew?” he asks, turning to Chris. “When he was young and going to gay bars, it was very much the end of that Polari time of everyone being kind of hidden, and instead of saying ‘Are you top or bottom?’ – which I hate – they’d say: ‘Are you butch or bitch,’ which I just love.”

Alan Cumming and Chris Sweeney
Homo Sapiens season four is out now. (Homo Sapiens)

More of Alan’s friends pop up in the podcast itself. One episode features a chat with a man named Frank, a survivor of the AIDS crisis who Alan and Chris bumped into while interviewing another guest, and who ended up sharing his story complete with a Liza Minelli cameo. There are also conversations with actor and activist Cynthia Nixon, mayor of London Sadiq Khan, comedians Hannah Gadsby and Sue Perkins and many more.

The legendary Patti Smith was a highlight for Alan. “I loved how gentle and tender she was.”

Homo Sapiens is a platform for larger conversations.

“The bits I loved the most is where it took at turn that wasn’t expected,” adds Chris. “We were talking to Jeremy O Harris, who wrote Slave Play, this big thing on Broadway. He talked about – in his words – the objectification of queer Black bodies.

“I love having conversations like that, which is about us being a platform for things that people want to talk about. It’s niche, but so many people feel the same that he feels about being objectified, messaged on Grindr as if he’s just a piece of meat and stuff. And I thought that was amazing.”

“Sadly, queer people are still underrepresented and misunderstood,” Alan says. “So actually I think it’s really good to have a bunch of people having conversations that are kind of skewered [towards LGBT+ topics], but not always on an issue.”

Chris adds that the point is to illustrate queer life from all angles, something he says is often missing from other forms of media representation.

“Particularly for trans people – their presence in discourse often has to be as an activist and actually, but that’s not what real life is like.

“We’re just having fun, and listening to a trans person just talking. Rebecca Root [the actor], one of the first people we ever interviewed, she said: ‘Here’s a trans woman and guess what she’s doing.’ That’s what it’s about. I’m so excited for what people are doing now and how that conversation is developing.”

Homo Sapiens season four is hosted by Alan Cumming and Chris Sweeney and is available to listen to on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

 

More: Alan Cumming, Chris Sweeney, homo sapiens

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