Australian writer/actor Tim Spencer’s new sitcom Ding Dong I’m Gay tells the story of Cameron (Spencer), an up-tight, nerdish gay man living in Sydney, opining over his brutish sometime boyfriend, Jack (Rupert Raineri). When Cam’s younger cousin Toby (Brayden Dalmazzone) comes out as gay too and shows up on Cameron’s doorstep, things get tense around the house. Can Cam maintain his sanity, even while Toby hooks up with half of Sydney…possibly including Jack?
Ding Dong I’m Gay combines animation and live-action into a campy and wacky send-up of gay life, dating apps and sexual taboos. Ready to chat about his inspiration, we caught up with Spencer dressed in a shirt which matches the show’s opening credits. We have a feeling that was no accident.
Ding Dong I’m Gay arrives on YouTube July 22.
What exactly is it in your own life that inspired this wacky series?
That is a big question. I guess I was really interested in looking at moments of isolation in contemporary gay life. I think and looking at digital culture, even though it’s designed to keep us connected, it seems as if the opposite is in fact happening. It’s making us very isolated and anxious and nervous to reach out and connect to people on a real level.
My partner is from the regional New South Wales, and I grew up in metropolitan Sydney. So being with him is the first real experience I’ve had with a regional, rural community. Just talking to Josh about his experience and moving to Sydney and what that was like, it started this idea of realizing that living in regional spaces LGBTQ people often feel the need to leave to find their people. And that is often the case. But the city isn’t this be all/end all that will solve all those problems. It is potentially just as isolating and unpleasant. So that was the genesis of Toby and Cameron. Cameron moved to Sydney six years ago, and it’s not gone as planned. It’s not the utopia he thought it would be. Then for his young, crass, brash cousin to move to Sydney and have all this success—it’s the nail in the coffin of his self-confidence.
So production of the show has had an unusual trajectory, and hopefully, you can clear this up for us. It started as a series of three digital shorts a few years ago. Now you’re doing a full season of longer episodes. So does continuity carry over?
It does. The story follows directly from the pilot episodes [the digital shorts], which are still free on YouTube. We made the pilot episodes over two years ago. That came about because myself and my fellow producers realized that it would be very hard to convince people that there is a story and a show. You can pitch all you want, but until you see the characters and their dynamics and the tone, it’s very hard to convey that in a way that convinces them.
So how did the transition from digital shorts to a series partially funded with government grants come about?
It was a big learning curve. We were always confident that this story was really strong, but that’s the first step. Obviously, in the pilot series, episodes are between seven minutes and one minute filmed over one weekend. We were aware of the commitment to a producing schedule, production, post-production and all the rigors that go into that. But between the three of us, we all have lives and families, and its been a real challenge. But if it wasn’t difficult as it was, it wouldn’t be as fun either.
Brayden Dalmazzone replaces Remy Brand in this season as Toby. Why the recasting?
It was largely scheduling. Remy couldn’t commit to the production schedule. It was by no means acrimonious. Remy does a great job in the pilot, but we were very happy and excited to work with Brayden this season. He brings a free and exciting energy to Toby that’s really complementary to the dynamic with Cameron.
He approaches the role with vigor, that’s for sure.
And he has such great vulnerability. He can be very soft and a little lost. It’s beautiful.
Both of you do, which is what makes the character dynamic so interesting. One of the major subplots of the season has to do with Cam lusting over his ex Jack, and Toby also lusting over Jack. What do they see in him? And this happens in real life, but Jack seems to have no redeeming qualities.
Well, this is one of those weird moments—am I answering for Cameron, or as myself?
That’s kind of the weirdness of writing and creating a show and starring in it. It definitely came from personal experience, an infatuation with someone who is indescribably charismatic and sexy, but as you say, has little redeeming factors.
And who often shows very little interest or attraction to you. In my twenties, I think I was quite adept at throwing myself at people who didn’t want me. I don’t regret that process, because it’s really formative and it happened for a reason. You know, it’s part of discovering who you are and finding those people you want to invest in, and who will invest back in you. And it happens in the straight world as well. But in the gay world, I think it is probably amplified a little bit. There is often a cult of personality in the club scene, or even now in the digital world on social media. The influencer has exacerbated the feelings of investing in the idea of a person rather than the person themselves.
Well said. One of my favorite lines in the first episode is “You need to be aloof, otherwise, guys think you have emotions.” There’s a lot in that statement. Do you think it’s true, first of all? And if it is, why do you think gay men obsess over the ideal?
I think…in the context Cameron says that, he’s setting up his cousin’s profile on Boink.
A fictional app, to be clear.
Yes, for d*ck pics.
I did search to see if it was real.
We talked about creating it, but unfortunately, none of us are that adept at app design. So in that context, when you’re putting yourself out there on dating apps, I think there is an underlying rule—for whatever reason—that you don’t let people in too much. You have to tap into this idea of the face and the torso and just run with it. I don’t know that is such a bad thing; dating apps have their place in contemporary dating. And sometimes it is just about a one-time thing where you don’t want to be super vulnerable. And that’s fine. But that does often bleed into dating and relationships as well.
So the aloof thing is something that came to me. It’s something I’ve been hearing lately: be careful, or you’ll catch feelings. And the idea of catching feelings is awful but true.
And that speaks to the earlier issues of the digital culture that everybody lives in now, not just queer culture. But on the subject of gay dating, the show really lampoons gay life: dating apps, seducing men by trying be something you’re not, influencer culture. There is so much criticism of the digital era from those who think it’s ruined gay culture. In other words, that queer folk don’t gather in person anymore and hide behind digital cloaks. Do you think that is true?
Let’s just say I was lucky enough to experience the queer community before dating apps were as prevalent as they are. I definitely had the experience of joining the gay community and finidng it through a bar or a group of friends. So I’ve seen it from both angles. And being in a committed relationship now for seven years, my involvement with the new world is sort of modest. I don’t go to bars as much. It’s so hard to speak for everyone, because experiences are so varied. I’m sure there are a lot of people who really love the club scene.
Do you think of Toby and Cam as sad characters?
I went into creating the show wanting a certain level of pathos to these characters, particularly Cameron. I think because he’s so vulnerable and desperate as well, there’s a bit of an edge to everything he does that is sad. It’s kind of this thing where you can see his veneer is very thin, but Cameron thinks he’s a master at hiding it. In fact, the opposite is true. The desperation of attracting and keeping Jack focused on him after there’s been very little reason to, the kind of need to impress the influencers that he meets. It reads as a bit lonely and desperate. The emotional core we were trying to communicate between Toby and Cameron is that they do have a very special bond. For Cam, it’s surprising and comforting, I think, because it’s been so long since he’s had a valuable connection. It’s annoying to him that it is Toby, his cousin. It’s a double-edged sword for Cameron that he comes to appreciate having Toby around, but annoying as well.
So, I detect throughout the season—particularly in the finale—a sense of Cam and Toby lusting after one another. Do they lust for one another, or are they just fascinated by each other?
I think it’s the latter. It’s something we have in our comedy toolbox. There are moments where we open that Pandora’s Box a bit, just to be risque. But they’re two sides of the same coin, inextricably linked. And they’re living in a one-room apartment, so there’s a certain level of closeness. It’s also a comedic ploy for Cameron who’s so neat and tidy and anal-retentive to have this slob sleeping on his couch and walking around naked. That sexual permissiveness that Toby has—it wouldn’t bother him if something did happen. But it would never happen because Cameron is Cameron.
That makes sense, particularly given how the season ends, though I won’t give that away here.
It’s also the classic sitcom “will they or won’t they.” It’s just in this case, it has a particular taboo connected to it.
You co-wrote the season with Zoe Norton Lodge. What’s the process like between the two of you in terms of developing a script?
We were really lucky to work with each other. Zoe and I went to university together. This is the first time we’ve worked together in a number of years. I started with a writers’ room at the beginning of developing this season. That was a really thorough process, because obviously, we had the pilot as well. After that, we had episode outlines, but it was quite an intertwined process. We sat and wrote the episodes together, talked through each episode. We’d each go away and then come back with new stuff. It was very collaborative. It was great.
Each episode uses an opening animation like something out of a cartridge game from the 90s. You also employ zany, comic book-like pop-up animations in the live-action scenes. What inspired that?
I think it goes back to my adolescence as a gay man. It sort of fades into the idea of growing up gay in a place where you don’t fit in. For me, there was always a certain level of fantasy and creation in my mind to make the world make sense to me. The animation was always there in the script, and we were always clear about having animation so there’s a kind of organic feel. As a device, it was sort of nodding to being a fantasist. It’s a way of making the world make sense, so Toby and Cameron have these sort of flights of fantasy that are visual representations through the animations. Working with Ben Toupein our animation supervisor was a joy. He’d always come back with amazing stuff. I think that’s something that also elevates the series. On YouTube, you sort of need a certain level of production value in order for people to take it seriously. The animation does that.
So will there be future seasons? Are they written?
We do, I’m sort of working on the outline for Season 2 as we speak. There are a lot of ideas that we have that didn’t make the cut the first time around. How much plot is too much? It’s a big process to figure out. It’s hard to write a seven-minute episode, to have a beginning, middle and end, and a trajectory for the season is a big ask. It’s something that I have a much stronger appreciation for now that we’re going into our second season. I’m excited to revisit some of those ideas and see the characters flung into more awkward and awful situations. It’s all very early at the moment.
What plots can you tease us with?
Yeah. And Toby’s bottoming journey continues. Cameron is in a different place entirely. He’s the one who is being pursued. If I get my way—as I say it’s early—the character of Toby’s assh*le is just too good not to have back. Working with Trevor, who does the voice, and with Ben, who does the animation is kind of great.
Give him his own spinoff.
Ding Dong I’m Gay arrives on YouTube July 22.