Television’s boldest, brashest, most unfiltered gay character makes his debut Monday night with the premiere of Chozen (FX, 10: 30 p.m.), a new animated comedy from the studio behind Archer. It tells the story of a white, gay rapper who spent 10 years in prison after being framed by a jealous rival. Newly out and unapologetically out, Chozen is determined to get to the top of the music business and exact his revenge on the man who put him behind bars—and he must do it while crashing on his sister’s couch on the campus of a liberal arts university.
June Thomas spoke with creator Grant Dekernion, about the show’s origins, its portrayal of gay life, and how Chozen might evolve as he adjusts to live on the outside.
Slate: Was Chozen always gay?
Grant Dekernion: Yes.
Dekernion: I wanted a character I haven't seen before on TV. I'd seen gay hip-hop artists, but I 'd never seen a story about one. He's a gay man, but if you met him on the street, that would be the least interesting thing about him. He's very much, "I am what I am."
Slate: Chozen is completely comfortable about his sexuality; he doesn’t have any shame about liking “dudes with smooth skin,” but he’s a lone wolf. He doesn't have any kind of gay community.
Dekernion: I think lone wolf is a great way to describe him. From 18 to 28, he was away in prison, so he's more familiar with that culture than any other. That's how he's been indoctrinated. So when he gets out, he doesn't really feel the need to search out any other culture. He's very confident, very sure of himself. In the third episode [when he goes to a college LGBT group], those meetings might not be for him, but he gets it. He’s just not invested in it that way.
Slate: There’s a lot of potential material in having Chozen staying with his sister on a college campus. Why did you choose that setting?
Dekernion: Well, I had this idea of him coming out of jail, and he has to get the band back together—it was all very reminiscent of The Blues Brothers in a way—and I thought obviously he'll have family, and he’ll want to see them, but it was a little too much to bring someone back into the world, and here's a band, here's an enemy, here's a whole family. So we thought, "We'll give him a younger sister, Tracy, and what's the last place you'd probably expect a convict to be crashing when he gets out of prison? A dorm at a liberal arts university.” We figured that was an unlikely place for him to be. It was also a great way to get his sister and him immediately in a tough situation. To me, the character of Tracy is one of the most important characters on the series, because she’s the most solid anchor to who Chozen really is and was.
Slate: I love how the other characters sometimes respond to his sexual frankness with a momentary expression of discomfort. They love him, but they’re shocked.
Dekernion: I feel those are very real responses. I don't see them as necessarily being attached to Chozen’s sexual identity. Bottom line: Chozen is an oversharer. I think a lot of us, if anyone we knew decided to just offhandedly give us a detailed description of their sexual trysts from the night before, we might stop short a little bit.
Slate: I know there are no sacred cows in comedy, but Chozen powers through a lot of sensitive subjects: prison rape, bullying, safe space, just to name a few. Are you trolling for outrage? You must be aware that you're touching on some very sensitive areas.
Dekernion: I guess I'm aware of it, but I'm in no way trolling for outrage. I don't think this show has anything to do with rape. I feel like I need to treat everything evenly. I don't have hang-ups about any of these things, and nor do the writers, nor does anyone on this show. We’re trying to write as true as we can to these characters. I'm definitely not looking to be controversial.
Slate: Do you think Chozen’s relationship with [frat-boy lacrosse-player] Hunter is a healthy one?
Dekernion: Oh, I don't know if I'd say that. I think his relationship with Hunter begins in the way Chozen begins many relationships, but we tried to build in some subtlety. As we see them throughout the season, Chozen tries to find a way to have a relationship. It may not begin where it's a very loving, equitable situation, but I think Hunter will make it known that he'd like something more real, and Chozen will try to see if he's willing and/or able to do that. And you'll also see changes in Hunter. So, it's not healthy, but I think it's a dynamic that exists.
Slate: Are you gay?
Dekernion: I'm not gay.
Slate: I'm surprised to hear that. Did you research gay culture?
Dekernion: I don't know if I'd call it research. I grew up in Los Angeles. I’ve counted many gay men and women as colleagues and friends for the bulk of my life. In my leaner years, when I was short on money, a bunch of my friends would take me for $2 drinks at Fiesta Cantina on Tuesday nights. I've been in and around the community my whole life, so that was never a stretch.
This interview has been edited and condensed.