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The Great North's Gay Kiss Just Made Animation History

'The Great North's Gay Kiss Just Made Animation History

'The Great North's Gay Kiss Just Made Animation History

"The Tobin Family have some of the biggest cartoon hearts on TV," writer Charlie Kelly told PRIDE.


From the creators of Bob's Burgers comes The Great North, FOX's latest animated series following the antics of the Tobins, a loveably quirky Alaskan family. 

The cast is packed with stars, including Nick Offerman, Jenny Slate, Will Forte, Aparna Nancherla, Dulcé Sloan, Megan Mullally, and even singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette.

Paul Rust plays Ham Tobin, the teenage older brother whose sexuality is never a topic of controversy. He just gets to be gay and his family loves him, a refreshing change from the many coming-out plotlines we normally see with young LGBTQ+ characters on television.

"I feel like a lot of TV treats queerness in characters as a source of drama or emotional tension, and it's really exciting to work on something where that's just not the case," Charlie Kelly, an openly gay staff writer on the series, tells PRIDE in an exclusive interview. 

We chat with the writer about episode 6, "Pride & Prejudance Adventure," where Ham and his sister Judy both crush over the same boy, the very gay history of the town is revealed, and the one and only Leslie Jordan guest stars. 

PRIDE: Ham is such a cute character. How did he come together in the writer's room?

Charlie Kelly: Ham is such a cute character, I agree! He existed way before the writer's room started and was developed by my bosses Wendy and Lizzie Molyneux when they started brainstorming the pilot way back when!

When I was meeting to work on the show, I got to watch an early version of the pilot and I remember being blown away that this super-evolved, grounded take on a gay teen could exist in broadcast animation. It was something I wanted to be a part of, like, big time! 

The show treats Ham being gay with a casualness that I think is so cute and endearing. Why did y'all make that choice to have his sexuality just be normal instead of a big coming out?

The Tobin Family have some of the biggest cartoon hearts on TV, and so it always seemed natural to me that they wouldn't be fazed by Ham's gayness and that, by extension, the show would play Ham's gayness as casual, and as just one part of who he is. I feel like a lot of TV treats queerness in characters as a source of drama or emotional tension, and it's really exciting to work on something where that's just not the case. 

When they said the two historical women were roommates into their old age, my immediate thought was "oh they're gay." So when Thomas Wintersbone's character outed all of them, I thought it was so funny and also a very common kind of revision of history. How did that storyline come together?

I think a lot of negative feelings about queerness, including those that I've encountered in the small town I'm from, result from people inheriting beliefs and then never questioning them. I think most people, if they really look at what they believe, will choose empathy in the end. Very few people want to hate queer people, I believe that. We are just truly so fun, we increase the property value everywhere we go, and we might be just overall better than our straight counterparts? I'm still waiting to see the science.

Anyway, this thinking about inherited beliefs lead me to the idea for the town myth about Thomas and his "epic romance" with Ruby that's been handed down for generations, but never really examined. I also knew I wanted to do a school dance episode. I have all these hilarious memories from a night when I wore one of my late friend Leah Andrew's dresses to an 8th-grade dance. Obviously, I got bullied like it was the bullying Olympics, but Leah, who was also queer, and was out, and was a few years older than me helped me to re-frame the experience as more hilarious and silly than traumatizing. That was a huge experience for me. It was never a part of the script, or the story, or anything, more just a feeling that helped me think about what was funny in the story we ended up telling. Anyway, it just kind of evolved from there with the help of the super talented writers I work with!   

How did Leslie Jordan get involved? How did he respond to the script when he first read it?

I don't know what his thoughts were when he first read it. It kind of came about when Wendy & Lizzie asked me if I had pitches for who might voice Thomas Wintersbone, and I mentioned Leslie. He'd starred on the last show I wrote for, and we've stayed friends, and there was just something about his hilarious drawl that felt right for voicing this historical, closeted lumberjack. My bosses liked the idea, so we went from there! 

The kiss between Ham and Crispin is a huge first for network TV. What does that mean to you?

I feel like Ham might be the first gay main-cast character on a broadcast animation show, but also what do I know? I also feel like the kiss between Ham and Crispin might be a first for primetime animation in terms of a real gay kiss?

I think having gay love stories on TV where the focus is the romance and not the go-tos of shame, bullying, sickness, or family strife is important. It's important to show positive outcomes for queer characters. Also, Ham's gayness is never the punch line on The Great North. Important! I hope that having this on TV helps queer people, especially young queer people. I hope it makes being gay seem exciting, happy, and funny, which it is.

I came out while watching a DVD of Brokeback Mountain that a very cool librarian named Suzanne loaned me after bravely violating her library's policy against renting R-rated material to minors. That movie ends with a murder by tire iron, a twist I did not see coming when I came out during the camping sex scene. Anyway, I always joke at work that I wish I'd been able to come out during our very gay episode, instead. And I mean it. I might not be an adult who has to throw out his Subaru every time he gets a flat. 

The Great North airs Sunday nights on FOX!

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