Down the hall from Howard Stern’s SiriusXMpire, sandwiched between the NFL station, comedian Jim Breuer’s ass and a pack of sports radio hosts, gay podcasters Ben Harvey and Dave Rubin are talking to All-American wrestler Hudson Taylor about homosexuality and homophobia in the locker room.
The Six Pack co-hosts press for information about Taylor’s Athlete Ally organization, which is dedicated to bringing coaches, athletes, fans and parents on board with the idea of respecting every member of the community, especially given the heteronormativity of the sports world. But, since Ben and Dave’s résumés list wickedly irreverent entertainers ahead of LGBT activists, the conversation with Taylor is heavy on laughs and obligatory references to male-on-male grappling and embarrassing singlet boners.
And that’s how it goes on The Six Pack, a must-download podcast for any and every member of the LGBT community who maintains a sense of humor, even while discussing serious issues like LGBT suicides, outings and scandals, and religious and political gay-bashing. Each podcast delivers six hot topics, usually including a celebrity guest, a gay-themed music choice, and the top headlines of the week.
Harvey and Rubin make perfect co-hosts. Harvey, 32, is a former radio DJ at K-Rock (Howard Stern’s old flagship station) who runs his own board while producing on the fly. The Pennsylvania native often wears a smirk, but he’s a serious newsreader that manages the flow of the show. Rubin, 35, the epitome of the Jewish comedian from Lawn Gisland, recently started making comedic appearances on The Joy Behar show. He knows his shit, but he usually wraps it in a well-timed joke consistent with his career.
Ben and Dave proudly boast that Entertainment Weekly called them a “mas macho” version of Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell. It’s a funny comparison (two gay dudes being “mas macho” than two straight dudes), but it’s not an apt one. The pair enjoys witty pop culture banter, sure, but they don’t do so in the name of staged interplay. While this won’t make for a good pull quote for their media files, there’s is more of a free-flowing partnership more reminiscent of a tandem like Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours or Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal in Running Scared. They’re street-wise, and they crack wise.
Today, May 25th, The Six Pack celebrates its second anniversary and releases its 69th podcast (featuring MSNBC’s out anchor Thomas Roberts). It’s been two solid, foundation-laying years of “news, views and dudes.” Numbers for each episode vary, but The Six Pack consistently achieves between 10,000 and 20,000 downloads per podcast. All told, Ben and Dave’s podcast has had over 40 million minutes of audio downloaded. The listener base continues to grow on a weekly basis, and they’ve actually outgrown two servers, having just signed on with Liberated Syndication, which distributes Adam Carolla’s and Marc Maron’s podcasts, to host the show and accommodate the traffic.
Harvey and Rubin say, believe it or not, much of their audience is closeted (at least anecdotally). The Six Pack gives these men and women a chance to be gay on the subway, or on a bus, in the privacy of their own earbuds. Thirty percent of their audience, they estimate, is overseas, in far-flung places like Iceland, China, Jordan, Israel and Argentina. They constantly receive emails from people talking about their coming out stories, or their fears of coming out. But when The Six Pack is on, their listeners get to live in their own world, out or not. It’s almost as if their show is a global meeting point.
Since blogs like Towleroad, Joe. My. God., and Pam’s House Blend, and organizations like GLAAD and Human Rights Campaign, seem to have cornered the outrage market on marriage equality, notable suicides and gay-bashing victim snapshots, The Six Pack works to entertain its international audience with more positive, or creative, or risqué topics. There’s Craigslist Missed Connections Set to Music, in which Ben and Dave read actual postings from the message board site with an underlying track. There are cutting-edge interviews with people like Black Spark, affectionately referred to as the Banksy of Gay Porn. There’s open discussions about Grindr, about “bi masc jocks” versus “bossy bottoms,” about where the gay community is headed when more LGBT folk are watching Bravo than Logo.
They’ve featured plenty of women — like Lisa Lampenelli, Fran Drescher, Joy Behar, Paula Poundstone, Sandra Bernhard — and just as many straight allies — like Ben Cohen, James Van Der Beek, Scott Herman, Hudson Taylor, Steve-O, Jackie Mason. But outside of Rep. Barney Frank and porn stars like Brent Everett and Mason Wyler, out gay male celebrities are notoriously absent from the show’s rundown.
Producer David Janet, the 22-year-old guy behind the guys who handles booking and ad sales, has a theory. “There’s nothing to gain for them,” Janet says. “They’ve already done the gay press thing.” But the Six Pack would give them the chance to do the “gay press thing” with a twist, a chance to be funny, to be charming rather than guarded, to be entirely self-aware in a way they haven’t been publicly before.
Ben and Dave over the past two years have done what it takes to move to the next level, having already achieved the feat of being the most downloaded LGBT podcast on iTunes. They’ve taken the show on the road, hitting San Diego, Austin, and San Francisco in 2010. They’ve partnered with Straight Out Adventures to sponsor trips to Turks and Caicos, and Equinox to offer a good rate on gym memberships for people who really want that lowercase six pack. They’ve built a large online following, using social media to stay in contact with their audience (as of post time they have more than 2,400 fans on Facebook and more than 4,200 followers on Twitter). And they recently debuted the Six Pack App, which allows iPhone and Android users to play any episode anywhere, among other features.
In a world in which The Advocate has become nothing more than a glorified Twitter account and LogoTV is about as relevant as the VCR, it’s next-generation podcasts like The Six Pack where the next generation of gays may come to get their news and commentary. And given the capable hosts of the show, that would be a pretty welcome development.