We’re Here, Queer and on TV! with Steven Canals and Dominick Pupa
The Ricki Lake Show was one of the few spaces LGBTQ+ people could see themselves on TV in the 90s, and could hear their stories told. Have things gotten better? Ricki and Kalen dig into representation in front of and behind the camera with Pose co-creator Steven Canals and past The Ricki Lake Show producer Dominick Pupa. They talk about what it means to see yourself on TV, creating safe spaces to work, and the responsibilities of representation. Plus, what is giving them moments of joy in the queer community.
Please note, Raised By Ricki contains mature themes and may not be appropriate for all listeners.
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Ricki Lake, Steven Canals, Dominick Pupa, Kalen Allen
Ricki Lake 00:12
Welcome everyone to another episode of Raised by Ricki. I am Ricki Lake.
Kalen Allen 00:17
And I’m Kalen Allen.
Ricki Lake 00:22
I have a little scratchy throat to be a little like something going on. But I’m pushing through because I’m a professional.
Kalen Allen 00:28
Yes, a throat coat. You just need to eliminate them.
Ricki Lake 00:31
I need to I need you. I’m gonna go like once we’re done. I’m gonna medicate. Okay. And you know, yeah, that means a lot.
Kalen Allen 00:37
Yeah, we know what that means.
Ricki Lake 00:38
I like to self-medicate. Speaking of medicating, you’re a big fan of hosting. Like I said, I’m gonna blame it on my sore throat. Oh, I’m not operating at 100% right now, but I still love me.
Kalen Allen 01:03
I still love Ricki Lake.
Ricki Lake 01:08
I love you Kalen, and I’m really excited you’re coming over next week.
Kalen Allen 01:11
I am. This is the segue okay. So yes, everybody that you listen to so Ricki, you know invited me over to her house in Malibu and I’m going to go but see what was started out as like Ellen come over started to become like, Kalen come over. And this person go come this person go come this person gonna come and go. I’m not a big people person. I like people. But you gotta ease me into it now Ricki, I know. You are a big fan of hosting friends at show house. But what kind of party host are you?
Ricki Lake 01:45
On the best kind? I’m already planning my Thanksgiving now that here’s the thing between you and me. I hire people. I throw it together casually both my husband and I we do not cook. I am not good at it. My mother never cooked when I was a kid like never taught me. I grew up on hungry man dinners. Do you know what a hungry man dinner like you do? Do they still exist? I believe they do actually. Well, there’s like no nutritional value. And that’s what I lived on in my childhood which you know, probably says a lot of things but I love hosting. But what about you hosting? Do you like to throw big?
Kalen Allen 02:21
I love hosting. I love hosting parties and I go all out. Like even today. I’ve already decided that my friends giving of what day I’m going to do that. And I’m already about to order me a turkey inflatable that I can put up for a photo moment like I’m getting all customized paper plates and I am Bree Van de Kamp if you’ve ever watched Desperate Housewives, that’s me.
Ricki Lake 02:43
Wait, which character is that?
Kalen Allen 02:44
Bree Van de Kamp was like the homemaker like she was she had the cookbooks.
Ricki Lake 02:55
I preferred her on Melrose Place. I was a big Melrose Place fan. But, okay, so you’re that character? I get it. Yeah, I sort of, I’m not good with presentation. Like, it’ll be good. You know, and I’m very casual. Like, there’s nothing formal about my house at all. It’s like bare feet. It’s anything goes. You know, but I’m so excited to host you.
Kalen Allen 03:17
Well, thank you. I’m excited to be there.
Ricki Lake 03:22
I’m trying, I want to segue into our guest today. Because I’m really, I’m really excited.
Kalen Allen 03:32
Well, let me help you out. Let me help you out. You were so young when hairspray came out. Right. When you started your show? Did you did you feel like it was weird going to big Hollywood parties. Like were you nervous?
Ricki Lake 03:54
I was so starstruck. I was like, like, it was just like, you know, when I had that dinner with Madonna and Tupac, and just like, you know, I cannot believe like, it’s like, I pinch myself that like, I can’t believe I’m like invited to these things. It’s crazy. But that wore off. Like I definitely as I’ve been around for a really long time. I don’t necessarily get starstruck to you.
Kalen Allen 04:16
I think my wore off pretty early. And I think the reason why is because Ellen, there were celebrities there every single day, you know, like it was not uncommon for me to walk into the office and Jason Sudeikis is walking down the hallway, or Christian Bale is coming in because she’s guest hosting or she got a spot. And she loves to come on. Because I remember one time I think […] was on the show, her husband and Kristen was just hanging out backstage getting a Coca Cola talking to people. So like it became normal to me, you know, very quickly.
Ricki Lake 04:49
Did you get to bond with them? Did you get to like do conversations with these people?
Kalen Allen 04:54
I remember when Seth Rogen came and this was in the early years.
Ricki Lake 04:58
I want to get high with him.
Kalen Allen 04:59
I could see that happening. I remember I went and met him in the in the dressing room because, you know, he was one of the first people to retreat my food videos. So that was a big deal for me. I remember really being able to form a relationship with Wanda Sykes and Wanda Sykes narrate it for Christmas sake, my movie musical. So I did have the opportunity to really bond with people but I tended, I had a tendency to just bond with the people that meant something to me. I think that’s when I get starstruck. When I’m meeting someone that actually means somebody to me not just because they’re a celebrity. You know what I mean?
Ricki Lake 05:29
Isn’t it fun when they know your work and they are a fan?
Kalen Allen 05:31
Oh, yeah. I know how I feel about Beyonce and Oprah. That was that experience.
Ricki Lake 05:37
Are you still like?
Kalen Allen 05:40
How happy I’ve been since then. It was like all my pain and trauma was healed. Forget them, Beyonce healed me.
Ricki Lake 05:48
The mood was lifted for sure. Well, today, let’s talk about who we’re having on the show because it’s super exciting. Steven Canals from Pose. He’s the creator and the genius behind that very important groundbreaking show Pose. And then we also have Dominic Pupa. Yes, who’s a really, really hilarious Comedian. And he, of course, was on my old show, he worked as a producer for three seasons, he was my warmup guy. And I can’t wait to like break shit down with them.
Kalen Allen 06:17
I agree, because at this time, the Ricki Lake Show was even being shown in gay bars. You know, I think you meant a, a whole lot to the LGBTQ plus community. And so we wanted to bring these two wonderful guests on to be able to talk about the impact of the Ricki Lake Show within the queer community itself.
Ricki Lake 06:38
It’s changed a lot, but ya know, I’m so excited to talk to them and hear what they have to say about representation in the media, and particularly when it came to the Ricki Lake show.
Kalen Allen 06:46
Somebody is at the door.
Ricki Lake 06:57
Welcome, Steven and Dom, Dom, you and I go way back. You were producer on the Ricki Lake Show from what 97′ to 2000. And Steven, of course, most people know you as the CO creator of the genius, groundbreaking FX series Pose. Tell us a little bit about yourself. And did you grew up watching my show?
Steven Canals 07:20
I absolutely did grew up watching a show. Listen, I grew up in the Bronx, this was, you know, the 1980s it was a very different New York than the one that exists today. My parents were really young. And you know, we didn’t have a lot of resources. So I grew up in housing projects, but was surrounded by love and family, you know, learned about resilience, very, very young, which I think infuse that in all of my work as much as possible now as an adult, but I loved story. You know, my mom is a, she recently retired, but my mom was a kindergarten teacher. And she worked in the Bronx for, you know, the better part of 35, almost 40 years as an educator. And so, being in the classroom, and more specifically, having an appreciation of people’s differences and the nuances to a person’s story is always been really important to me. So it’s lovely to be here with both of you. Because I think, you know, Caitlin is someone who is utilizing social media and such a great way to share story and experience. And then obviously, Ricki Lake I, in high school, I used to rush home to watch the Ricki Lake Show, you know, and such a beautiful part of what you did, for me was teach me that we are all so much more alike than we are different. You know, and that’s such an incredible ethos that I again, tried to carry through in all of my work.
Ricki Lake 08:47
Thank you for saying that. And Dom I mean, you were there. You were openly gay at that time, right? When you worked on my show?
Dominick Pupa 08:53
Yes. It was the first job I had after I’d come out. And it’s funny to look back on it now how astonishing that particular job was because there were so many openly gay people working at the show. There were so many people of color working at the show, and it was just sort of incidental to working there. And it wasn’t until I left the show and started working other places when I found myself more defensive about being gay at work or wondering where all the people of color were at work. And it really is to look back on what is now almost 25 years, how in this day and age, you have people whose job at companies is to make sure that their companies are diversifying their employees. But at the Ricki Lake show, it was just as diverse behind the camera as it was on television without incident. I mean, it wasn’t even anything we even discussed when we were planning the shows. It’s just how it came together. It was always clear people always people have color just everywhere. And it was really, really much more ahead of its time than I think we realized only now what when I think about it, and I talk to you occasionally do I realize what a sort of like little gift to that show was to work on.
Ricki Lake 10:17
Like, I wonder why were we you know, more progressive than everyone else at that time doing, you know, was it a directive to have like gay couples treated equally like and you know, we never differentiated and said, Here comes the gay story, you know, it was like, always sort of seamless. And it was just Yeah, treating one crazy dynamic relationships with another it didn’t matter what their sexual orientation was or what color they were. But do you think it was start from the top?
Dominick Pupa 10:46
I think it started with you really, I’m not trying to, you know, blow smoke here. But I think it started with you. I think it started with John Waters. I think it started with who you were already to the queer community. And I think that you were already because of hairspray, which had people of color which appealed to a queer audience, which had divine in it, I think you were already with, before the word started getting overused, you were already sort of iconic in the queer community. And so I think you just attracted those people to be on the show to work on the show.
Ricki Lake 11:24
They felt maybe it was a safe space, or that they were going to be 100.
Dominick Pupa 11:27
That’s exactly what working there was. I’m so glad you use that phrase, because it really was a safe space. I don’t think I realized how safe it was until I started working. You know, in other places where people would want you to tone it down as it were, but there was no toning it down like working on that show, working on your show was exactly what a viewer would hope it would be working on that show. It was just a million laughs It was just so much fun.
Steven Canals 11:55
Can I bring an intersectional lens into this though, because I you know, as having again, having grown up in the Bronx, and I grew up in housing projects, and you know, it was the community I grew up in the South Bronx, this was Castle hills, primarily black and Latin. And I think the reason why the Ricki Lake Show stood out amongst and there were a ton of other shows then right, like, you know, Montel and Jenny Jones, and you had all these other folks, Sally, Jessy Raphael, but you were young, you were cool, you were hip. And I think that there was, at least my experience in the mid-90s, as a teenager was like our experience wasn’t valued. I think we still exist in this world, right? Where it’s like, only now we sort of starting to kind of pay attention to like, what Gen Z has to say, but for the most part, then it was like you’re a child. And that’s your place. And I think that on your shows like No, all people stories are valued. All peoples narratives are important. And I think that there was a deeper connection to the audience at large. And so I know in my community, that was the show that everyone was showing up to watch, because they felt seen and they felt heard. And so it was more than just queerness. I think that there was also class and race that was part of making your show really important to the community.
Kalen Allen 13:10
Now, Steven, when you started to create pose, and because we’re talking about like the representation that was at, you know, the Ricki Lake Show, was it how did you cultivate a workplace in a show that was able to also bring so much representation because, you know, a lot of times we talked about the Ricki Lake show, we talked about how this was the first time that you know, people of color, were being able to be shown on daytime television in the talk show space. And I think for me, you know, in my generation, you know, it’s like, the reason why I’m on this podcast is because I didn’t grow up with the Ricki Lake Show. But what I did grow up with is pose you know, and so being able to have something for the first time that I was able to see myself in, how did you cultivate that type of environment, even on screen and behind the scenes.
Steven Canals 14:01
Well, I will say I think that it again, an all roads go back to mom but I after I graduated with a degree in cinema from Binghamton University, I spent nearly a decade the better part of my 20s in the early part of my 30s, working in higher education as a college administrator. And I started in residence life, but I ended my career working in multicultural and intercultural offices talking about the intersection of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion. And so I bring all of that into my practice as a storyteller. And so for me, outside of my lived experience as a person of color as a queer person growing up in the Bronx, I want to see representation, I want to see the industry be better. And I know that if I in my 40s I’m looking out at the landscape and not seeing myself then I know for damn sure that there are folks who are younger than me who also are not seeing themselves. And so whenever I’m thinking about creating work, it’s always whose story isn’t being told who had hasn’t been centered. And if they have been centered, what has that representation looked like? Right? So in the case of POWs it was, where are all the Black and Brown, queer and trans people? And what has the narrative been around the community? You know, and so for me, as a cis person, I was exhausted, seeing trans narratives be the body in the gutter, or I’m the beginning of, you know, enlightenment for some cis man, you know, it’s like, that’s enough of that already, you know? And so like, where’s all the queer joy? You know? And where are the narratives that embolden the community to go out in the world and do great things, you know? And so for me, that really was the impetus truly for POWs.
Ricki Lake 15:39
Okay, kids, we need to take a quick break, but we’re gonna be right back. I don’t really stop and think about the legacy and what we were able to achieve at a time that was so important to so many. It was too big for me to wrap my head around when I was doing it. Did you know when you were doing Pose that the impact that it was going to have?
Steven Canals 16:14
That’s a great question. The truth is, you know, I wrote the first draft of that pilot, as a graduate student at UCLA. So this was very beginning of 2014, sold it to FX, and to Ryan Murphy, towards the end of 2016. So it was about two and a half years from writing the pilot to selling it. And in that two and a half years, I had 161 meetings, a combination of pitch meetings where I was really actively trying to sell it. And then general meetings where I’m just in a room talking to execs about why they should invest in the project. And there was always some form of No, right it was, I don’t know where a show like this lives, I don’t know, the audience for this show, you’re never gonna get the money to make it because it’s too black. It’s too brown. It’s a period piece. It’s too queer. There’s too many trans characters. So I think the process of selling it to, again to Ryan and having effects invest in it the whole way through, I think I was always sort of waiting for the shoe to drop, I was always waiting for someone to kind of pull the rug out from under me and say, sorry, we changed our mind. And even after we made it, and it went out into the world, really and truly, it’s like, it makes me want to cry thinking about, there was such a deep amount of fear for me that it’s like, this is going to be the big flap in Ryan Murphy’s career. And the audience isn’t going to show up and no one’s going to get it. And I cannot begin to tell you the feeling of relief I had when I saw those first handful of reviews. Were there were like, it’s just a beautiful family show. And I was like, oh my god, people get it. They got it. And I thought okay, well, we’ll find an audience then. And we did. And so it to me, it was like it was such a relief, but also a really beautiful lesson to always lean all the way into the truth.
Ricki Lake 18:00
Right? From the beginning of starting that project to where we are now. How do you feel about today’s climate with just acceptance? And I mean, I just see all these laws being changed. It just feels we need POWs more than ever; you know?
Steven Canals 18:16
That’s a complicated question for me. And I’ll give you the hopeful answer. But I’ll steep it in truth, which is, it’s really lovely to look out on the landscape and see shows like We’re Here and Queer Eye. And, you know, there’s so many other great shows out in the world right now that are centering trans people that I love, you know, and yet, the truth is, you know, every year GLAAD does that report called, you know, where we are on television, and you know, the numbers have sort of steadily increased, but for me not enough, you know, and when I think specifically about Pose, right, we had Mikayla J. Or Mikayla J. Rodriguez, playing the character of Blanca, she was number one on our call sheet. That’s major to have a black Puerto Rican trans woman, number one on a call sheet for a television show that airs on FX. I don’t know any other television shows right now any other scripted dramas that have a trans woman, regardless of race, as number one on the call sheet, right? And so it’s hard for me to sort of pat myself on the back to say, well, how great Pose was when it’s like, I know, but we went into it with the intention of changing the landscape and I have to ask the question has it though, you know, so it’s great to see the opportunities coming out of the show for the women right, so you know, MJ now is started, Mikayla J is now on loot on Apple, right? You have Angelica Ross. You know, she’s in Chicago on Broadway like so the women are doing really beautiful, great things. But when it comes to just the trans community as a whole and like, do they have a toehold now in the industry and the way that we talked about it when we were making the show? I’m not quite sure we’re there yet. I’m hopeful that we’ll get there. But it feels like we haven’t quite put our foot on the gas hard enough. We’re not moving fast enough, not for me anyway. So it’s complicated. It’s like, I’m hopeful. I look out in the industry, and I see really great things happening. But I want more.
Kalen Allen 20:19
Is it wanting more? Or is it more so it’s just like you want it to be the norm. Like, it shouldn’t be something that has to be an outlier. Just like when we see straight cis people on TV all the time, it’s like, this should just be multiple examples of different shows that have queer people centered it in instead of just having one every couple of years.
Steven Canals 20:41
For sure. I mean, that’s kind of the thing is, it’s what you’re speaking to is the burden of representation, right, which is, historically, you would have enough space for you know, there’s one female character, in the midst of all these men, you know, there’s one queer character or one trans character. And I think the thing that we did that felt so different and unique is we didn’t have one trans woman, we had five, a series regulars, right. And so here, you were able to dig all the way into the nuances of what it means to be a queer or trans person. I think it’s the reason why people didn’t come at us for making choices that we’ve seen before that have been problematic. So for example, the character that India more played on the show Angel, she’s a survival sex worker, that’s something that we’ve seen perpetuated in media quite a bit, even though that is for some trans women an actual experience. I think the reason why people didn’t come at us for making that choice narratively, is that there were four other trans women with very different experiences. And so here, we were able to say, look, this is the beauty and the breadth of the and the fullness of the community. But there aren’t enough shows that are leaning all the way into that diversity. Right?
Kalen Allen 21:52
I also think it’s like, this is where the advantage comes with what I do, because I think sometimes people leave what I do kind out of the conversation, because it doesn’t necessarily like my audience is not New York or LA, or anything like and like, I am directly in these, like Middle America homes, you know, and I think that is why I choose to be so bold and loud. Because I think a lot of times when we make this content, we make this content for the communities that already have that representation, instead of figuring out how to spread into the places that don’t have, you know, and I think I understood that, because I was from Kansas, you know, so like when I was growing up, and I remember I did an interview and somebody was talking about how people appropriate like, gay slang and stuff like that. And I was like, well, in Kansas, we didn’t have ballroom. I said, I learned gay slang from watching people like Tiffany Pollard and Tamar Braxton, you know, so I said, sometimes, there is good that comes out of these people, you know, using our terms and our slang because it’s reaching show different communities that don’t have access directly to you know, all these other places. And I think over time, they can learn where it actually comes from awareness rooted from but I would say, I try to always focus on how am I reaching kids and you know, communities that don’t have access to ballroom culture, and they don’t know what it’s like to what West Hollywood is and stuff like that, you know?
Dominick Pupa 23:32
You know, Harvey Firestein has always said he’s like, never critique what the gay people are doing. Just be happy that someone’s watching them, because any representation is good. And I’ll never forget, when drag race first came on, which was like, oh, nine or 2010, or something. And Rue was on the view. And one of the moderators said, where have you been for like you did supermodel you were all over the 90s. And then you sort of disappeared. And Rue was like, there was no space for me the past eight years, referring specifically to the eight years that George W. Bush was president, he was like, this was not my world anymore. Like especially where we’re on the cusp of possibly something like that happening. Again, you know, it’s very, like this television, tech talks. All of it is you know; it can never be dismissed. And you must keep going, you know, the louder people hate you. The harder you have to try and the more shit you’ve done more content you have to make. But gay joy.
Kalen Allen 24:39
Dom, I have a question. So like, we’re talking about, you know, representation in TV changing. In today’s day and age for you back then. What were examples of queerness that you saw on TV?
Dominick Pupa 24:53
Before working at Ricky? Well, I grew up in the 70s. So my examples of queer This were Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares, Charles Nelson Reilly on Match Game and these are people who I mean, if you anyone who’s actually seen my stand-up act, you see those influences. Still I’m just an old quique just like they were. And it’s an it’s humor that I, you know, I would never shy away from that sort of stereotypical feminine comedy, you know, like the whole cellulite closet as it were, that we’ve been talking about for decades. But those were the examples that trans people not, I mean, a drag boy, George, I mean, when Culture Club accepted their Grammy for Best New artists, I think it was in 82, or 83. And boy, George did something really controversial. They accepted by a satellite from London, and he said, you know, a good drag queen when you see one, and America just clutched their fucking pearls. They were like, what? Oh, my god, me. He’s not just a man wearing makeup. And it was sort of shocking. And this happening all it at the beginning and during the AIDS crisis. So my representation, I’m in my early 50s, I’m 51. And my, I want to clarify, so no one thinks I’m 54. Got to be careful. There was very little representation. I know had, you know, Ricky had a dovetailing off a question Ricky and asked Stephen before about, like the current climate, you know, I am old enough to have attended many of the funerals depicted in Pose, in the early and mid-90s. And so I grew up watching people pass away under a government that very blatantly did not give a shit about them at all. And anything that a gay or queer kid has in the arts or in the news or anything to hang on to, under a regime like that is truly life or death. Truly, because I am honestly terrified about all these anti-trans and anti-women laws that are coming up. I think it’s going to be bad. I think it’s going to be temporary, but I think it’s going to be bad. And so whatever the Ricki Lake shows, and the poses of these next couple of years are going to be RuPaul drag race. It’s all incredibly important. And it’s why I bristle when I hear anyone in the gay community, talk shit about RuPaul’s drag race, I’m just like, you should just be quiet. Because while there may be problematic elements of the show, is there enough trans representation? Just that show being there is literally it’s been proven that it’s saving people’s lives. I mean, there are dozens, if not hundreds of kids that will tweet about how the show is their lifeline, you know, and it really is, and it’s not an overstatement to say that the arts Pose, the Ricki Lake Show, these are things that troubled queer children will hang on to and children of color and trans kids hang on to because they know that once they’re able to break out of whatever little prison they’re in, that there’s a world out there where they are going to survive and thrive. It’s incredibly, incredibly important.
Ricki Lake 28:16
All right, let’s take a break. We’ll be right back. When we talk about some of the titles that we did back then and you get your reaction dumb, and see if it rings a bell with you, Steven. Did we did a show that I think you produced you hate that I’m gay too bad. I’m proposing to my lover anyway. Do you remember that show? What happened on it? Was a feel good show. Ultimately. I think it was?
Dominick Pupa 28:56
Ultimately yeah, I mean, you have to understand like the audience’s at the Ricki Lake Show, the entire studio audiences. They just wanted to see anything that would make them draw breath or scream and like a man proposing to another man was something that no one had ever actually witnessed before. And was it shocking? Sure. I mean, if you’d never seen it before, but I think the thing that was most shocking was that it was so boringly similar to sis men proposing to assist women, right? That’s the shocking part, which is just like, well, why aren’t they wearing dresses? Why aren’t they flouncing about it’s just a guy on a knee proposing to another dude.
Ricki Lake 29:41
And was it easy to find those people to come on the show and do that and tell that story and propose?
Dominick Pupa 29:47
Easy, yes, but I definitely remember some of the guests not concerned but just like knowing that when they went home, they were going to have to answer a lot of questions to people because a lot of them I think had already been out. But this was definitely 10 steps above what their families would be expecting that they would be out on television on a really, really popular television show and propose to somebody.
Ricki Lake 30:13
post that Jenny Jones incident. You’re familiar with Steven when two guests, and basically I’d heard that they’d had a relationship, they were intimate. It was an addition. It was a murder, basically, it was it was a gay man coming on to admit his crush to it a straight man. And they apparently like after the show, he was humiliated, and he murdered him and went to jail, you know, but I’d heard that they had had an intimate relationship, in addition.
Dominick Pupa 30:41
I heard that as well, that that gay man must have had an inkling that this was going to be okay. Otherwise, I don’t think he would have put himself in that position. But I’m completely like, you know, I’m just going with my gut.
Ricki Lake 30:55
As a producer, did you worry about?
Dominick Pupa 30:57
Changed everything. We still did secret crush shows at the Ricki Lake show after that, but we had to be very specific and say, to even cis people of opposite genders, we were always saying to them, this could be someone who is your gender. Are you okay with it? And they had to say yes, before they came on the show or we wouldn’t, we wouldn’t do it, if there was even like an absolutely not was just like, okay, bye. You didn’t want to run away from doing that, Because then you would you run the risk of saying that’s not right, or that’s not normal. You know, you don’t want to shy away from a same sex crush, but we had to make sure that everyone coming on the show was open to the possibility.
Kalen Allen 31:36
I have a question for both of you. Were you ever nervous about the consequences of the representation? Like was there ever a moment where you were like, am I putting myself in danger on my putting the people that I am putting on TV, in danger? Like, especially I think, even for Steven, you know, to have this type first cast now become Ultra famous? I remember when post first started in India was already doing Louis Bhutan, you know, so like, giving these people all this exposure? Was there an MRI or a moment where you were like, Am I doing the right thing by presenting this representation?
Steven Canals 32:19
That’s is a wonderful question. Because the truth is, that And this speaks to you know, what you both what Ricki and Dominick were just talking about, which is, it isn’t easy for everyone to disclose. And to be visible, there is risk attached to that, even today for everyone. And so yes, it was very scary, because I think specifically for trans women, you know, that risk comes with a lot of baggage and a way that it doesn’t for cis folks or for men. And so we were hyper aware of that. And those were conversations that we had with the actresses on the show. And I think we did the very best that we could, you know, to ensure their safety. But I also want to note, and I think this is part of the beauty of being in New York or being a New Yorker, we were filming the third season of pose, it was a second episode. And it was two o’clock in the morning. I think we’re shooting this this night scene, and everyone’s tired. And this woman who lives you know, somewhere down the block was on a wheelchair coming by and we’re about to say action. And somehow she managed to make it onto our set. I don’t know how. And so I see her and we’re like, oh, we have to make sure that this woman sort of moves through before we let the cameras roll. And she sees MJ and screams out mother Blanca. Oh my gosh. And she was so taken by the fact that she got to see MJ in the flesh. And I think you know that moment for me was really special. I know really special for MJ because it was like, there was no, oh, you’re an actor. It’s just I’m with Blanca and she’s like, she took her hand and she’s like, you’re such a good mother to those kids. And I love the way your parents, and I think that really truly was our experience throughout the four years of filming the show in New York was that anytime we were in any space, when people saw the cast, they were always like, oh my god, hi, you know and like very loving, which was special.
Kalen Allen 34:23
I went you know, well you know this, I went to Janet Jackson with […] Angelica. And you know, at this point, I was already at Elon, you know, and silicon makes this joke all the time that I’m white famous because of working at Ellen, White famous and she says it that the castle poses like Black queer famous or whatever. Like watching being in queer spaces like I remember we went to like the nightclub in Vegas and being in the school airspaces and seeing what that cast meant to people. It was heartwarming for me. Because, to me, that felt more important, you know, because I just felt that they had this opportunity for people to be able to see themselves in a way that had never been seen, even for me, you know, and I was friends with a lot of them. And I would always be like, I’m your biggest fan. You know, like, when Angelica told me about Chicago, I was like, Oh, honey, I’m gonna be there open tonight. You know what I mean? Because you all were doing revolutionary work, and really changing the way that we talked about or even understood what it was to be transgender, this way that people almost see like the queer community as like a monolith in itself. But being able to see all these different versions of it, you know, to be able to then take a Buzzfeed quiz and find out if you were in a lecture or not, you know what I mean? And I think that’s where the power is. And my question next is for both Ricki and Dominick, because we have seen many different types of queer people on the Ricki Lake Show, you know, and I know that there at that time, you know, there were GLAAD articles that were people that, you know, had criticism about the representation on the Ricki Lake Show. So was there ever a time where you felt that you were promoting stereotypes or promoting caricatures? Or did you feel as though you were just doing the best you can to tread lightly on the line that had been drawn due to the social climate at that time?
Ricki Lake 36:42
You want to answer?
Dominick Pupa 36:44
I don’t think I ever. I only thought we were doing good to be honest with you. Maybe I was just in the, you know, I was freshly out. I was surrounded by gay people. You know, for the first time in my life where I had a job I loved and I didn’t, it was just so much fun to put any gay people on television that I wasn’t really thinking about eating. The funny thing is any gay person at that time who embodied the stereotype, that’s who was going to call the Ricki Lake Show and say, I want to be on the show. The reserved people that always complain about sex workers in the pride parades, those people aren’t calling a talk show. You know what I mean? Like, those are the people who are like, the buttoned up, there’s buttoned up people here will like, get your boring and you can still have your boring life. It doesn’t mean you don’t count. Those people aren’t calling the Ricki Lake Show to be on television.
Ricki Lake 37:36
We were looking for extroverts of all sexual orientations.
Dominick Pupa 37:40
I should say too boring for television. Not in life. Being quiet is lovely. But not, you know, you don’t, no one’s gonna watch an insurance salesman on the Ricki Lake Show. It’s not going to happen. You know, it’s just that no one’s going to talk about that experience on television and have it be interesting.
Ricki Lake 37:58
I’m trying to remember if we did any trans shows on my old show. I know I did it on my last talk show.
Kalen Allen 38:05
But there’s, well we have one of the topics on well, at least one of the names on here says I’m a boy who wants to be a girl today. My confession will rock your world
Ricki Lake 38:17
There you go. And I guess you produce that, Dominick. Do you remember?
Dominick Pupa 38:20
I don’t think..
Kalen Allen 38:21
Damn, do Dominick do all the gay shit? Oh, this is gay, give it to Dominick.
Dominick Pupa 38:30
I mean, it was sort of like that a little bit like there was anything if it came up, and he gave a topic, I would always scream for it, for sure.
Kalen Allen 38:37
For both of you, Steven. When it came to posing for Dominic when it came to the Ricki Lake Show. How did you find ways of inserting queer joy? And I know Dominick, you did a lot of the fun Friday episodes. So how did you use those as opportunities to you know, inject queer joy?
Dominick Pupa 38:57
Well, I am queer. Just comes with the territory. Doesn’t matter. Go into the store. I run queer joy to Whole Foods.
Ricki Lake 39:07
You fart glitter, I know.
Dominick Pupa 39:11
It is true. I’ll tell you that being able to work in a place where you weren’t being told to tone that down. It just sort of happened naturally. Because if you are queer, you’re bringing your queerness into whatever you do, you can’t help it. You know, like everything that you can’t help being born with. You automatically bring into whatever you do. It’s your POV always and I think just the fact that me and the many other queer producers, they are just it just happened naturally that way. You know, the importance of you Ricki being young at the time was as much as the hairspray connection and all of that and you already being like, an ally of the gay community was important but you being young was especially important because there was no one in their 20s doing what you did at the time.
Ricki Lake 40:06
Yeah, no, I recognize that. And that was the whole hook of the show, Garth […] one of the younger hosts and do his show from a younger person’s perspective, because he looked at the demos and that entire genre, and it was all over the age of 50. So it was a calculated move on his part, I just tried to do the best I could at doing whatever I thought Oprah would say. That was really the beginning. And it’s just amazing to me that it really was groundbreaking. Treating people with kindness and treating people equally was groundbreaking at the time on that kind of show. It’s crazy.
Steven Canals 40:38
But your sense of empathy. and love, I think, is what led to the joy that Kalen is speaking to, right. And so in many ways Kalen and I sitting here are the benefactors of the work that the both of you were doing then, right? It’s like we sort of live on the shoulders of the Ricki Lake Show and shows like, like Ellen Show before it got canceled because she came out or Will & Grace, Noah’s Ark by Patrick and Polk, like, there’s so much content that sort of came and went very quickly. But you pulled what you could, wherever you can, right, and you stockpile it and you save it. So being a young person watching your show, and seeing queer people just treat it like everybody else. It’s the thing that you think about when it’s time for you to step out of the closet. You know, it’s like, oh.
Dominick Pupa 41:29
I’m so glad you said that, Steven, Because as I’m talking about, oh, she’s young, oh, it was the right time. You’re so spot on with that, that Ricky it did also have to do with you as a person and in no small part it had to do with who you are and what you personally brought to the show. And that trickled down to the staff and the guests and the audience. I mean, it was just great. And I was always so proud to tell people that I worked there, I’m sure that the people on Pose feel the same way. I mean, it’s both groundbreaking. And I’ve told Ricky this before dropping your name and bars in the 90s I got laid more times dropping your name than I care to admit. Thank you for making the 90s truly, truly memorable for me.
Ricki Lake 42:12
You are so welcome, Dominick, I love you. Steven, tell us what are you doing now to make more joy? What’s happening? What’s next?
Steven Canals 42:29
I feel like I’m an iPhone battery. So I’ve been plugged in for the last year and I’m getting back to 100%. I’ve just been focused on like, what else do I want to say? You know, that was a really daunting task for me. And I’m sure it’d be really interesting to hear from you, Ricki, about that experience after you left the Ricki Lake Show. But when pose ended, I was like, okay, it felt like I done something so much bigger than I ever expected it to be, yeah, I felt like I just come out of the washing machine, right? It was like, okay, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going, like, just hang me to dry for a little bit. And so now I feel like I’m in a place where I’m a little more grounded and centered. And I can say okay, I can see what else I want to say. And what else I want to put out in the world. But it was hard.
Ricki Lake 43:15
You know, it’s funny. The Ricki Lake Show obviously is like, my biggest kind of success, as far as you know, on a grand scale. And it yes, it was my job. My name was on the rug. But it wasn’t my voice necessarily. Like it was I was being me. But I was stepping into what was being produced by Dominick and all these other amazing young producers. And I loved what I did. And it was amazing. And I was authentically me. But it was after the Ricki Lake show when I started making documentary films about things that mattered to me, you know, the show was impactful. And certainly having that mainstream platform has helped to facilitate putting out this very provocative material. But my point, my point is what you said, like you after doing pose and putting that out there in the world, it’s that feeling of like, I’ve done my work here, you know, and I know the Ricki Lake Show was like this, you know, huge deal. And, you know, we have this show because of it, but I am so much more like then that show like who I was back then I look back. Yeah, I was young, and I was definitely fit for that role. But I’m so much cooler now. Like, I’m just so much more of like, like, I don’t want to go back and do another show like that. But I really.
Kalen Allen 44:25
I really wish people could see you calling yourself cool while you sit in this community and doing interviews.
Ricki Lake 44:33
You guys came on late, but I’m dressed up because this I was wearing two years ago when I started to fall in love with my new husband. So this is just me celebrating but forgive me. Yeah, I know. I’m a walking contradiction. And I’m very much a work in progress. But it is such a pleasure to talk to you both today and talk about, you know, this issue and your success. And Steven, thank you, Dom, thank you so much for doing this, I really appreciate it.
Dominick Pupa 45:01
Steven, it’s a real honor to meet you. By the way. I don’t know if I said this.
Steven Canals 45:04
Likewise. So lovely to meet you both. Thank you. No, this was a lovely conversation. And Mr. Kalen, congratulations on Journalism School. I’m so proud of you.
Kalen Allen 45:16
Me and my 50 million jobs to school.
Steven Canals 45:20
But do you know how many young people how many kids who love and follow you are going to see that you’re working on your degree in journalism, that you’re getting a master’s and may have never even thought about going to college? But now we’re going to do that because you’re doing it? That’s impact.
Ricki Lake 45:37
He’s in Juilliard. I’m proud of you.
Kalen Allen 45:39
Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Ricki Lake 45:45
What do you what do you think of our talk today? I thought that was really interesting. Steven and Dominick.
Kalen Allen 45:51
It was it was really interesting. It was what was great was really getting the perspective of both of being able to talk about Pose, Pose was just so therapeutic to me. You know, and I think I was able to see the parallels, maybe of how, what pose meant to me is what your show meant to a lot of queer people during that time. You know what I mean?
Ricki Lake 46:12
And Dominick is one of them. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. No, I definitely did not see the parallels. But I obviously do now. And I think it was really just important, like the show, it was fluff. It was, you know, nonsense a lot of the time, but we really did do something that was meaningful and important for representation. And, yeah, it was great to meet Steven and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Kalen Allen 46:37
Me too, I hope the job for me somewhere in there.
Ricki Lake 46:41
I wanted to say to him, I’m available too, you know, available for a job even though, just tack on 10 more for you. Well, everyone, thank you so much for listening to this. This was a good one. I think this is a really good one. And if you’d like what you’re hearing, what do they need to do, Kalen?
Kalen Allen 46:56
You got to make sure you rate review and subscribe.
Please do. You’ll be awfully glad you did. And we hope to meet you back here next time. And before we go, one more thing. There’s more Raised by Ricki with Lemonada Premium. And right now there’s a limited time discount on our annual subscription between now and Monday, November 28th. It is just $29.49 that is nearly half off, you’ll get access to all of Lemonada’s premium content, including our next premium episode, which comes out on Monday. Now I just love these premium episodes because I get to answer questions that you guys sent in. And coming up on Monday. You asked me what was the hardest part of being a talk show host? Well to hear that answer and much more. Subscribe now on Apple podcast right where you listen to this show, and do it before November 28th. Raised by Ricki with Ricki Lake and Kalen Allen is a Lemonada Media Original. This show is produced by Claire Jones and Nancy Rosenbaum. Our associate producer is Tiffany Buoy. Our senior director of new content is Rachel Neill, VP of weekly production is Steve Nelson and our executive producers Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer and DeRay McKesson, and the show is mixed by Johnny Vince Evans. Music is written and produced by Jellybean Benitez, Jason Peralta and Jay Coos for Jelly Bean Productions.