'Nancy' Podcast Co-Hosts Tobin Low & Kathy Tu Talk the Importance of Queer Friends, Queer Joy & More

Mindy Tucker
Kathy Tu and Tobin Low 

When podcast co-hosts Tobin Low and Kathy Tu were workshopping the idea of a podcast surrounding LGBTQ issues, they had no idea what to call it. The pair went through various names that worked as puns on the word “gay” or the “LGBTQ” acronym, but they constantly found themselves coming up short, not wanting to pigeonhole their show to being only about one identity.

“It became the challenge of finding something that was deeply queer, but also wasn't limiting,” Low tells Billboard. “In a moment of frustration, I just said, ‘Let's just name the show after a person -- let's just give it a person's name.’”

Thus, Nancy was born. Named after the once-derogatory slur used toward gay people, the smash-hit podcast from WNYC Studios is a weekly examination of LGBTQ life, with topics ranging from the gay phenomenon that was Will & Grace to the aftermath of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. “We lead with the stories that capture our attention, that we've found really interesting and maybe we hadn't heard before,” Tu explains. “I don't really know of a formula that we've written out for it.”

Low and Tu originally met while attending the 2013 Transom Story Workshop, a program Tu refers to as “radio bootcamp,” where both were trying to sharpen their skills as radio producers. Upon meeting one another and learning of each other’s passion for telling queer stories, the two immediately began workshopping the original idea for Nancy.

But Low and Tu recognize that they were lucky -- making queer friends is harder than it looked on classic shows like Will & Grace and Queer as Folk. “When I was young, I was promised this group of queer family,” Low explains. “I was promised my chosen family by all of these shows, and I felt like at some point in my life I had that group, and then it went away.”

Nancy wants to help solve that problem for their queer listeners with their “How to Get a Gaggle” campaign. The project offers a toolkit to Nancy listeners who are looking to make friends in the LGBTQ community, offering a number of challenges for participants to get out into the world and start forming their own personal gaggle.

The project was born out of the show’s season 3 premiere episode, “A Gaggle for Me.” The episode follows Joe Rodriguez, a writer based in New York City, who was struggling with finding his “chosen family.” When he and Low met, Low decided to help Rodriguez through his dilemma by creating a series of challenges for him to overcome, in order to try and make friends.

Tu says that for queer people, having friends who inherently understand your struggles is vital. “Just being able to have friends around who could understand you at a certain level, where you don't have to explain everything... it's just such a comfort that I think you don't get to have all of the time,” she explains.

“How to Get a Gaggle” has received a lot of attention from Nancy’s listeners — over 2,000 people have signed on to the project from all across the globe, which Low and Tu attribute to the shared desire for belonging among members of the LGBTQ community.

This isn’t the first time the Nancy co-hosts have reached out to their listeners; last year, the podcast sponsored the “Out at Work” project, which aimed to learn more about how people express their sexuality in the workplace. For Low, keeping the Nancy audience engaged is just a part of bringing more representation to an underrepresented community.

“When you hit a note with people who have been waiting to hear their stories, there is an outpouring of emotion because they've been waiting,” he explains. “If we didn't do these projects, we'd basically be putting a podcast out as something for people to consume, and then that would be a one-way interaction. What we're trying to do with these projects is really interact with the sort of outpouring of emotion that comes with this.”

Not all episodes of Nancy are as light-hearted as “A Gaggle for Me.” The show’s most recent episode, “The Rowan County Clerk,” follows David Ermold, a gay man from Kentucky who was denied a marriage license by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis back in 2015, as he runs to unseat her from the position. Some prior episodes focus on politics as well, including an episode about President Trump’s transgender military ban, one on gay republicans and more.

Low explains that the show was in its early stages of production when President Trump was elected. He says that while he and Tu knew they would have to cover harder, more inherently political topics, they didn’t want to lose the original idea of the show. “We intended to make a show that is about queer joy,” Low says. “In some ways that's probably more needed than ever -- to create spaces that are about celebration and having a safe space.”

But no matter what the episode is based around, Nancy has a way of cutting to the most personal, affected stories of the LGBTQ community -- something Low and Tu cultivated by spending the very first episode of Nancy talking about their individual coming out experiences.

“The way our show is set up is, people get really personal and talk about their fears, anxieties and other deep things,” Tu says. “It wouldn't quite be fair if we weren't the ones to start that off first, in getting personal and letting people know who we are.”

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