Comedian, actor and podcast host Jacob Bach is completely comfortable making his guests squirm.
Jacob Bach prefers to hang out with like-minded straight men – which might seem unusual, because he’s gay. “Having an attraction, platonic or romantic, to somebody who is not around the same things as you gives you something to learn about,” he says. “I think that’s what’s charming about straight guys.”
The 20-something comedian has been a fixture at ComedySportz Milwaukee since 2008. He attended St. Thomas More High School in Bay View, where he was elected prom king (he brought his boyfriend). He briefly attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for musical theater, then studied improvisational comedy at the iO Theater in Chicago. In 2011, he founded The Improvised Musical (abbreviated TIM), a Broadway-style production performed on-the-spot that incorporates audience suggestions.
“Improv has been his life since he was 14,” says frequent collaborator and TIM co-founder Mary Baird. “He has a way about him. Jacob is sassy. He does a lot of little winks to the audience.”
Recently, Bach shifted his focus, launching the “Yeah, Bro!” podcast in April. Adapting his wry, absurdist humor to an interview format, each episode involves Bach discussing a specific facet of queer culture with a straight-identifying guest, who is often encountering the topic for the first time. Although a lot of the talk revolves around sex and politics, the material encompasses everything from gay history, music and cinema to the profusion of gay subcultures.
The conversations create an unusual dynamic in which straight men are placed outside their comfort zones, hesitantly offering their thoughts with a self-aware naiveté, and flinching at the mention of gay slurs, which Bach is quick to throw around. While the ad hoc situations can easily veer into cringe territory, Bach keeps the atmosphere light by drawing on his improv training to spark playful exchanges that yield offbeat insights. As he sees it, his guests are also given rare space to be curious and expressive.
“To me, straight men are the most oppressed sexually out of any identifying people,” he says. “So when you give people the opportunity to talk about something that they normally don’t, I think that’s where excitement comes from.”
For Bach, gayness involves self-expression as much as it does orientation. And he’s eager to act as ambassador for the LGBT community. “Everybody has a different meaning of what ‘gay’ is to them. So to say you’re part of gay culture is to say you’re part of many different things,” he says.
It’s a culture with which many of his guests can be remarkably in tune, including actors Jordan Gwiazdowski, who frequently plays LGBT characters, and Cleary Breunig, who has several gay immediate family members, as well as local Pridefest organizer and performer Greg Bach (no relation).
Other guests are from less traditionally inclusive backgrounds: a Boy Scouts counselor, and the son of an elected Republican politician. There are also plenty of self-described average guys, like Milwaukee Record co-founder and editor Tyler Maas, who says Bach showed him “the same dating issues that plague me as a straight man in Milwaukee are also echoed in that world, too.”
By creating a dialogue with straight men, Bach uses “Yeah, Bro!” to embrace and accelerate the ongoing queering of mainstream culture. “I think we’re finally coming to a place where people want to talk about the human spirit and want to talk about the interaction and themselves,” he says. “That’s the fun thing about the podcast.”