BOYSTOWN — Two home-grown tributes to Chicago's proudest neighborhood have released updates just in time for the Pride Parade.
The YouTube series "Gayborhood" debuted at the end of May and released its second 10-minute episode on Thursday. The unscripted, mock reality show follows a group of young gay men (and one gal pal) as their find their way through mishaps and adventures in Boystown.
From Adrian, a self-centered drag queen, to the snarky hashtag-obsessed D'Ante, the characters might seem pretty clearly placed in one archetype or another, but that won't be the case for long, creators Colby Holt and Sam Probst said.
"You start out thinking you have these characters pinned one way or another, but there's more than meets the eye with each of them. You think this person is rude and overly sassy on the surface, but they end up having a very endearing moment later," Probst said.
Holt and Probst, both 25, moved to Chicago from small towns — Holt from Paducah, Ky., and Probst from Mishawaka, Ind. — and studied film in college, with the dream of writing television shows. After meeting at Charlie's in 2012, the pair "clicked" and began dating.
"Gayborhood" creators Sam Probst (l.) and Colby Holt drew inspiration from their own experiences in Boystown. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Soon after, the idea for "Gayborhood" was born.
"As inclusive as the gay community is supposed to be, we sure do like to put labels on people, whether you're a twink, you're a bear, you're a drag queen. And one thing we kind of wanted to point out in the show is sometimes people don't fit into those characters, and yet there's almost this inherent feeling that you kind of have to be," Holt said.
Ariel Cheung says some stories come straight from Belmont Ave:
Once the pair had shot a 22-minute pilot, they shopped it around at various festivals, including the Independent Television and Film Festival, where they won best TV comedy in 2014. Soon after, the pilot was split into three 10-minute webisodes with the hopes of gaining a following on YouTube.
The key to the series is that the characters "hit close to home," Probst said. While there is a heavy dash of dramatization, "we focus more on the misfits than the glamorous aspects of the community," he said.
"Gayborhood" debuted on YouTube in May, and the second episode was released Thursday. [Screenshot/YouTube]
And while they characters are "definitely narcissistic fools," the satire is "done with love" for the community they call home, Holt said.
New episodes of "Gayborhood" will be released the last week of July and then every two weeks afterward. The writers think they have enough material for at least a 12-episode season, with the potential to continue the series if they can secure funding.
Steamy book series going strong
While "Gayborhood" focuses on the everyday misfits trying to fit in, "Boystown" is all about the men who stand out.
With the third book in the series released in May, author Jake Biondi said "Boystown" is more popular than ever. What started as chapter-by-chapter releases online has grown into a sensational series of soap opera drama and sexy scenes, which Biondi likened to "Fifty Shades of Grey" and Charles Dickens' serial writing.
The book series "Boystown" began in 2013 and author Jake Biondi has since published three books, with the third installment released in May. [Provided/Jake Biondi]
"Certainly situations are more extreme and over-the-top than everyday life would be. The couples are dealing with the trials and tribulations of relationships on a daily basis, as well as alcoholism, HIV, people wanting to have revenge. It's loosely based on real situations," Biondi said.
Since Biondi started writing "Boystown," the plots and characters have taken unexpected twists, sometimes influenced by reactions from readers. A police officer, for example, was never meant to last beyond the first book, but became a main character "because of my interest in him and readers' feedback," Biondi said.
Biondi, 35, is considering other feedback, too — there are many fans calling for more representation of transgender characters, which he said he's "certainly open to."
It's important to Biondi to support his work's namesake neighborhood (where he also lives), which is why signed copies of "Boystown" are available at Unabridged Bookstore, 3251 N. Broadway. He also wrote supporters Amy Armstrong and the band Whiskey and Cherries into his books, giving them cameo appearances as performers at events as his way of giving back.
With a fourth book in the works, Biondi said he could see the series making it to television, especially with its ready-for-TV serial format. Eventually, though, he'd like to try writing something other than "Boystown."
"When I either have more time or want to start something new, I have a couple ideas in the back of my mind for down the road," he said.
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