My Gay Roommate || Editorial: On Location in NYC

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NOAM ASH & AUSTIN BENING

What comes to mind when you hear the letters MGR?

Some high-school, part-time, power-trip retail manager? The monogram on the bathroom towels of someone that is in love with themselves just a liiiittle too much? A person that spends way too much time playing online poker?

Hopefully, you are in the know with what MGR, or rather #MGR, stands for these days… My Gay Roommate, the wildly successful web series that is the brainchild of the seriously talented and goofily adorable duo of Noam Ash (green tee) and Austin Bening (blue tee).

I’ve been a fan of the series since the very beginning. The premiere episode begins the tale of Nick (portrayed wonderfully by Noam) finding himself in a yin-yang living situation with his college roommate, James. Hilarity and true-to-life high jinx ensue. All three seasons of My Gay Roommate can be consumed in a single night, so do yourself a favor…get caught up! Check out all three seasons on YouTube.

When I was planning my latest trip to New York, I had a few people I really wanted to get the opportunity to meet, photograph and spend some time with. These two guys were at the top of my list, and they were gracious enough to allow me to be a spectator and participant in the strange little world that is their professional relationship and personal friendship.

The day after photographing, attending and partying (a little too hard) at their Season 3 Wrap Party at the Eagle Bar NYC, the three of us met up on the Upper West Side to collaborate on an editorial photoshoot…the likes of which I have never been involved with before.

Part of my typical process when arriving on location for a shoot is to review the wardrobe choices brought by my models so we can decide how to assemble them in a way that will be fashionable, cohesive and (hopefully) playful. Well…when these guys show up…be ready to have your styling skills challenged. As we tore through the piles of “clothes” that they brought with them, I was kind of at a loss…superman jammies, graphic tees, banana costumes, tighty whities, jeans, bondage gear, underwear, sneakers, formalwear accessories… I had no idea what to do. Fortunately, Austin and Noam made it very easy to make decisions; as we began to shoot…choices came into focus naturally. There is nothing structured about them, their personalities or their friendship…so we just went for it. Putting things together, seeing how it looked and then just playing around. The best news was…they were down for anything! In the end…we had one of the most energetic, personal, playful, sexy, goofy, confusing shoots I’ve ever had the pleasure of working on.

I got the chance to ask the guys a few questions. I’m going to unveil the photos, along with the Q&A’s, right here in this post. Please share this page and check back for more content as it is added.

Now, let’s get to the important part of this piece…the guys!

Press PLAY ▶︎ to enjoy You’re My Best Friend by Queen while viewing.

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Part #1: Start Your Engines

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Wondo: First things first boys…who is the gay one?
 Noam & Austin: (awkward, silent pause…)
Wondo: No…really?
Noam & Austin: Austin = #straight & Noam = #fierce

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Part #2: This Magic Moment

 Wondo: What allows you to create and work together as a team so successfully?
Noam: Austin and I are like two halves of the same brain. We complete each other artistically, constantly raising the bar and challenging each other. And with the strong doctrine of “yes and” that I mandated, we are able to build off of each other’s ideas and make magic.


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PART #3: LET’S GET DOWN TO IT

Wondo: On a scale of G to XXX…where would you (honestly) rate the content of MGR?

Noam & Austin: Our story is bold in content and subject matter, but you never actually see the sexual things happening. Except for the Manscaping episode, and the after shocks of Cowboy time. But that’s high art so it’s different.

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Part #4: You Gotta Have Friends

Wondo: What do you hope the voice of MGR will ultimately say?

Noam & Austin: At the end of the day, the story of MGR is a story of friendship. What we hope people take away from the show is that homo-hetero love is not only possible, but wonderful and in many ways superior to other friendships 🙂


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Part #5: It’s Who You Know

Wondo: I know it’s uncouth to discuss such things, but what high profile people have you come into contact with as a result of MGR?

Noam & Austin: Through the show we’ve had the privilege of getting to know and work with some amazing people: TONY Award Winner Wilson J Heredia (RENT), Levi Michaels, the legendary George Takei, YouTube superstar Michael Buckley, and the incredible composer-lyricist team Carner & Gregor who have written two original songs for the show. Noam also got to take a selfie with Kylie Minogue which was very exciting (for him). But the true magic of the show is that MGR is a family, and so many of these people are now close friends. We’re a lucky duo.


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Part #6: On-Screen Austin

Wondo: Is Austin’s personality being brought to the screen by any one particular character?

Noam & Austin: James is most closely based off of Austin, but Ed does showcase some of his, uh, nerdier tendencies.


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Part #7: What’s Next for MGR?

Wondo: So far we’ve seen Nick live in a dorm, at his Mom’s place and in his own NY apartment. Any hints about what’s next for him?

Noam & Austin: Nick has been stretching daily, because what’s coming next is BIG. So get those Kegel exercises under your belts boys!!


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Part #8: On An Individual Note…


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Wondo: What’s “your type” of guy?
Noam: I don’t believe in types, I think they’re so limiting when there’s so much out there!  But generally speaking he should be over 6 feet tall, muscular, preferably blonde and blue eyed with a German accent, highly educated with a low alcohol tolerance, and very into me. He should also do what I want without making me ask. In general.
Wondo: Precisely how much of Nick is actually based on you?
Noam: I think any character you portray is somehow based on you and your experiences, and that’s especially true when you write it. All the characters, even the imaginary ones, are parts of me and Austin.  So yes, there’s a lot of Nick in me, but he is a character, you know? He has his good sides and his bad sides, whereas I’m perfect.

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Wondo: What’s “your type” of gal?
Austin: Bad bitches is the only thing that I like.
 
Wondo: As a straight man, what made you want to work such a gay-forward project?
Austin: In its simplest and most accurate terms, I do MGR because it’s a show about me and my best friend, who is gay.But looking from a broader context, I also believe this show allows us to engage with some interesting issues of male friendship and sexuality that can’t be addressed in an exclusively homo or exclusively hetero show. From the writing perspective alone, it’s forced me to look outside my own straight guy perspective and poke fun at any latent insecure hetero-posturing that I see in other people or myself. I find a sick pleasure in watching sexual discomfort, fudging the lines of projected homoeroticism between two guy friends and watching the madness unfold. It’s amazing. Using humor to unseat insecurity, and in doing so, broaden perspective on the #fierce possibility of homo-hetero bromance is pretty cool thing to work towards. All that said, I didn’t really have much choice in the matter. Noam declared that I would direct the show, and so it was.

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Part #9: In the End

Wondo: Who’s in charge?
Noam: Who thinks they’re in charge or who’s actually in charge?
Austin: Is that even a question?

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Wondo: When not working on MGR, what are you doing?

Noam: Answering fan mail. Jk, sleeping or cognizing my next clever tweet @MrNoamAsh #followme
Austin: I’m a freelance producer and editor. YouTubing errday.

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We interrupt this interview for an important announcement…

GRATUITOUS STRAIGHT GUY IN HIS UNDERWEAR


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THANK YOU

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming…

Wondo: What would be your most proud moment from any of the already released “My Gay Roommate” Episodes?

Noam: Wow that’s a really hard question, I’m proud of all of it!  But if I had to choose one moment it would probably be belting out “I’ll Cover You” with Wilson. I mean, come on, it’s not every day you get to sing a song with the man who one the TONY for singing it!!
Austin: The Hard candy music video, no doubt. Noam and I decided that we’d go all out in a music video explosion for our penultimate episode of season 1 because, hey, why not?  So we got in touch with the hilarious musical duo, Carner and Gregor, who wrote and helped produce the sick track. Noam wrangled 16 dancer boys from New York, Boston, and our own Tufts University, while I assembled the production team. We all came together at CLUB OBERON (the second stage of the A.R.T) in Cambridge, MA to shoot the video, complete with a coordinated dance routine, in the middle of snowstorm. It was a truly inspiring experience of friends, new and old, uniting to celebrate the one thing that brings us all together – Grindr.

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Wondo: What would be your most embarrassing moment from any of the already released “My Gay Roommate” Episodes?

Noam: I don’t believe in embarrassment. That said, having to explain to my aunt and uncle why there was so much shaving cream and hair clogging their bathtub after filming The Art of Manscaping was a rather… shaming experience.
Austin: There’s no shame to our game. That being said, I do cringe a little bit when I think back on “The Art of Manscaping.” I didn’t have a problem with getting a close up of Noam’s grundle, but there is a very specific feeling that comes from shooting a semi erotic shaving scene in your friend’s Aunt and Uncle’s bathroom and having the cleaning lady walk in. It’s somewhere between pride and what-the-fuck-were-we-doing.

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Wondo: What would be one of the biggest rewards you have gotten while or from working on a series such as this?

Noam: I know it sounds cliche, but it’s the letters from people all over the world telling me that our story inspired them to live authentically as themselves. Whether that’s coming out, following a dream or just embracing who they are. That to me exemplifies the power of our story.
Austin: Countless. I’ve made so many friendships through working on this show and strengthened some of my deepest. There are few more satisfying feelings than creating YouTubes with your friends and sharing them with people who genuinely appreciate them. At the end of the day it’s about showing up, doing the work, and pressing upload. As trite as it sounds, the reward is the process and finding people who are willing to stick it out with you all the way through. God knows the adsense dollars aren’t paying our rent.

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Wondo: What would be one of the biggest Challenges you have faced while or from working on a series such as this?

Noam: The biggest challenge in making your own work is… making your own work. You have to be everything – the writer, the producer, the director, the actor, the casting director, the marketer, the editor etc. etc.  Now I’m incredibly lucky to have a partner in this project who is just as committed as I am to its success, and we split these duties. We’re like two parts of the same brain, and I never take that for granted. But still, we’re just two kids carrying this immensely popular show that is watched by millions on our shoulders. That’s a big responsibility and challenge.
Austin: It’s really easy to lose perspective. YouTube is a grueling game that sometimes locks me inside my own head, especially because we write, shoot, and edit every episode in our own apartment. There’s a little bit of cabin fever that sometimes boils over the surface, where we think a little bit too hard and care too much. As creative partners, Noam and myself put an immense amount of pressure on ourselves and each other. It definitely drives us forward and has brought us to where we are, but man, it can be hard on a friendship sometimes. We have to take little coffee shop holidays to reaffirm that, ‘hey, you’re a pretty cool guy and I want to work with you because you’re one of my best friends.” This applies to all of my creative partners and I think is endemic to work that has no immediate tangible value other than a view count and comments. It’s a struggle sometimes to make sure people know I appreciate them, especially when I’m battling with my own question of ‘why am I doing this?’ It’s a damn good thing we have such an awesome MGR family.

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Wondo: With 3 words, sum up MGR?

Noam: Edgy, bold, fearless.
Austin: Bootilicious, Diva, #fiercebetch

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 In closing, on a serious note…these two guys have been the most gracious, open, welcoming, warm and involved folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. They have been here with me during the (very long) ride of getting this interview completed, and I will always love them for that. Thank you guys, I’m proud to call you my collaborators…and my friends.
Here’s to #MGR…and whatever the next chapters bring.

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