Podcasts You Should Know – Daniel Franzese takes us to church on Yass, Jesus!

Christine Fitzgerald 27 Min Read
27 Min Read
Yass, Jesus!

Daniel Franzese is probably best known for playing Damian Leigh (and uttering the always quotable line “You go, Glen Coco”) in the 2004 film Mean Girls but there’s so much more to this talented performer.

In addition to Mean Girls, Daniel also appeared on the HBO series Looking and has toured the country with his stand-up comedy tour, titled Yass You're Amazing! He brought his drag alter ego Donna Bellissima to life on season two of RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race and was a contestant on the Snatch Game on Drag Race season 12.

Daniel is also an advocate and activist, working with organizations including the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, GLAAD and LAMBDA Legal. His latest project is yet another way he is helping to support the LGBTQ+ community – and it’s an entertaining one to boot.

Daniel and co-host Azariah Southworth have a podcast. “Yass, Jesus!” which is a faith and sexuality affirming comedy podcast that believes you don't have to pick between gay and God.

Each week Daniel and his former televangelist bestie meet to yassify your faith. Among their guests, they have welcomed queens including Love Connie, Silky Nutmeg Ganache Dusty Ray Bottoms and others working to spread a message of positivity and support.

We had a chance to sit down with Daniel to discuss the new podcast and all things spirituality in our exclusive interview.

Yass, Jesus!

I just started listening to “Yass, Jesus!”  I actually interviewed Love Connie last week and we talked about it a little bit. I just kind of wanted to know how the podcast came about.

The real genesis of it, for lack of a better term, started when the Pulse massacre happened. It was a real serious time in my life. I had gotten really depressed by it. There are only very few times in my life that I got the funny knocked out of me and I think that was one of the times, you know, and as a stand-up comedian, despair is not my game. So, I was looking for a prayer for the LGBT community, and I couldn't find one online. All this stuff they have to say about us and there's no prayers, you know?

So, I had a conversation about this with another friend of mine, who's my co-host, Azariah Southworth, who used to work for TBN, the Trinity Broadcasting Network. He did a show called The Remix, where he would travel and sleep on the tour buses with the Christian rock bands and report on them. And then when he came out of the closet, he got fired. And so, we had a lot of conversations about church hurt. We both were conversion therapy survivors. We both still were believers. And it was kind of like, well, why aren't gay people having this kind of conversation?

We went to the RuPaul's Drag Race finale and, you know, World of Wonder is always known for being irreverent and letting people be themselves and do whatever they want to do and be authentic. And I saw that everyone was dressed so wild and praising all the queens and going crazy, and I looked at Azzie and I was like, this is a revival, this is church. I was like, if only gay people knew that God was still there for them to channel that energy because I feel like, as human beings, we are into worship, like from the cavemen worshipping fire and Egyptians and all different kinds of ways that people worship.

And it's like, if you're not worshipping your higher power, if you're not connected to a vibration, what are you worshipping? Make sure it's something good, whatever it is. I think that a lot of queer folks, we also lost a whole generation of elders that kind of helped guide us and we were like, at least my generation felt like feral children in a lot of ways.

And so, I feel like now, with the age of information and something like podcasts being so great, why can't we go back to these lessons that we grew up as people who grew up in the church that were considered the core lessons of life or the Proverbs and things like that, the stories? Why do they gatekeep them from us? If we're such sinners and such, why don't they tell us more about it? Why don't they pray with us or for us? And why is there no queer perspective on these stories?

You know, the story of David and Jonathan to me sticks out right now in this conversation of life. The gayest story in the Bible. It's a gay love story between David and Jonathan. Direct quotes from the Bible say that when Jonathan first started David, his, their souls were knit. And later on, they kiss each other. He takes off his armor and hands it to him and they kiss in the rain. I mean, it's like a romantic, sexy story. And the perspective that’s told at every single heterosexual wedding is the friendship between the best man and the groom. And you know, whether that's the true perspective or not, we've heard it already. I think as queer people, let's hear the perspective of what it means for two lovers to connect themselves and their souls and then be honored together forever and pray together and what that means.

Later on, David says that the love of Jonathan was greater than a woman. These are conversations that could be really affirming for queer folks. There's a story in the Bible of a eunuch who gets baptized, which could be really affirming for trans folks or for intersex folks, you know?

There's a story of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and how the coat in 46 AD, the original translation, was actually a Ketonet Passim – that meant a virginal rainbow princess dress. So, Joseph could have been genderqueer or a trans person of color, and I think that not telling these perspectives does a disservice to the Bible.

We had a guest, Reverend Yvette Flounder on the show…well…we aired a show that she was on, and she had said the greatest disservice that man ever did to the Bible was to put a back cover on it. Like, just because we're done writing doesn't mean God was done speaking, and I think there's so much commentary to say about the state of LGBTQ people versus Christianity today, and I think that it's nobody's job to tell people that God doesn't love them.

World of Wonder has done a great job with RuPaul's Drag Race, in my opinion, being the biggest queer stage that you could be on in the world at this point and showing through RuPaul's Drag Race and through Untucked, really moving and incredible stories of some of the queens’ journeys through faith and what they've dealt with of all different faiths and religions. And “Yass, Jesus!” is an amazing place for those queens to come on and extend that story.

And, and with, you know, the WOW Podcast Network really allows that same audience to hear what happened with their church journeys.  In past episodes, even before we were with World of Wonder, we were so interested in that stuff. We had Silky Nutmeg Ganache on, talking about how she was the ministry of music of her church, and how they all turned on her when they found out she did drag, and the church was under construction, and had a thermometer, and she pointed to it and said, doesn't this mean we're all under construction?

And those kind of moving stories and moving moments, there really isn't a place for a celebrity or any queer person to come on and talk about it in depth. And we like to do it in a fun, non slut shaming, sex positive, kind of queer lens and just say, okay, maybe this one isn't queer, but how could that story become queer? Because we've heard all the heteronormative spins on everything. 

What has your spiritual journey been like? How have you come to where you are right  now?

My whole origin story comes from, a religious background because my parents were Catholic. My grandparents are off the boat Italian and so very strict Roman Catholic. And then my parents converted to Pentecostal Christianity. They found a different feeling and a different vibe and moved over and it caused a big rift in my family. I was supposed to be named after my grandfather, but instead I was named Daniel with no middle name because Daniel means God is my judge.

So, my entire life, I think I've grown up with the sensibility of, I really only have to answer to God. So, that's what's given me the audacity to be who I am on stage, the audacity to be an activist when I came out, the audacity to come out, the audacity for all the things that I do, comes from a knowing that nobody can really judge me but God.

And so, I would like to share that sentiment with other people. And I grew up in a church environment, but when I was in my 20s, I had a problem because, you know, and this is another thing I like to discuss on the show, but as we all go through  the journey right now of learning about pronouns, learning about gender expression, learning about sexuality spectrums, I kind of found that when I was growing up, I was bi-romantic but homosexual and I think that now knowing what that means, I understand why I could fall in love with a woman, but didn't want to be with one. And that was a very confusing time for me. So, I didn't feel all the way gay, I guess, or whatever that meant in that in the year 2000.

I put myself in conversion therapy. I put myself in there to try to figure it out. That's not what we were calling it then. It was called Christian therapy.  So, I was just trying to find a Christian therapist but I ended up in a program that was trying to change who I was.  And it was in that program that I felt like I got the closest with God because I was challenging God every day in prayer and to the people and I was fighting for my life. I was fighting for my soul I thought at the time. And so, I made a recollection that God wants me this way and this is part of my life legacy and journey perhaps. And I think, yeah, he's a big part of that because I think that if I just had one person  tell me that God loved me, I might not have felt suicidal.

I might not have wanted to put myself inside of conversion therapy or change who I was. I might have been able to get at my life earlier and maybe meet somebody, you know, no sad tales, and you could do whatever you want to do. I feel like God has a story for me, but I feel like I missed out on  a big portion of my 20s and 30s in living in fear and I don't want that for anyone, and especially as somebody who did my role in Mean Girls and Looking and other things that I've done and become somebody that's a representative of different parts of the community that don't get a lot of light shine on them, you.

You know, whether it be a gay person in general, or it be a big queer person, or it be a person with HIV like I played on Looking, it's just people who don't necessarily get seen. Maybe that's part of my legacy work, but I really think also knowing how it affects somebody who hasn't been seen to feel seen. I want to let the folks out there that grew up with Christianity as their core, or any religion as their core, to know that man's answer to how God feels about them is not God's answer. 

Now, as far as the podcast goes, how do you determine what you're going to talk about on every episode?

We have a bunch of episodes that we threw out there. We have Ross Murray, who works for GLAAD, he's a deacon, he media trained me on HIV, which is how I met him, for hours when I became an activist, and taught me all the statistics and the dialogue and the Bible of how to handle and speak upon everything. So, Ross helps us with our meat and potatoes and we work with our producer Meredith and we throw an idea out there and we all bounce it around and Ross helps us with an outline and then we just do it. And it's fun. We have great guests come on. I mean, sometimes things will spark an idea in life.

I met someone who works for like a nerd magazine. He's really into nerdy stuff. And it sparked the idea that maybe we should do an episode just discussing super sci-fi religion and what are the things from there that we could pull from? Because I kind of feel like as an actor, I studied all the different things. I studied Meisner, I studied Uta Hagen, I studied Stanislavski, and I didn't follow any one, like, a method. I just took the pieces of it that worked for me. And I think there is something about, let's go back in mind these gatekeep,  things that have helped our ancestors achieve so much and pull out what works for the queer community and discuss it.

You've mentioned some of the guests you've had. Is there like a dream guest you want to have on the show? Is there like someone you really want to talk to? 

I mean,  there are a few. I would love to talk to Oprah about how she feels about queer people. I would love to talk to Lady Gaga and how she manages her religion because I know she's a person that prays and what that does for her. I would love to talk to Mama Ru eventually. We're in the right place for that one. Um, but I think like. There's a lot of, I'm just curious. I would like to talk to anyone that still has faith.

I was surprised. You know, we have this segment on the show called Prayers from a Queen.

I've interviewed over 200 drag queens from around the world thanks to DragCon, helping me facilitate that. I've carried my microphone around me to every venue, every queer venue, in every club that I've done stand up in in the country. And I've collected all these prayers. And I'm so surprised at how many queens have faith.

How many queer people have come to me and said that, or have come to me and said they listen to the podcast at the nightclub or at places that you would never think that somebody listens would be at. And I think that's what we do. We're shining a prismatic light that's hitting a little corner that's been dark forever and hasn't gotten much light.

And I think that even in the queer Christian space, there isn't a lot of sex positivity.  I think we're really even forging a hole through that. And then when you get to that, we even have big Bible stories where we're all about, you know, cannabis medication and things like it's like so many levels of like,  we're going to take this and make it, we come, we curse on the show.

We come from where we are on Monday through Saturday. We show up on Sunday and just ask. Question. And I think that's what it is. A lot of our episode ideas come from our audience. They're like, what does it mean to be this? Or how do I talk to my parents? Or what do I say? And then we make a whole episode about it if it's something that really got us thinking.

So, this is a community, really. So, we urge our listeners, like, if you start listening to the show on WOW Podcast Network, December 17th, and you hear something that resonates with you or something that you don't hear that you want to hear, let us know. We will literally do a whole episode around it.

Have you learned anything surprising about yourself while working on this podcast? 

I have, I think a lot of things. Um, one thing that was really, I felt like we were making a lot of progress in the LGBTQ community. A lot of, I've seen a lot of progress and I think we are, but also, I realized how far we have to go with this show.

I was talking to the filmmaker, Elegance Bratton, and he was speaking on his prayer for the LGBTQ community and saying that when, you know, now he's a successful filmmaker, but when he was a teen, he was pretty much homeless on the piers in New York City with a lot of trans women who were not passable and didn't have any money and were literally  fighting every day just being who they are and walking down the street.

As a, you know, maybe not possible, uh, poor trans  black woman. And he's like, those women were the women that bought me Chinese food and that let me sleep on their couch when it was raining and took care of me. And he's like, and until the most marginalized of our community are totally safe and comfortable walking down the street, none of us are free.

And I felt that to my core. I think that that changed how I look at myself as a queer person and how I look at myself as an activist, that I want to make sure that every one of us are seen, and I don't feel as comfortable in my space anymore now. I feel the uncomfortableness of my siblings that are going through that.

And you know, they say getting woke is literally waking up to something. So, it's like, I feel at this point, I've seen so much with this show and I've heard from so many people that listen to “Yass, Jesus!” where they say we've saved a life just because we told them that God loved them. I mean, it's such an important, profound thing to hear  and if I have to be the one to say it, so be it. But I feel like I just have to remind people to listen for it.

Besides the podcast, what else is going on with you? What do you have upcoming? 

Oh, there's so many things. I'm definitely a multi hyphenate, I'll tell you that, but I'm working on an album, I have a book in the back of me, I have two movies coming out, and I'm hoping to get on another TV show this year and have some fun. I have a comedy special coming out, House of Laughs on WOW Presents Plus as well, later on this year and another project I'm doing with World of Wonder, so there's a lot of things in the horizon, and I'm celebrating both the 20th anniversary of Mean Girls this year and the 10th anniversary of Looking in the same year – what an absolute blessing, and I'm looking forward to getting that show that I'll be celebrating in 10 years from now, at some point. 

Thank you so much for talking to me and I wish you all the best success with the podcast. I think it's a wonderful show and I think it's really needed right now. I think you're really doing a great service to the community and I appreciate it.

Well, thank you. If anything, it should be an inspiration to people. I mean, we do this in my living room, and last year we got a GLAAD Award nomination, and we're not stopping. I mean, you know, we literally figured out how to do it during the pandemic, and now we're so proud to be on the WOW podcast network and be able to be seen and heard worldwide.

So, thank you to World of Wonder, and everyone please, December 17th, please join us at yassjesuspod. com or @yassjesuspod or anywhere you get your podcast on the WOW Podcast Network.

New episodes of “Yass, Jesus!” air every Sunday. You can listen on Spotify (or wherever you get your podcasts)and on December 17, you can find the show on the WOW Podcast Network. Keep up with the podcast on TwitterInstagram and Facebook and get the latest from Daniel on Twitter and Instagram.


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