"Jonathan was covering up my roots one Saturday, when another client was convincing Monique, Jonathan's now business partner, to watch 'Game of Thrones.' Jonathan jumped in as wing man to translate what this straight guy was saying to Monique in 'Drag Race' terms ... calling all the guys 'she' and relaying attitudes rather than story lines. It was so funny."
Erin Gibson, creator of "Gay of Thrones," recounted the moment she knew hairstylist Jonathan Van Ness's recaps of HBO's "Game of Thrones" could work as a Funny or Die series (she worked at the site as a writer/director at the time). Her instinct was right: The online show was born in 2013, and earlier this month it received its first Emmy nomination.
"Gay of Thrones" put Jonathan Van Ness's infectious energy and the comedic skills of a team of writers to use. Each episode breaks down an episode of HBO's hit series "Game of Thrones," while Van Ness styles a guest's hair.
The recap series began during the third season of "Game of Thrones." Van Ness said the team works quickly to create each episode. "We all get together every Sunday and watch the East Coast feed at Funny or Die. We all write as we go, and when the episode finishes up we all go into a room," he said. Two days later, an episode of "Gay of Thrones" is online for viewers to watch Van Ness break down the show.
Producer Ross Buran attributed the show's success to the work environment. "[Van Ness] and Erin Gibson have created an atmosphere that is a more like hanging out with friends than work. Ten weeks out of the year we get to hang out and create something that we’re proud of."
Van Ness's engaging and vibrant energy is also a major asset, according to Buran.
"He has a wonderful ability to draw anyone into his energy. He’s got a motor that just seems to generate charisma and humor," Buran told NBC OUT via email.
Van Ness's interaction with the guests is also important, according to producer Matt Mazany.
"One of the big intangibles of the show is how the guest will interact with Jonathan. [He] has an amazing ease getting the guests comfortable. We always want to make sure the guests are having a fun time, and Jonathan is the perfect host to put our guests at ease," Mazany explained.
"I'm always impressed with Jonathan's ability perform these jokes. The writers really throw him some intense tongue twisters, and he is able to knock them out on the first or second take," Mazany continued.
One noteworthy aspect of the show is the nicknames each "Game of Thrones" character is given. Whether it's Arya Stark's "Baby Kristen Stewart," Grey Worm's "Baby Barack Obama" or Daenerys Targaryen's "Christina Aguilera," the nicknames add a specific flavor to the recaps.
Earlier this month, the show received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Short Form Variety Series. Duran called the nomination an honor "only sweetened by the fact that it's for a project that could not be more fun to make. "Mazany said the nomination was "another nice reminder that people are watching and enjoying the show."
In an entertainment landscape where representation is an issue, Gibson emphasized "Gay of Thrones" is committed to diversity and said she's delighted to have that commitment recognized.
"Ninety percent of our writers have been gay or women ... [and our] writer/editor is trans, and our DPs have been traditionally women," she said. "That's by design. You would be hard pressed to find another recap show like ours that values diversity and opportunity like we do. It makes me very happy that our Funny or Die/'Gay of Thrones' family's hard work is being recognized in such a large way."
Van Ness, on the other hand, was shocked by the nomination. He told NBC OUT, "I thought people were f-u-c-k-i-n-g with me. I saw it on my Twitter – I didn’t know this was a category and/or that we were eligible to be nominated. If you woulda told me that morning I was going to end the day with an Emmy nomination, I would’ve said you were crazy."
Unfortunately for fans of "Gay of Thrones" - and the HBO series it recaps - the end is near. There may only be 13 episodes left of "Game of Thrones," and once its series finale airs, its critically acclaimed recap show will wind down as well.
The next stop for "Gay of Thrones" creator Erin Gibson will be TV Land. The network has ordered an unscripted show based on her podcast with Bryan Safi, "Throwing Shade."
Van Ness is planning to stay in front of the camera. "I never knew I had a passion for being on camera, which I definitely realized I do." He also has developed a love for breaking down serious and complex topics, so he started a podcast of his own, "Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness" where an expert will explain a topic of Van Ness's choosing.
While "Game of Thrones" fans wait for the hit HBO series to return next summer, they can check out Jonathan Van Ness's laugh-out-loud recaps on Funny or Die's website.