Joel Kim Booster Tells Us About Being ‘Loot’ Season 2’s ‘Alpha’ Gay And ‘Little Voodoo Dolls Of Bowen’ Yang

Getty Image/Merle Cooper

Multihyphenate doesn’t feel like the right word to describe Joel Kim Booster. He is one, a writer-actor-producer with an IMDb credits list as long as a white woman’s Lululemon receipt. But he’s not content with wearing just three hats, he’s got an entire closet full. Stand-up comedian. Podcast host. Drag Race judge. Professional dinner party guest. And the visionary who once read a copy of Pride & Prejudice while vacationing on Fire Island and (probably) thought, “I’m going to give the world the gayest Austen adaptation they’ve ever seen.”

He did, with Hulu’s Fire Island, a romantic comedy starring Booster, Bowen Yang, Matt Rogers, Tomas Matos, and Margaret Cho that made history and broke down barriers in 2022. Since then, Booster’s been popping up – on talk shows and Netflix specials – wielding his sharply insightful brand of funny.

His latest stage? The second season of Apple TV+’s Loot, a comedy series starring Maya Rudolph as an out-of-touch billionaire divorcee intent on doing some good with her eye-bulging bank account by way of her nonprofit. Some two years – and a couple of industry strikes – later, Loot’s sophomore outing sees Rudolph’s Molly Novak dead set on giving away all of her money to help those less fortunate. Of course, she’s also living in an oceanfront “cabana” with (only) five pools, a water bed filled with chamomile tea, and an emotional support sloth on call.

Booster plays her assistant Nicholas, a well-dressed wannabe influencer who dishes out biting commentary. He’s softened a bit since season one, building genuine friendships with the do-gooders hoping to use Molly’s influence to implement meaningful change in the community, but he’s still the walking insult generator that delivered some of the show’s most meme-able one-liners two years ago.

We chatted with Booster about the evolution of his character, breaking the “gay best friend” stereotype, and Bowen Yang Voodoo dolls.

You get to make out with Maya Rudolph this season which means I’ve now seen you and Bowen Yang play straight guys. Who do you think pulls it off better?

[Laughs] I think maybe me by a hair, only because I think I have more deep-seated insecurities bubbling underneath the surface in the same way that a lot of toxic straight guys do. So I relate to that experience a little bit more than Bowen, who I think is slightly more self-possessed than I am.

How does season two differ from season one, in terms of the comedy and your character’s arc?

I obviously love season one, but comedy benefits from time. We set the foundation and now season two is just a lift-off, baby. We hit the ground running and it’s very joke forward. In terms of Nicholas, he is still the same prickly, closed-off guy that he was in season one, but slowly, the cracks are forming in the armor. We’re seeing that transformation continue to happen. I think the best part about season two for me is that we established the character in season one, and dropped little hints here and there about his background and how he maybe came to be that way. But we really make good on the promise of the premise of those jokes. We see how he became the guy that he is today and why he might be a little closed off emotionally to some of these people. It was really fun to be able to add that dimension to Nicholas and I hope we continue to do the show so we can just layer more and more on top.

I do appreciate that Nicholas keeps his mean streak a bit. This isn’t the kind of comedy like Abbott Elementary where almost everyone is so genuinely nice to each other all the time.

I’ll never have enough of Abbott Elementary, but you need a Janelle James in that workplace comedy to break up the positivity. I think I am so grateful that I get to play that role on this show because it’s just so much fun. It’s so much fun being so rotten.

In real life, are you a “break up the positivity” kind of person?

No, it’s so cringey. I’m a fairly earnest person. I’m a much more introverted person than I think a lot of people expect me to be, especially people who know me primarily as a standup or from Loot. I’m a little baby sometimes. That is my vibe certainly in real life. It’s very different from Nicholas. I think he’s a much more confident person than I am at the end of the day.

There are some parallels between your character’s background and your own that we get to explore in episode three. Why did you want to inject a bit of yourself into him?

I am really grateful to [creators] Alan [Yang] and Matt [Hubbard] because they’ve always been generous with all of us in wanting our input on how these characters develop and making them characters that we can really relate to. Specifically with episode three, they came to me early in the process of writing and asked, ‘Do you want his parents to be Asian or would you like him to be a transracial adoptee like you?’ I immediately jumped at the chance to be able to portray that kind of family in a really incidental way. The adoption part of it is not centered in that story, and that was really important to me. You just get to see this family existing and they’re just presented to you on screen and audiences are smart, they’ll figure out how that happened. I would love to see that more in media for sure. It’s like, why be so beholden to the race of a family when people like me exist out there and families like mine exist and look like that?

It also separates him from that stereotypical “gay assistant/best friend” stand-in. Were you worried about being boxed into that trope at all?

Listen, the fact is, I get called in to audition for gay assistants constantly. It is a constant rotation. That is the only role that Hollywood is really interested in seeing me play, ultimately. So I was definitely apprehensive at the beginning, but after talking to Matt and Alan at the start, they indicated that they were going to allow me some input to make sure that that character didn’t just become a one-dimensional gay assistant, best friend role. I think that has continued in season two as we’re seeing a lot more of me and Maya’s relationship.

I think that really grows and you see the many different layers to that relationship that makes it slightly different. Then honestly for me as both a gay guy and an Asian man, I think it’s really nice for me to be able to play a character that walks into the room and owns it and is like the alpha in a lot of situations. Being able to play someone who is never the butt of the joke in scenarios or never allows himself to be and gets there first. I think that’s really, for me, what sets him apart in a lot of ways and is the most fun that I have ever had playing that kind of role.

You share significantly more screen time with Maya Rudolph this season. What’s something that surprised you about working with her?

Getting to play with Maya more really is a masterclass in taking big swings and taking risks as a comedian. When I improvise on this show, so much of it is using my writer’s brain. I’m very analytical in the way that I approach comedy as both a standup and as a comedy writer and watching Maya — getting to be in the room with Maya a lot, she comes from the gut and instinct. That’s so inspiring to me. But of course, that isn’t something that I didn’t expect from Maya. Honestly, I always go back to this thing about Maya, which is she’s such a good mom. It is not like a five-nanny situation in that house.

She is driving her kids to dance practice. She’s going to the competitions at the Hilton by the airport. She is on sick duty. Quite honestly, I’ve worked for a lot of bosses who do not care if their families live or die, and it is so refreshing to work in an environment where the number one on the call sheet is like, ‘No, actually, we need to wrap on time because I love my family.’ That just really permeates through the rest of the set, and it is one of the nicest environments I’ve ever had the pleasure of working in for sure because of that.

The season opens with the show mocking the Vogue 73 Questions video series. You recently bought a house. What would a 73 Questions with Joel Kim Booster look like?

I would pull a lot of inspiration from the Donatella [Versace] 73 questions. I think that’s probably top of my list in terms of the most iconic 73 questions. But I would have a lot of fun winking at the theater of spontaneity that they try to create when in fact, it is so scripted and so stilted all the time. I would have little Easter eggs like that, sight gags spread throughout the house just in the background. Little voodoo dolls of Bowen may be sitting on the bookshelf.

How do you decide when to switch hats – from acting to directing to writing? Or is the goal to be able to do all three when you can?

I want to be the captain of the ship and I want to wear many hats. I obviously look up to people like Issa Rae and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, people who did that and created those shows — ran them and starred in them. That’s always been the goal. But barring that, I think for me, I’ll always think of myself as a writer first. There are some projects on the back burner for me right now that I’m writing for other people, and that’s really exciting. But ideally, I’d like to wear all three hats at the same time and continue to do that.

That’s the plan. A lot of things could change between now and then. If they came to me tomorrow and said, ‘Coleman Domingo wants to star in it instead,’ I would say, ‘That seems fine by me. I’d rather the movie get made with him, than not get made at all.’ So yeah, we’ll see. I’m hopeful though.

Apple TV+’s ‘Loot’ Season 2 premieres on April 3.

 


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