Joey Zauzig Doesn’t Think the Gays Gave Real Friends of WeHo a Chance
In order for something, anything really, to be commercially successful, gay audience approval is a must. At least that’s according to the rules laid out by PR maven Samantha Jones. So when MTV’s reality series The Real Friends of WeHo’s target audience read the show for filth, it wasn’t a great omen for its prospects. Nor was the fact that it filled the network’s 9pm slot, docking a half-hour from “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” But for Joey Zauzig, who grew up watching “The Hills” on MTV, the reaction was all part of the process. In fact, he and his cast mates—Brad Goreski, Todrick Hall, Curtis Hamilton, Jaymes Vaughn, and Dorion Renaud—steeled themselves for the backlash. “People are gonna hate-watch it, people are gonna shit on it, because that’s kind of what happens, unfortunately, in the queer community,” he told WeHo resident and podcasting king Ty French. What was unexpected, for Zauzig, was that not all his cast mates bought into the reality TV social contract. His no-nonsense “call it like it is” approach gave him a bad rap as the show’s resident pot-stirrer, but he was only doing his job (he’s look at you, Dorion). Ahead of tonight’s season finale, Zauzig and French got together to talk about haters, seeing oneself on television, and cutthroat beauty standards.
JOEY ZAUZIG: Hey boo!
TY FRENCH: Hey, how are you? You ready?
ZAUZIG: Oh, I’m ready.
FRENCH: We met back in 2018. I just want to say, to any of the haters, that you are exactly how you are in real life on the show. You’re funny, expressive, passionate. And you might be a little drama, but you’re super caring. Has your perception of reality changed since being on reality TV?
ZAUZIG: I mean, for sure. I’m such a big housewives fan. So watching the shows back now and like, knowing what is like going on, it definitely changed. It makes the feeling of watching reality television different because I just know too much. But it’s still so exciting. While I was filming, funny enough, I did not watch any reality television. I was just like, “I can’t get into this because I’ll just think too much.” So I was watching like fucking “Blue’s Clues” and shit.
FRENCH: Was being on reality TV a dream of yours?
ZAUZIG: Reality TV was definitely a dream of mine. Like, let’s be real. And I feel like, you probably knew that because you’ve known me for a while. It’s so refreshing. I feel like my friends who know me watch it like, “That’s Joey.” Especially this past week that people are very much tuning in and watching it on demand. The tweets and stuff, people are like “Joey is so drama.” I always call it like I see. Five years ago, Joey on “Real Friends of WeHo” would have been a bigger mess. But yeah, it’s always been a dream. I think that I’m just proud of the show. It goes back to like me watching “The Hills” and being like, “I want to be on an MTV reality show.” The fact that it’s on MTV. And it’s a reality show. I’m just excited.
FRENCH: So you’re in New York City for a while and you recently moved to WeHo a year or two ago. What’s your favorite part about being there?
ZAUZIG: I love like a sunset tower moment. But I also like getting a little bit messy on the weekends and maybe popping into High Tops, going to Craig’s for dinner and then like hitting the WeHo bars to see that they’re all still standing alive and well. It’s history.
FRENCH: It’s so fun. I’m pretty sure we’re literally neighbors.
ZAUZIG: Maybe you need to come on season two.
FRENCH: Hey, put me in the cast. I’m ready. So, I’ve got to keep it real. But, in the queer community, there’s this huge topic of conversation surrounding representation. As gay guys, we love to hype up women. We hype up these pop girls, we hype up these housewives. I’ve always wanted like a gay ass version of Housewives. But gays can be super catty. And I feel like since the show was announced, there was like a lot of backlash. Were you expecting that? Do you feel like people gave the show a fair chance?
ZAUZIG: I think that’s kind of a looming question. So, let’s be real. During filming, we all had conversations like “Oh, my God, like this show is going to get hate.” Before we knew we were [airing] after Drag Race, before we knew we were on TV, we all were in agreement: people will hate-watch it, people are gonna shit on it, because that’s kind of what happens, unfortunately, in the queer community. Because does it check every box for inclusivity or representation? Absolutely not.
FRENCH: But that’s why it’s called the “Real Friends of WeHo.”
ZAUZIG: But it is a great jumping-off point for different types of representation outside of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” The Drag Race fandom is so intense, which I figured out the hard way. And you know, they got their 30 minutes taken away. For them, that’s a big deal. So that’s where I think a lot of hate was. “Let’s not watch the show, we want this show to fail,” instead of how could this show represent us and make our community be seen in a better light, which is, I think, what it should have been. Hopefully for season two, which I can’t talk about, this is just a jumping-off point. So I want people to know that. I’ve also want people to know that someone coming out on national television, like Curtis, can help so many people. So to shit on it and to look down at because it doesn’t check every single box and it’s not what people want to be seeing isn’t fair.
FRENCH: Totally. I think a lot of the backlash was, like you said, people protesting the fact that it cut off their Drag Race experience.
ZAUZIG: I think so too.
FRENCH: So, in this season, you ended up being a highlight of a lot of the drama, which is actually very funny. Were you expecting to be the drama cast mate of the season?
ZAUZIG: I wasn’t. I hope I don’t get in trouble for saying this, but certain cast members, the Dorians and James, it was very difficult to work with them. Because when you go on a reality show, you sign up to be vulnerable and to be yourself and nothing can be off limits when you sign that contract, bitch. So yeah, in the beginning, I felt like, “Okay, I’m the only one bringing up shit. I’m the only one talking about drama,” and it got frustrating because then I was like, “Oh, fuck, I’m gonna seem like I’m drama.” With James, he was kind of trying to be like, “I’ll be your big brother.” Like, I don’t need a big brother. And it’s definitely not gonna be you. Dorian was trying to hold his whole persona as being better than everybody. And like, that didn’t work out too well for him.
FRENCH: It felt like he didn’t know the show that he was signing up for. And then once he got to film, he was like, “Well, I actually am going to bomb this because I don’t want to be involved in this.”
ZAUZIG: Knock, knock! Wake up, bitch! The thing that really pisses me off, now Dorian has gone on these interviews and he’s like, “This isn’t the show that I signed up for” What contract did you sign, sweetie? We signed the same goddamn thing. I want people to know. He tried to go on and make it the Dorian show. Now the four of us—me, Brad, Todrick, Curtis—are like best of friends. We talk all the time, every day, and he missed out on that. As you’ll see in the episode, I don’t think Dorian likes Curtis becoming closer friends with us. I think he got kind of jealous. You’ll see what happens tonight. It’s fucking wild.
FRENCH: I’m excited to see it. I don’t think he truly gave the show a fair chance. So, as people can see on the show, fitness is a big part of your life. What is your typical workout routine look like?
ZAUZIG: Oh my god, girl. I mean, if I’m gonna crazy Joey workout mode, it’s like waking up at six, go do cardio for 30-45 minutes, and then head straight to dog pound. Monday is chest and triceps. Tuesday is back and biceps, Wednesday is legs, Thursday is shoulders and abs. Friday, legs again; Saturday, yoga; and Sunday is like, a hike or something? I’ve always struggled with seeing the same image in the mirror that other people see. I talked about that in the show, but it didn’t really make it. Working out to me became a part of my life. I also have a balance where I can’t get too crazy because I’ll just drive myself insane. I think that that’s something that a lot of people don’t have conversations about enough, in the gay community specifically.
FRENCH: A lot of people in the gay community relate to that because there is this body standard that we’re expected to have.
ZAUZIG: We do. I mean, you turned your whole body around, honey. You’ve been with Ash Karen every day.
FRENCH: I took it too far and for the last like, six months, I want to take a step back because at what point is this a borderline eating disorder, being so obsessed with your appearance. I was doing it for my appearance, not for my health.
ZAUZIG: That’s hard to admit. When you can recognize that, that’s when you have to take a step back. So I’ve definitely had to do that a few times. I’m in my moderate era. Especially being on the show and seeing myself at every angle, I couldn’t control everything. I had to work on those insecurities before filming. I’ve gotten a lot of hateful messages about my appearance on the show, but that’s something I was prepared for.
FRENCH: I just did a podcast episode yesterday with Heather Gay and she mentioned it because I asked her a similar question about going on reality TV. She mentioned that it’s literally truly like immersion therapy. You truly have to get over your appearance and your looks—being influencers we’re so used to photographing ourselves a certain way and seeing ourselves through the lens that we create.
ZAUZIG: With my three best friends and, of course, Brian [Grossman, Zauzig’s fiance], I’ve just been focusing on those relationships, because they make me feel good. You know, going through the process of filming the show and then watching it back, that’s a big deal. I don’t think I’ve totally digested it. But I do know that I feel like the most confident version of myself since I can ever remember. I would go out in public before the show and watch myself back and I would be so insecure about the way that I look or my skin. Now I’m like, “Fuck it. who cares?” That’s one of the really big positives of the show.
FRENCH: Good. So now that the season has wrapped, what was your rose and thorn?
ZAUZIG: Oh, Ty!
FRENCH: Taking a note from the Kardashians. [Laughs]
ZAUZIG: I think my rose was definitely learning so much about myself and then also creating these lifelong friendships. You can’t experience what we experienced while filming except with each other. I think that the thorn for me is definitely filming so much and having not all of it make it to the final cut. Not getting our full story told, which I know is the case for anyone that goes on reality TV. You film so much, you divulge so much about your life, and at the end of the day, it goes to a cutting room. Hopefully, season two—I mean, off-camera already, I will tell you, girl, there’s just a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot of stuff going on. People see their confessionals back, not everyone’s happy. But I’m like, “Okay, I knew what was going to be cut and what was not going to be.” I don’t have any qualms about the editing, because I think everything that’s shown is, to my knowledge, exactly how it went down.
FRENCH: Do you wish that you guys did a reunion situation?
ZAUZIG: I want to do one but I don’t know if everyone would show up. I think there’s a lot of shit that needs fixing. I would love to clear the air. Even after filming like I texted Dorian to figure out what the fuck went wrong. I didn’t get a text back and he’s still talking to Curtis about me behind my back. I think that it’d be nice to clear the air. Maybe you can be our Andy Cohen?
FRENCH: I mean, hosted by the Ty French podcast. Let’s go! Now that the season’s wrapped, what’s next for Joey? I know you’re engaged.
ZAUZIG: There’s so much on the horizon. Being an influencer for this long and building my business, there are so many products I want to do. There are things I want to come out with and build my business and go into more of the entrepreneurial mindset. I’m exploring that right now. It’s just an exciting time.