Before The Other Two, Drew Tarver was primarily known for his work in the improv and sketch comedy scene. “I had spent most of my 20s just putting a mustache on and screaming at an audience at midnight. There would be 17 people like, ‘That was funny, but mostly loud,’” he recently joked to me over a Zoom call. So the 35-year-old relished his role as Carey, one of the titular siblings in The Other Two, a Comedy Central-now-HBO Max sitcom about a brother and sister dealing with the sudden fame of their younger brother (and later, their mother).
From the beginning, Tarver noticed numerous overlaps between himself and his on-screen counterpart. Like Carey, Tarver also self-identified as a struggling actor; he also knew what it felt like to come out as queer later in life. In the currently-airing second season, Carey is treading new ground — he has his first real boyfriend, has said his first real I love you, and is even booking consistent acting gigs (even if they aren’t the ones he really wants) — but not without experiencing his fair share of hiccups.
Of course, it’s in this latter part where much of the show’s humor shines brightest, mining endless laughs from Carey’s general ineptitude, whether he’s mistaking a gay May-December couple for an actual, blood-related father and son, subconsciously plagiarizing Beginners when charged with writing an entire screenplay over a weekend, or gradually coming to terms with the fact that he might need to spend more time living as a single gay “sex boy” in order to, as he puts it, “see more dicks before I settle down.”
Two days after an evening spent sharing Domino’s pizza at a bar following the official premiere in New York, I hopped on a Zoom call with Tarver to talk about the joy he feels on a set where he doesn’t have to hide his queerness, fan-girling over Molly Shannon, and how the show manages to stay hilarious despite unpacking some devastating themes.
It’s been a long journey to season two. How does it feel to finally have it out in the world?
It feels so good. We were working on this thing for so long, and with the pandemic delay, it was just devastating. It was like, “Oh, you’re so close, but now you’ve got to wait a full year more.” So it feels really nice. Even at [our New York] premiere, just hearing other people laugh was great because you do this stuff and you’re like, “I know this is funny,” but you don’t really get that immediate satisfaction. So finally, it’s like, “Oh, great. People are watching it — and they like it!”
Have you been tracking the reactions to the new episodes?
I can get devastated by one even medium-happy comment. I can take it pretty hard, so I try not to look. But if somebody I know sees something that is good, they can tell me. I’m so sensitive, so I’m like, “Hey, if you see something and it’s medium, don’t tell me.”It has to be a full-on, straight-up compliment.
Coming from a sketch comedy and improv background, what was the biggest change you had to make in order to really build a single character from the ground up?
I had spent most of my 20s just putting a mustache on and screaming at an audience at midnight. There would be 17 people like, “That was funny, but mostly loud.” But through my training at Upright Citizens Brigade, even though you are playing these big characters in sketches at times, you’re also playing the straight man in a sketch, where you’re the one responding to the big character. The training there is like, “Play it as real as possible so that the comedy can really shine opposite this very normal character who’s kind of just pointing out stuff.” So I just used that training because my character is mostly responding to bigger characters. Carey has some bigger storylines himself, but it’s mostly calling out or being the voice of reason in moments. I had a lot of prep and training for that in sketch comedy.
What drew you to the character of Carey Dubek? What was the thing that made you go, “I really want to play that guy?”
Well, being a struggling actor, playing a struggling actor was like, Okay, I know these humiliating moments. I know the struggle you’re going through. So it felt very real. I also really responded to [the fact that] it wasn’t a coming out story about a queer character. It was more about a character who’s already come out, but is dealing with the repercussions of coming out late, having some internalized homophobia still coursing through his veins, and trying to figure that out. Not only did it have these very funny big moments and super smart jokes, but it also had an emotional element that felt very real and that you could latch onto.
A lot of those “super smart jokes” are also very queer-specific. But what’s refreshing about The Other Two is that these jokes make queer people feel like they’re in on the joke rather than being the butt of the joke, which I think has historically been the case for many sitcoms in the past. Was that something you were also drawn to?
Yes. The whole [season one] audition storyline where it was like, “Your character is straight. Could you play it a little more straight?” — stuff like that really made me laugh. Chris and Sarah do such a great job of making those moments feel specific and truthful. I really responded to all that material because it just felt so real. It felt like a real portrayal of a queer character reacting to feeling alone at times.
There’s a long history of queer actors being told to not come out, and if they do, to tone down elements of their queerness so they won’t be pigeonholed in the industry. How does it feel to work on a set where you can actually embrace your queerness rather than feel the need to hide it?
Oh, it was amazing. When the creators of a show know you truly, there’s a closeness you have with them that makes acting and doing the material they’ve written more truthful. Having [Chris and Sarah] know the real me constantly felt good. You just feel supported.
In season two, Carey is in a much different place in his life — especially romantically. Were you surprised to see Carey’s season two trajectory after the events of season one?
It was nice to see him [evolve] because it takes him four full episodes [in season one] to put his foot down and stop making out with his straight roommate, which I think is a little bit too many episodes. So it was nice, in the second season, to be like, Okay, he has a boyfriend and now he is making some strides in his romantic life.
But it was also interesting to be like, If Carey has a boyfriend, does that all of a sudden make him fixed? Or are there going to be lingering feelings of self-loathing? And if so, how do they present themselves in a relationship? What does that look like and how does it affect the relationship? It was really interesting to see him trying to make a relationship work when he still doesn’t have some of the deeper things about himself figured out.
This season, we also dive into some backstory about Carey that helps explain, at least a bit, why he took so long to come out of the closet in the first place and why he’s now obsessed with this idea of being “normal.” We find out that his father didn’t really respond that well to him coming out as a gay man, and because of his father’s premature death, the two never really had a chance to find common ground.
Yeah. I think Carey is definitely trying to find approval from his dad. In certain episodes of this season, it’s very obvious that he wishes he had those moments with his dad to, like you said, find some common ground. He’s trying to figure out how to get that or find ways to feel that acceptance after his dad’s death. He’s definitely chasing after it. [laughs] I don’t mean to laugh. It’s very sad.
Well, it’s still a comedy!
Exactly. Just so everybody knows, this is a comedy! We have been talking about all these devastating topics, but I swear it’s funny!
This season also gets into these somewhat complex — but always funny — discussions about “the right way to be gay.” You have Carey and his boyfriend, Jess (Gideon Glick), who are kind of obsessed with this idea of being a picture-perfect gay couple, which to them, is basically being straight. Then you have the couple played by Noah Galvin and Tuc Watkins, who are open to Grindr threesomes and talk about taking molly at the club. But I love that the show doesn’t really try to argue that one side is better than the other — they’re just different. Even when Carey breaks up with Jess, claiming he needs time to experiment in the gay world, the show makes sure that you can empathize with both parties. Carey should be able to experiment, but it’s okay that Jess doesn’t feel that need.
Yeah. That was a tough scene because it’s one of those breakups where you understand that they both need to not be with each other right now, despite it feeling like a very good relationship for the most part. But speaking of his dad’s approval, Carey is trying to be like, “Oh, if I’m in the perfect heteronormative relationship, I will get the approval that I’m seeking.” But this season, Carey is learning that there’s no right way to be gay. He’s realizing, “What I’m trying to fit into is coming from some of my self-loathing as a person.”
The creators do such a good job writing these storylines that are rooted in these almost devastating realizations but with such funny material laid on top of it. It’s just so fun to be like, “I’m latching onto this moment and we’re going to do a ton of jokes about it. Then, we’re going to have a really quick devastating moment of truth, but then go back to the funny.” I love that tone.
I read that you were a big Molly Shannon fan way before you were cast on the show. Now that you’re in the second season, do you still find yourself fan-girling over her sometimes or has your relationship with her become a bit more natural?
I hope I do a good job of being normal around her. I hope she doesn’t go home saying, “Jeez, this kid.” Just to be in scenes with her, I can’t believe it sometimes because she’s doing her thing less than four feet from you. I remember in the first season, I told Chris and Sarah, “Hey, if it looks like Carey is a big fan of Molly Shannon in these scenes, just come tap me on the shoulder and be like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to stop smiling so big. You’re sad in this scene, remember?’”
I have to ask about what is still my all-time favorite scene from the show — when Kate Berlant tells you, “I am gagging for you, faggot!” How did you respond when you first read that in the script and then found out that it would be Kate Berlant saying it to you?
I was so excited because I’m a huge Kate fan. I used to watch her all the time do different shows around LA, so I was very excited to get to react to her saying that line. Then, just walking down the hall with her.
The walk is so good!
The walk away with her shoulders up! It is just an unbelievably funny scene.
Given the leap from season one to season two, where would you like to see Carey (romantically, professionally, and in general) in a prospective third season?
I don’t want to jinx it! But I think the character exists in this area where he’s trying to figure himself out but continuing to fall on his face — so maybe you just keep heightening where he’s struggling? If it was an audition in the first season and a hypothetical movie in the second season, maybe he’s struggling at full-on royal galas in the third? It’s like the stakes are higher, but he still can’t seem to figure himself out.