The Comedy Duo Behind ‘Very Gay Paint’ Committed to a Bit So Hard That They’re Now Real Muralists

Posted inBranding & Identity Design

In life, as in comedy, committing to the bit is key. Any goal or endeavor worth going after had better be done with complete, utter dedication and reckless abandon. At least, that’s if you ask Nicholas Scheppard and Jenson Titus, the comedian-muralist hybrids of Very Gay Paint.

“We both get fixated pretty easily. Anything that we end up taking on, we kind of go too far and sacrifice everything to finish it,” Scheppard said of stumbling into an unexpected career in mural painting with Titus. The three of us recently chatted via a Zoom call that the paint-splattered pair took from an Airbnb they were painting in Big Bear. After meeting in Philadelphia and moving to Los Angeles together in 2018 to pursue careers in comedy, Scheppard and Titus began painting murals for themselves and friends at the beginning of the pandemic.   

“It just snowballed into all of our friends wanting it, and then businesses, and then celebrities— it’s just been this crazy ride, and we’ve learned on the job,” said Scheppard. “We have no visual art backgrounds— we were just performers. I have a good design eye; I design everything, but Jenson’s a real master of execution.” 

Smash cut to present-day Los Angeles, where Very Gay Paint is a fully-fledged mural company taking on impressive, high-profile projects like RuPaul’s black-and-white-striped dining room and Trixie Mattel’s Trixie Motel in Palm Springs. But don’t let their success fool you— the satirical ethos of the brand remains the core of their business. The two create hysterical sketch-comedy videos to promote their work, write tongue-in-cheek social media captions to accompany the posts of their projects, and maintain a clear-eyed understanding of what makes them so wonderful: being stupid.

“Every time we get a new opportunity, we really push to get them to let us do it as stupidly as possible,” said Scheppard. “The point of view of the brand is always to push against the idea that there needs to be anything earnest about anything.” They express this through their brand in big and small ways, from the tagline on their website (“We paint things in a way that is very gay”), to their homepage button labeled “Homo” instead of “Home,” to their promotional materials overtly parodying the form of content that modern-day artists create. 

Balancing this satire with accidentally finding very real success as muralists has been interesting and unexpected territory for Scheppard and Titus to navigate. The brand voice itself developed in direct response to feeling like they were masquerading as visual artists. “It actually came out of an identity crisis with being perceived so largely as muralists, while we were really dedicated to being performers and comedians,” explained Titus. “A lot of it came from us wanting to undercut what we were doing because we were like, well, we’re not really muralists, we’re comedians. So we want to make sure we’re not taking any of this too seriously.”

“It would have felt inauthentic for us to ever be earnest because we didn’t enter any of this with an earnest interest in graphic design or visual art,” Scheppard continued. “We still get all the benefits of it in that it’s very mindful and creative, and I love that part of the job, but I think we always felt— even from the start— that we were performers wearing a mask of interior designers or visual art people. That’s what makes it so fun: we get to play pretend, essentially, while we’re doing something difficult— painting is hard!”

In many ways, Very Gay Paint is a long-form, drawn-out comedy sketch that Scheppard and Titus have committed to so hard that the muralist characters they’ve developed and play are now actual, real-life muralists. However, they’re clear that these characters are still very much just characters, and always will be. 

“I very much think of Very Gay Paint as a character that I play,” reflected Titus. “We created these two muralists that play in this way, in this satirical and irreverent and absurd voice around being gay. But it took a while to separate the identities. It is Nic and Jenson, but it’s not really us. But then we’re perceived as them, like when we go paint for clients. I get the sense that they are seeing us as these people in these videos, and it’s really interesting. It’s weird when people don’t get the brand and what we’re doing. It’s nuanced, for sure.”

“We get into our little painting uniforms and become kind of different people,” added Scheppard. “It does feel very much like the brand is a drag version of an interior design brand.”

Starting from the name Very Gay Paint, it’s obvious that the crux of the brand’s comedy is their over-emphasis on Scheppard and Titus being gay. This idea stemmed from the duo finding it ridiculous how society will view someone’s identification as gay as making whatever they do inherently special and significant. 

“We started to get success at a time that was pretty different politically for queer people,” elaborated Scheppard. “We couldn’t earnestly be like, It is valuable and amazing and good enough that I’m just gay! That idea was hysterical— like, very few of the stars of Queer Eye have an amazing proficiency in the thing they’re supposed to be good at— it’s just them being gay that makes it amazing. I always thought that was so funny, like mediocrity with the gay label on it suddenly makes it so sparkly. So that’s kind of the seed that ended up blossoming into the whole point of view of the brand.”

But in light of the recent, building onslaught of laws targeting the LGBTQIA+ community and public displays of homophobic and transphobic behavior, Scheppard admits things have changed a bit when it comes to celebrating something or someone simply for being gay. “I think now, there’s more room for that earnest celebration of being gay as being this spectacular thing. That has a little bit more productivity in it than it used to,” he said. “When we were less at risk, that seemed so stupid, because obviously, the next step is that gay people are just like everyone else. The over-emphasis on the celebration of gayness feels dumb until it’s like, Oh shit, no, we actually really need to be celebrating. 

When I asked about how the pair balances their comedy pursuits with this newfound career path, Scheppard and Titus were honest that it’s been tricky to figure out. “We’ve started taking things a day at a time in a way that is really different than it was two years ago,” Scheppard told me. “Back then, we were really intentional about, This is when we paint and this is when we’re doing comedy. The schedule was stacked from start to finish so we could make sure we’re doing two things. We’re a little more laid-back now; everything’s feeling a little more cohesive. Not trying to strangle our identities into submission, the way that we were, has been a real freedom. The company can be our job, and it doesn’t have to mean anything other than that.” 

“It was like a mini-game version of the larger game of capitalism,” Titus continued, “where so much opportunity was presenting itself, and we were trying to expand, and do more and more and more and more and more, and branch out, and make product, and do this and that, just because it was there. It was like, Get bigger! Get more money! Just because that’s what you do. It got to a point where we got burnt out and we were like, What are we even doing? Where are we going?

But it’s hard to stop playing a game when you’re winning. “We got a book, we sold a pilot to Hulu, we did all this shit. But then I was like, I don’t even know what I’m doing with all these things that I have; I don’t have any time in my day. We were like, What’s the point of just getting bigger? So now, we’re trying to slow down and be way more intentional with what we’re doing: having this be a part of our lives, but also having a big, full, rich life outside of it.”

Reassessing their goals in this way has proven critical for Scheppard, Titus, and their long-term happiness as creators. “Replacing the engine of ambition in the company with an engine of pleasure and joy has made us able to reconnect with the art and the comedy of it in a way that feels so much better than it felt when we were like, Well, we have to be funny right now, because if we’re not funny, then we won’t get all of our dreams!” said Scheppard. “Now when we make something comedy-wise, we get joy out of it, so I think the content we make is better, and we have a better time. There are levels and levels and levels of learning how to wrangle this beast.”

As Very Gay Paint continues to navigate the growth of a brand whose very existence is a bit, one thing is certain: they will remain very gay. But aside from that, Scheppard and Titus will strive to stay stupid and silly.

“RuPaul talks a lot about this idea that, with all aspects of life, there’s that moment in The Wizard of Oz when you peek behind the curtain and find out that the scary wizard is just this little stupid guy. That was a really inspiring idea for me,” Scheppard said. “We will continue to have success that seems really legitimized, but at no point do we need to actually be really esteemed and serious, and anything but this little stupid man that’s operating this giant machine. That’s really how running the company feels: we’re two really dumb guys operating this huge system of levers and pulleys.”