A Philadelphia-based podcasting duo is introducing the voice of gay black professionals to the airwaves — a perspective they said is surprisingly lacking in the popular medium.
Justin Bettis, 31, and Maurice Smith, 37, host “Category Is … ” a new, weekly 90-minute podcast on black culture, dating, politics and current events told through the perspective of two gay men of color.
The hosts (who happen to be exes who remained friends after their brief relationship) share their experiences as working professionals living in Philadelphia while providing commentary on trending topics and national news.
“When you are of two marginalized communities, people have this idea that LGBTQ people of color have this homogenous thinking,” Bettis said. “We’re both black, gay professionals and we didn’t find that voice in the podcasting world. It was important to us to be examples of black men who are intelligent and well-rounded.”
Since the podcast’s debut in October, the duo has released 15 full episodes and five short bonus episodes. The first episode featured the hosts playing a game of 17 questions as an introduction for listeners about who they are, with questions ranging from dating non-negotiables to celebrity favorites.
The podcast has amassed an average of 300 listens a week with close to 300 Apple Podcast subscribers so far.
Named as an homage to the documentary “Paris is Burning,” the program is loosely based on ballroom culture, in which each pop-culture topic or news item is presented as a “category”— similar to the runway categories in ballroom. The hosts also give “10s across the board” to people who have made headlines for inspirational or notable achievements.
Other segments include “I Said What I Said,” in which the hosts share unpopular opinions, and a cocktail-recipe-sharing segment called “Whatcha Drinking?”
“We’re from two completely different backgrounds and we’re not afraid to challenge each other’s opinions,” said Smith. “You get to hear from two people who are seemingly the same on paper but have different viewpoints about the same topic.”
Bettis is an attorney and Smith is a data analyst. The two had no experience in podcasting other than being avid listeners.
“One day over dinner in January, I threw out the idea of starting a podcast,” Smith said. “Our conversations were always funny and shady, so we thought it would be fun to document our kiki sessions.”
The hosts began researching podcasting how-tos, such as best microphones to use, the right editing software and identifying competitors and frontrunners in the black LGBTQ podcasting market.
“One of the hurdles we had to get over in the beginning is realizing that a lot of people who have started podcasts already had that social-media presence or write for The New York Times or have this YouTube channel they’ve been doing for years, so they have that built-in audience of followers and we didn’t have that,” Smith said.
“We’re seeing that we’re getting listeners in different countries such as London, Brazil and Canada,” added Bettis. “We’re seeing these cities and countries pop up and we can see the potential for this to be big. Philly’s an underdog city, and we have that underdog spirit about our podcast.”