With their podcast Chosen Family, BFFs Thomas Leblanc and Tranna Wintour are queering your commutes
The Montreal comedians are letting queer friendship shine bright in the new season of their CBC podcast
Queeries is a weekly column by CBC Arts producer Peter Knegt that queries LGBTQ art, culture and/or identity through a personal lens. It won the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada.
If you spend even a few minutes with Thomas Leblanc and Tranna Wintour, it's easy to assume they've been friends for a lifetime. Collaborators both in their co-hosting of CBC podcast Chosen Family and in producing and performing a variety of truly fabulous stage performances blending comedy, cabaret and drag, Leblanc and Wintour seem to complement each other perfectly in any manner of the word. But their relationship — both professional and personal — is actually only a few years old and can be traced back, like so many wonderful things, to Céline Dion.
"We met at a mutual friend's Christmas party here in Montreal," Wintour explains. "And we became Facebook friends and we would engage in these sort of arguments over Céline Dion because Thomas loves her and I hate her. And when Céline's husband René Angélil passed away in 2016...I don't know how much the rest of Canada saw this but the wake was so insane. It was at the Notre Dame Cathedral and it was open to the public and Céline was there for like the whole day, from noon to 9 at night. And because it was open to the public, people were just going to the church one by one and offering their condolences to her. It was so weird. I'd never seen anything like it. And on top of that it was being live-streamed so I was just at home watching all of these random weirdos off the street just go into the church and greet Céline on what would normally be a very private moment."
Wintour messaged Leblanc and said, "We have to go and see this in person." So the pair met up — but by the time they got to the church it was too late and the line was cut off. Instead, they went and got coffee and started talking. Leblanc told Wintour about this idea he had for a Céline Dion show, which a few months later would mark the genesis of the pair's first collaboration: a cabaret called Saint Céline.
"It was sort of like this cabaret-slash-PhD look into Céline and her career and her life through music and drag and comedy," Wintour says. "And that was really the beginning of it."
Leblanc had actually seen Wintour perform a few times before they'd met.
"I saw Tranna live in I guess 2015 and I was just really drawn to her work," Leblanc says. "My background was more in journalism and content and being a booker and freelancer. I wanted to do comedy, but I just didn't know queer people doing comedy, to be honest. And Tranna was one of the few people I knew and liked. I knew I didn't want to do comedy in this conventional way — I was always kind of drawn to hosting and producing and curating. For me, to collaborate was a big part of it. And I was really drawn to Tranna as a performer, and then as a person."
Wintour had been performing a few years already at that point, but never with anyone else.
"I wasn't really collaborating — I was just going from club to club and show to show and doing my sets and doing my performances," Wintour says. "And it was always just this very solitary experience, as comedy tends to be. Thomas was really the first person that I collaborated with and it just instantly felt so right. When we did that very first show, it was packed... it was insane. There was just genuinely such a magical energy in the room that was just like, 'What is happening here?' I had never really felt anything quite like it, even on my own. And it just led to more collaborations. We did a show about Mariah Carey, and then we did a show about women and music in the 1990s, and we just kept going."
Through creating the shows, Leblanc and Wintour found themselves surrounded by a really incredible "chosen family" of artists and creative people in Montreal — and it was the spirit of this community that was what they decided they wanted to put out into the world through a podcast. A friend of Leblanc's had told him Montreal's Phi Centre was looking for podcast programming — and Chosen Family was born.
"From the beginning, the founder of the Phi Centre — Phoebe Greenberg — was very supportive," Leblanc says. "She said, 'Well, you can do your thing and we'll support you with the technical side and then the distribution,' which they did. So we did one season there with their team."
The podcast launched in August 2017 and ran until last April. Soon after, Wintour and Leblanc decided to start developing a second season with the CBC, "mostly because of the platform and wanting to reach more people."
"I think we've been really anxious to get back up and running because, especially toward the end of the first season, it really felt like the show was really connecting and we could definitely feel this momentum around the show happening," Wintour says. "But I think the time away is good because with this season we're working with an amazing producer. Her name is Cristal Duhaime and she produces Love Me, another CBC podcast. She came to us at the end of our first season at the Phi Centre and was just like, 'Have you thought about bringing this to CBC?' and that's sort of how that whole ball got rolling."
The new season premiered last month with first guest Ryan O'Connell (the creator and star of the exceptional Netflix series Special), and a second episode just went up with Tales of the City showrunner Lauren Morelli. As they did in the first season, Wintour and Leblanc continue to offer conversations that are uniquely their own from a Canadian queer perspective — something we certainly need more of. They're also doing it all while maintaining the extreme closeness that somehow has only existed since 2016.
"It's intense, honestly," Wintour says of her friendship with Leblanc. "Even though I know it's so obvious to people who know me, I guess it's been less obvious to myself — but I am just radically self-reliant. It's hard to let people in, especially when it's with creative stuff. But I feel like this friendship that I have with Thomas — and, beyond the friendship, the work that we get to do together — has really opened me up in a way that nothing else really has. So it's been really transformative in that sense. And I think also, as a fiercely single person who's been single for so long, the idea of commitment has always been kind of terrifying to me."
Leblanc says it's both similar and different for him.
"I'm an only child so having this friendship with Tranna — initially I was saying we were more like comedy wife and husband but really I feel more like we're siblings," he says. "I don't know what it feels without a sibling, but my guess is that it feels close to this. I also love that we very instinctively realized over the years that we share so many of the same values and we're really hard workers and we have the same work ethic. And also, we just are obsessed with the Spice Girls, you know? We have so much in common and of course it's all because of our birth charts and the astrological makeup of our lives."
Check out the chemistry of that astrology on the Chosen Family podcast, as well as at a trio of upcoming live shows: Saint Celine at Just For Laughs (July 25) and Being Britney: A Pop Tragedy at Montreal Pride (August 14).