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Merce: Positively Gleeful

Merce, the HIV+ musical comedy series, returns for a second hilarious season…
 
By Sean Larkin
 
Charles Sanchez keeps a framed Wheaties box featuring Greg Louganis in a Speedo above his desk. It includes an autograph by the Olympian that reads, “Charles, believe in yourself! Greg Louganis.”
 
“Believing in yourself sounds cheesy, but it’s a must as a creative artist,” Sanchez reflects.
 
He should know. It took courage for him to create Merce, a musical comedy series that he not only stars in, but also writes and produces. He recalls being told over and over again that it couldn’t be done, but he knew he had to because the world needed a show like Merce.
 
Merce is about a middle-aged, super-gay, HIV-positive dude living in New York City, surrounded by a crazy cast of friends and family. It’s Glee meets Pee Wee’s Playhouse with a little side eye, filled with potty mouth humor. Most notably, although its main character is HIV-positive, he is not depicted as sad, sick or dying. In fact, Merce sings, dances and laughs his way through a candy-coloured, musical comedy life.
 
“I’m a person living with HIV,” Charles Sanchez reveals. “I wanted to show a character who was living with HIV and wasn’t an evil pariah out to infect the world and didn’t have a sad cloud hanging over him. That’s certainly not been my experience.”
 
He explains that as he and his creative partner, Tyne Firmin, developed the idea for Merce, they quickly decided to go completely opposite of what viewers would expect. Make it a comedy! Make it a musical! Make it totally silly and fun! Maybe that way, they could change peoples’ minds about what someone living with HIV looks like.
 
We spoke with Charles Sanchez about the groundbreaking series, now in its second season.
 
First of all, congrats on the second season of Merce! That’s a huge deal. How does it feel?
Thank you so much! I’m fraught with feelings – pride, excitement, happiness, but also relief! My producing partner, Tyne Firmin, and I have been working on this season for over three years, and for a while it felt like we’d never be done. Mostly, though, I think I feel like OhMyGodLookWhatWeDid!
 
I have to say, your show is refreshing because Merce is very different from the typical queer characters we see on TV.
One of the things I’m proudest of is that Merce, as a character, is unapologetically gay. He’s unashamed and authentically fabulous, and has no filter when it comes to that. I think we need more examples of characters who are proud of their queer identities, wherever they land on the queer or gender human spectrum. Just like seeing people of various ethnicities in media, people need characters who teach them that it’s okay to be who they are in all their glory. In that way, I strive to be more like Merce.
 
What’s been your favourite episode?
That’s hard to say! I guess if you had a glitter bomb over my head and I had to answer, it would have to be the scenes with Sam Given as Cousin Todd. We have great comedy chemistry, and he is so much fun to play with! He is an amazingly funny man. The scene in Episode 6 where we do a Steel Magnolias parody (“Metal Hydrangeas”) is so freaking gay and hilarious, it might be my fave.
 
Are you blessed with a bunch of zany, colourful characters in your real life?
Somewhat! My family, both biological and logical, is very funny. We all use comedy to get through life’s day-to-day. I mean, if it’s not funny, then what’s the point?
 
As someone living with HIV, how would you describe a typical day in your life?
I get up, go to the bathroom, make coffee. Do a little meditation, check Facebook, go to the gym, do some writing, call my mom. Cook din-din, watch some telly, take my meds, crash out. I may masturbate somewhere in there, if I get the itch. Pretty normal, I think.
 
Are you single?
Well, yes, Yenta, I’m single and dating. I’ve met a few cute guys in the past coupla weeks, but nobody that’s rocked me to my core.
 
Then we have to get some serious questions.
Shoot.
 
How does your Grindr/Scruff/Chappy profile read?
Different apps demand different profiles. Some are more leather and lace; some are more pearls and cardigans.
 
What are you looking for in a guy?
Suffice to say that I like tall guys, my age-ish, and employed is good. And you must have a sense of humour. That is a must.  I enjoy a good romp, but love is the goal. I really want a relationship with a terrific fella, one who is honest and fun and wants a life together. There’s a line from The Music Man, “I would like him to be more interested in me than he is in himself, and more interested in us than in me.” Geez, does that sound like a Hallmark movie or what?
 
It sounds wonderful! One thing I loved about Season 2 was that Merce finds love! Why was that important?
I thought it was really important to show that people with HIV have hot sex lives and people who fall in love with them. I also wanted to show a serodiscordant relationship (where one person has HIV and the other does not) where the issue or fear of HIV transmission isn’t even discussed. It’s a subtle way to show that if a person living with HIV (in this case, Merce) is on successful treatment, he or she can’t transmit the virus. Undetectable equals untransmittable!
 
Amen to that.
Living with the virus, or any challenge really, is all a matter of attitude. And glitter. Glitter always helps.
 
For more information on Merce, visit www.mercetheseries.com.
 

 
SEAN LARKIN is an entertainment writer for several online publications including Blasting News and Buzz Music. He graduated from Fordham University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Communication at Hunter College in 19 NYC. He understands that he is far too old to be a fan of Shawn Mendes, but he simply cannot help himself.

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