When The Real World: New Orleans debuted in the summer of 2000, Danny Roberts became an instant star. The ninth season of the Mary-Ellis Bunim/Jonathan Murray hit felt bigger than ever before (Seattle and Boston are deeply burned in my memory as well), and the reality show pioneer was everywhere that summer. For those who fell in love with Roberts’ calm demeanor and enthusiastic spirit, seeing him enter The Uptowner was an absolute thrill.
If you were a queer kid in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s, you knew who Roberts was. Full disclosure: when I came out to Megan as a teenager, I cited Danny Roberts when I nervously tried to tell her that I was gay. With shows like Will & Grace and Queer as Folk dominating gay stories on the fiction side, Roberts was one of the only queer people on a reality show just being himself (the gents from Queer Eye would start changing lives and wardrobes 2003). Seeing him on television alone was enough to excite and comfort viewers.
Roberts is gracious and sweet throughout our conversation. Before we started recording, I became one of thousands of people who told Roberts what his appearance on the reality show meant to me. I even met Roberts on one of his campus tours after the show concluded, and I dorkily showed him the picture that was taken–you can see it briefly at the top of our interview. In Homecoming, Roberts briefly discusses how advocacy was thrust upon him at a young age. First it was about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’s policies against closeted individuals who served our country. Roberts gets some closure with his ex, Paul Dill, whose face was famously blurred during the first iteration of the show. Now Roberts’ role as an advocate has shifted to showing resilience and how we must not get complacent as people threaten our safety and our rights. With both versions of The Real World, Roberts has taught us to be vocal and visible.
We do not always get to pay back those who had a supreme influence on ours lives, and, surely, Roberts has adjusted to gay men gushing at him about his time in New Orleans the first time. It was surreal to talk with him, and it proved once again that just being Danny Roberts can be revolutionary.
The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans is streaming now on Paramount+.