Very few things in life are truly ‘overnight’. The whole notion of someone becoming an overnight sensation is make believe. There are people who seem to be successful overnight. They just appeared in front of you, as if having come you’re your orbit out of nowhere. But truth of the matter is that very seldom is it, if ever, overnight. There is a lot of hard work involved that you just didn’t see.
Jonathan Van Ness, or JVN as he is oft referred to, has been making his way around long before his success as one of the new Fab Fives on the Netflix reboot of Queer Eye. He has been hosting a series The Gay of Thrones on Funny or Diefor a few years now, as well as hosting his own podcast, Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness. This year, he has chosen to embark on another lifelong dream: Becoming a stand-up comedian.
“Through doing Gay of Thrones,” Jonathan tells us, “I met Margaret Cho, who was like an idol of mine. And through working with Margaret, she was like ‘You should try stand-up!’ And over the years I had tried a time or two here or there. But I wasn’t really sure how to approach it. But when Queer Eye came out, I thought “Let me try a couple more times and really get this going.’ So I went out around L.A. and I did a couple of shows.”
To embark on this new venture, Jonathan has partnered up with Hotels.com to bring it to fruition, with their new venture Hotels.comedy. In this, they will chronicle Jonathan’s journey to become a stand-up in a 10-episode Youtube series. “Hotels.com reached out and said ‘You know, we love that you’re such a cheerleader for other people’s dreams, we’d love to be a cheerleader for you for this one.’ And they’ve offered to help me put together this tour, and it’s just been a really incredible opportunity to get to learn this craft and be able to entertain people and learn a new way to kind of entertain. And really learn what I want to say. So that’s been really fun.”
Stand-up comedy is hardly one of those things that you can just wake up and be good at. It is something that requires years of skill and nuance. It is essentially like waking up one day and saying “I just finished law school, but you know what? I think I’m going to be an elementary school guidance counselor.”
But all of that being said, it is something that you can be training for, without ever having realizing it. It can almost be your subconscious getting you ready to step out onto that stage. And I’m sure already spending years as a public figure helps. That will make it all the easier when you finally do decide to journey into the territories unknown, microphone in hand.
“I think it’s definitely a process of learning what the voice is,” Jonathan admits. “It’s about timing and delivery. And in some ways from doing hair for so long, I’ve been kind of practicing some of my stand-up from behind the chair at the salon. So I think that it has all helped. But there have definitely been experiences where I’ve been like ‘Okay, I could have tightened that up or maybe hit that punchline a little harder.’ In some of the shows I find myself doing improv more, and in some of my shows I find myself working on set material. So I’m definitely learning what I want to bring to the stage.”
The sheer idea of doing stand-up for the very first time is daunting. There are few things that allow you to feel as vulnerable and metaphorically naked as standing up there with a microphone for the first time. Even more terrifying, one would reckon, is doing it when people know who you are. Because it’s one thing if nobody knows who you are and it doesn’t go well. Because afterwards, you can hang the microphone back up and just go home. But when people know who you are, that is going to be something they remember about you.
This, however, is taking that to the next level. The idea of having a camera crew follow you around as you do something like stand-up for the first time adds a whole new layer to it. If it doesn’t go well, it’s no longer just you and the people in the room who know your face. It goes beyond that. Now every moment of your stand up career, and how you find out who you want to be onstage, is captured for all the world to see. However, the hesitancy most people would feel about this hadn’t even phased Jonathan.
“Well I think with the way that this opportunity came about with Hotels.com,” he admits, “and I think with all of the projects I have done or been apart of throughout my career, I have definitely trusted the team that was creating it. So I guess I wasn’t too hesitant. And I was a cheerleader in high school, it’s really hard to embarrass me. So I’m kind of willing to cut my teeth in public. And I think that’s kind of what I like. Sometimes you do great, some times you don’t. I think that sort of comes with a territory.
That is the magic of Jonathan Van Ness. That positivity that comes with him. Almost as if he’s a super-human. He does what he wants to do, after an upbringing in a rural conservative town in Illinois. His personality is infectious. As you watch the first episode of the series, you will see that in the way that people interact with him. That is the secret.
In the series, you can see the range of nerves mixed with his positive outlook. It would be nearly insane for him not to feel a little nervous. But the important thing isn’t the nerves. The important thing is how he manages to overcome it all and still win over the audience.
Speaking of super-human; How on Earth could one manage the full time schedule of working on making the third season of a television show when you throw something like this and touring the country into the mix?
“I think it’s just a lot of self care,” he admits. “It’s a lot of trying to eat properly and drink a lot of water and rest. It’s self care. I definitely don’t go out very much. I think I can count on one hand how many times I’ve drank since February because I’m just working a lot. I can have a drink here or there, but I’m definitely very focused on work.”
That is Jonathan Van Ness. Working hard, but also keeping in mind to take care of yourself. At the end of a lot of interviews, I tend to ask the question “What do you want your legacy to be?” This is something that is a bit of a loaded question, but at the same time, I like to hear the response. It says a lot about who that person is, and what their outlook is on life. You can get a good read on someone, I’ve found, with that question. Jonathan’s answer is everything you can expect it to be. Simple, yet focused.
“I want to be remembered as having left my space better than I found it. That I left a positive impact.”