Jonathan Van Ness took a moment from everything to share some exclusive thoughts about today’s Netflix premiere of Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness. If you love the podcast of the same name, imagine that with even more fun energy. Grab a snack and check out our fun chat about all things JVN!
What a big week, huh? Getting Curious makes the jump from podcast to video!
I know! It’s my first executive-produced solo series! I can’t believe it!
Your first episode is on bugs. How did you decide on that?
My obsession with bugs started when I moved to Texas in March of 2020. There are really interesting insects there, and that’s when I was first like, “What’s up with bugs?” That’s when I met with Dr. Jessica Ware in the summer of 2020 about cicadas. So the podcast episode on cicadas was when I was originally obsessed. Then, from meeting Jessica Ware, I just started seeing all these crazy insects I’ve never seen before in Texas. Stick bugs, leaf bugs, tarantulas, beetles of all different colors, all these different dragonflies. That’s when I was like “I need to learn more!”
That one was really exciting, and I think in terms of producing the show, there is a wealth of entomology expertise in New York City. Jessica Ware at the American Museum of Natural History. That was a question I felt we could really dive into, and have such rich experts, and such a diversity of angles to look at this question. So that was another reason why I thought bugs would be a great episode for the series.
It’s a good episode to do as video, because it’s interesting to see the bugs as well. How has the show been different from the podcast?
I think they’re two such different mediums. In our 200+ episodes of the podcast, 99% of the time I interview one expert for one question. Every once in a while, we’ll do two, but I’ve never had three guests on one episode. So to be able to have three or four or five or six per episode is really cool, because I’ve never been able to switch locations. And also because I was asking different versions of questions underneath the umbrella of a question. It really allowed experts who have very different experiences in very similar fields.
And I also wanted to bring comedy. Not intentional in terms of mindfulness, but I wanted to make it funny on purpose in doing those sketches. I was like, “How can I do those little sidebars and funny little moments to lighten the mood and keep things moving, and have it just be fun and engaging and not so serious?” Which is something I feel that we need.
I know you have an episode on hair, which is very much your wheelhouse. Did you learn anything new in the episode that surprised you?
I learned a lot historically about hair that I did not know. And I think I really wanted to understand it in terms of ancient history and near ancient history. Did people care about their hair, or is this obsession with hair a little more new? And in researching for this episode, I was blown away by how common our desire to want to look cuter has been throughout so many different societies and continents. It’s really been like a common thread for millennia, and I really didn’t know that. So that was really interesting.
Below: a clip from “Can We Say Bye-Bye to the Binary?“
What do you think is the most common misconception about non-binary people that you wish were different?
That we are a fad or it is a very new phenomenon. I feel like I see a lot of people who are saying “Stop with this gender delusion!” You’re a delusion, honey! I think it’s this concept that we’re somehow new, or that the modern way that we understand the binary, the cis-het “normal” is what is natural or the default. That is what is so bothersome, that people don’t have a better way to contextualize history. And so hopefully that’s going to help! In the “Bye-Bye to the Binary” episode, I really wanted to lead with love and also have other people share their experiences, but I always felt so terribly othered and terribly bullied because of my gender expression, before I even had language for that. I remember from a very young age feeling like, “If I could do something that would make it so that other kids don’t go through this, I would.” And I remember thinking that very, very, very, early. And I think that’s the feeling that I take into a lot of the things I do, like having developed this platform and being able to create this incredible career shift that I’ve had in the last like 10 years of my life.
I did this episode to help other people who are gender non-conforming and non-binary and part of the gender nonconforming gender diverse spectrum feel more in community with each other.
There’s also an episode on snacks! What are some of your go-to snacks?
[laughs] It’s funny. I am obsessed with powdered donuts. I am obsessed with Pop Tarts. I’m going through this cheese quesadilla phase. Just in the microwave. So good! And also there’s this place in Austin called Tacodeli and they make this Salsa Doña. And it’s really just jalapeño-based creamy salsa. I am obsessed with jalapeños, and they make one at Trader Joe’s. And that’s the closest to the Doña salsa that I can find that’s not the Tacodeli. Literally, like for real, I am salivating.
[Jonathan went on for about 15 minutes about Tacodeli here, which we have cut for space].
There’s an interesting overlap of ice skating with non-binary visibility this month with Timothy LeDuc. Can you talk about what that means and let people know what Timothy is doing in skating that’s important?
Yeah I mean first of all, slow clap! I’m so excited for Timothy, and they are really blazing a new trail and giving new visibility to non-binary people in sport. It’s something that we mention in the episode.
Timothy is really putting themself in a bold position because not only did they win one of two spots to represent the United States in the Olympics, they’re also putting themselves up there to be criticized by so many people. And what they’re doing is really brave. And not only is it really brave, but they’re STUNNING and so talented, just so talented and strong! The core strength for days!
In the final–
I can tell I got too excited about Tacodeli, because you were like, “Okay we got to go.” But if you could just write down “Tacodeli” for yourself, because if you go to Austin, I need you to remember that, and I need that to sink in for you in case you do end up in Austin. Because if you end up in Austin and you don’t go to Tacodeli, I am going to be so devastated! And they got vegetarian, honey. They got meat. They got everything that you need to have yourself a good taco time, OK?
[Jonathan went on for another 10 minutes about Tacodeli here, which we have cut for space]
The final episode in the first season is on skyscrapers, and there’s also a lot of interesting stuff about tenants.
That’s a really interesting episode because it really started off as me just wanting to learn about architecture and style and stuff. And then in researching it I was like, “Oh there’s urban displacement aplenty that’s associated with skyscrapers that I literally didn’t know.” But you can’t really start to research it without learning about that. So that was very interesting, and I think that even in the face of the pandemic, you still had people that were really pushing to create new projects that would displace more people and house/home. So I thought that was really interesting. How does an individual fix a systemic issue? That’s a question I feel like I keep coming back to. If not enough individuals know about it, they can’t challenge it! And so that was one thing where in my producer’s mind I thought, “This could just be architecture,” and I could just ostrich and not think about it, or I could go wider.
In what way has the TV show made you a better person?
I think that it challenged me to continue to inspect what I think I know, and to be more open to changing my view as I received new information. My grandmother, who I talked a lot about it my first book, who I love so much… When she turned 75… she made that mental shift of feeling like she’d seen it all… When her curiosity left, her life changed. I thought, “I don’t ever want to lose my curiosity.”
That was one of the impetuses for me. I thought, “Gosh, I really don’t want to lose that inner student. Wanting to learn is such a cool thing and I don’t want to lose that. I think it’s part of why I was being so self-destructive, because I just wasn’t nurturing such a gigantic part of my brain, which is my curiosity. So I wanted to bring that, and I think we all need to be more curious, myself included. I think that’s what’s helped me the most.
Below: JVN and Stephen Colbert commiserate about garden pests:
What are you excited about for the rest of this year?
I’m excited for so many things! Hopefully, coronavirus willing, I’ll be able to tour. I have new comedy, I got married– I have a lot of good married comedy! I’ve got a lot of good cat and puppy comedy. I got a lot of “I grew up” comedy that is really fun and exciting and I love it. I got a new gymnastics routine in that show that I’m ready to just show everybody! Hopefully, I’m excited to get the Getting Curious series renewed.
So if all you gorgeous World of Wonder people that get ahold of this article could just watch it! Set your reminders! Tell everybody to tune in!
Below: JVN visits CBS Mornings to talk about Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness:
Congratulations again on the new series!
I miss you already. Don’t forget. Tacodeli!
[Jonathan went on a reverie about Tacodeli for another 20 minutes, and was still talking about it as I quietly got up from my desk to make a snack and set a reminder for Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, premiering Friday on Netflix!]