Emmy Winner Jai Rodriguez

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Emmy winner Jai Rodriguez is no stranger to representing our community from his early days on, a then brand-new network, Bravo TV in Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Jai went on to appear on Broadway (and in the film) in The Producers, in Reba McEntire’s Malibu Country for ABC, Lady Gaga’s Telephone music video, and Kingdom with Nick Jonas, as well as critically acclaimed guest spots on Nip/Tuck, Bones, and Harry’s Law, and a list of hosting gigs for numerous TV projects, including the Dance Moms reunion special. He has appeared on stages across the country with his solo concerts that feature songs from his theatre career, including his time in Broadway’s RENT, and stories from his extensive career.  

 We talked with Jai about his most recent role in HBO Max’ docuseries Equal – as activist Jose Sarria (aka the Widow Norton), as well as activist fatigue, cancel culture, singing during Quarantine, and our hope for the future.  We also heard a very interesting behind the scenes story about Jai's performance in RENT and where Joey Fatone put his fingers...oh myyyyy 

This is metro source minis, theofficial podcast to Metro source magazine and home of short form interviews with your favoritepersonalities from the lgbtq world and beyond. Quick, Fun and informative. It'smetro source on the go, out in proud since one thousand nine hundred andninety. Wello. Hello, hello, this is metro source minis. I'myour host, Alexander Rodriguez. So during those quarantine celebrities have been inviting usinto their homes, their bedrooms, everywhere to share what they're what they're doingvia digital streams. Our guest today has been giving us free digital concerts andcandid chats during covid Emmy winner j Rodriguez is no stranger to representing our community, from his very early days on the then new network Brabo TV on thequeer eye for this take guy, he went onto a pair, of course, on Broadway and in the film in the producers Reba mcintire's mallebook country forABC, Lady Gaga's telephone and kingdom with Nick Jonas spot, as well ascritically aclaimed guest spots on niptock bones and Harry's law, and hosting gigs fornumerous TV projects, including the dance mom reunion special, has appeared on stagesacross the country with his solo concerts that feature songs from his theater career,his time and rent and stories, and some good, juicy stories from hisextensive career. We talked with J from met Source Online, Metro Sourcecom,about his most recent role for HBO Max is Docu Seri's equal, which showcaseslesser known lgbtq heroes from our past, and j played the role of activistJose Saria, Aka the widow Norton. And to continue our chat today,please welcome Jay Rodriguez. Hi, welcome to my bed room. How manytimes have you said that? Honestly, not so often this year. Notso often. Okay, Right, Oh God, it's like a desert moveI see the aquarium behind you. That's actually one of your hobbies that you'vebeen yeah, I have six aquariums. This one's the oldest. I gotwith this one in ABC home and carpet in New York City. He's likea big furniture store, but they all have a pop art section. Soyou can see it's an RCA vision, old school team. Love it.That's got it with an aquarium and I just my new hobby was making sureall the aquariums were planted with real plants and in yes, that's been keepingme busy. Well, I mean that's a that's a good habit. Myhabit is drinking vodka and reruns of the Bachelorette, the pocket thing on myvirtual happy on my facebook every afternoon. But Yeah, Oh, I knowgirl, I know you were built in out the other day you were singingthat song from the greatest showman. You were giving it all, love it. So you and I have talked so many different times and so many differentways, and what I really love talking about you are chatting with you,is that you are so candid. There's no smoking mirrors, you don't pullany punches, and so I want to talk about you know, we justgot through this horrific election and we've seen members of our community, our family, even members of our own lgbt community, support someone who clearly does not supportequality or even basic human rights. I had to delete people from mysocial media and even from my own personal life because they were sharing views andstatements that were not factual or that we're extremely hurtful, and now that we'vewon the election, it's like, how do we handle those relationships? Whatdo you think of cancel culture? Is it necessary? Ever, and nowthat we're kind of on the right path again, do we uncanceled people?Yeah, it's a great question. So for me I've just always been aroundopposition. I've never really I think, you know, as I've gotten older, I've had the luxury of living in in sort of, you know,bubbles, but my work takes me in spaces where not everyone is cosigning onon, you know, the what I believe to be true and my experienceis proven to be true for me. So I'm so used to it andI think you know, when I was working in radio, I think oneof the things that I was a big compliment that my program director would sayto me all the time was that I...

...had a fairness to where I sharethe story, I would share my opinion, but then also understand that they inthis digital age there's so much miscommunication and in the past x number ofyears, you know, news is really relative as to where you get itand for a lot of people, excuse me, I think they've been alittle bit misguided and a lot of things that have been presented to them asfact, have fueled kind of this bias and and, to be honest,kind of a deep rooted hatred. So for me personally, I'm not thebiggest proponent of cancel culture, unless it's something that's directly impacting my existence.For instance, let's look at social media. I've just gotten to that tendency ofmuting people and some people just blocking. If it's hatred, I'm blocking right, but if it's I can kind of sniff out that it's just pureignorance. I'm going to put you on mute because I want the opportunity tohave a conversation with you. And I think the hardest thing is, youknow, we can't kick people off the planet. Eventually you're going to encounterpeople that you don't see eye to eye with, and I remember growing upone of the things that growing up religious in the church, they always saywith them will know we are Christians by our love and in while I'm nota practicing, you know, board again Christian now, I know that someof the best conversations that I've ever had were because I was open to hearingwhat someone had to say. However, we have to draw our line withour own self care, and that means if you're in a position in inyour life or in your space where people are saying things that are really toxicand upsetting to you and impacting your daytoday life, I all means remove thatparty. And you know, I would say social media is it's a it'sa privilege to connect with people in that way, but it's not a right. Not everyone should have access to your life or your personal thoughts. Nor, you know, should you really give much attention to what people have tosay about your thoughts and yours. And you know, like Mama Ruth says, unless that bitch is paying your bills, pay them bit to my mind,you know, and so I that's kind of how I've led. I'vestruck, struck in the balance. We've had, you know, conversations withfolks, but the indoctrination is so deeply rooted for folks who have gotten misinformedfor several years that they're looking at us like we're crazy. And so whilewe have, you know, president elect Biden and president vice president elect KamalaHarris going to be in the White House, it is the work is going toget harder because a lot of truths are going to come to light andwe're going to have to have really difficult conversations a match and we've been isolatedfrom some of the people who maybe didn't post their feelings on social media andwe don't know where they stand out. So the one of the biggest thingsI'm thinking of is, well, now I have to add a whole slewof things I took for granted before as characteristics and traits I'm seeking in apartner, because I would be very I was very, very shocked and surprisedto hear that, you know, twenty percent of our community, twenty eightpercent, which is double with voted for trump this time around two thousand andsixteen. Eh thing was fourteen percent. I think it's twenty eight percent thistime, going to exiting polls. That was shocking to me. Enjoying,but that, I'm when I saw people's rationale for it. A lot outof it was based in giving a pass to the same bigotry they give apass to within our community and we just haven't been shedding light on those issueswithin our marginalized community that you know, a lot of the same kind ofwell, if it doesn't impact me, it's not my problem mentality has bledinto our community longer than it should have. But I'm hoping this time of isolation, what we're doing self reflection, that we come out of it eagerto have empathetic conversations with people, understanding that many people have been misinformed fora long time. Well, I mean it's really a touchy subject. Andsomebody very, very close to me for...

...fifteen years part of the lgbt community, did vote for trump and two months before the actual election things were justgetting so dicey we stopped all communication. I just I kind of had ameltdown. I'm like, I cannot believe that you're doing this. You know, somebody so close to me, and now that the election, hopefully isover, neither one of us has made that text, and I'm talking aboutsomebody that I was seeing or texting a million times every single day, andneither one of us has made that first move to like okay, now whatdo we do? And my friend just came out to their to their familyand I and I and they were very surprised, or I guess they wereexpecting like an instant. We accept you, and I was like yeah, wealso have to understand and that there was a journey, in a processfor you coming to your own self awareness and awakening that this was something youwanted to share, and they are allowed to go through their own journey ofacceptance. And so I'm hopeful that over the course of time that the temperaturewill come down a little bit more and we'll be able to to have someof the conversations. But, to be honest, Alex, is no guarantees. I mean, this might be you know, people might really double down. We don't know what the next four years hold, but I know howmuch where my intentions are, and that is to try to lead, youknow, as per the words of Joe Biden, with with empathy and compassion, and try my small part, which is my community and those around me, will now virtually to bring us all together, and that's what I dodaily on my facebook page, because I had a lot of people in therewho are supportive of the president, certainly, and the spring and summer and asit just shared my organic stories and and and experiences I had and specificsthat did not apply to them because they are not part of the community.Many of them did switch their vote and we're like, to be honest,I just always thought he was good for you guys, because they said hewas like who's they? And like I don't know. I read something thathe's like the most pro gay president in the history and I was like,okay, let's unpack that. Step up right. But then you put youthink I saw their kind of like ignorance to it and I saw their desireto say well, I would never intentionally had now that I'm fuel with thisknowledge, I'm going to make a different decision. So, Jay, Iwant to talk to you. You know you have worked tirelessly, I'm especiallyduring this election and covid and, of course, throughout your whole career andjust like, like you just said, the work is just beginning. Doyou ever suffer from what I like to call activist fatigue, or you're justlike every interview has to deal with what I have to say about the electionor what I've done for the LGBT community. I mean that has to be anexhausting and as a performer, it's like sometimes you just want to talkabout your skill or your craft or your voice or just entertain with me.Yeah, it's telling how you deal with that fatigue, because a lot ofcelebrities in the LGBT community are really dealing with that and it's it's not goingto end. Yeah, so I'll say it's too fold. One. Ithink selfcare is one of the most important things. You have to get fromyour surplus, not from your deficit, and I think that understanding when youdon't have anything to give. You know what, if something monumental happened,it's beautiful in your if you're in a space of your life or you wantto put on social media a thoughtful post, but it is not your job orobligation to have to clap back in every troll, to have to postat everything that seemingly feels monumental. That you can do it in your owntime if you'd like to. But I think the comparison to other activists Ithink kind of trip me up if I'd see someone you know and their postwas longer or give more stats or you know more from you know. Ijust stopped comparing myself to others and understand that I'm waking up every morning tryingto do the best I can and to challenge myself to constantly do better.But let in the same breath, holding on to the fact that we're inan epidemic, that it a global pandemic at that, where it has directlyimpacted my ability to work, my ability to navigate my own anxiety about thefuture. So with that, I'm actually doing the appropriate amount of stuff careand sometimes just unplugging. Sometimes I won't...

...even open social media or post thedays where I I don't post anything and I've give allowed myself some grace forthat and you know, I love there's all different kinds of activism and Ithink that a lot of keyboard warriors may want to say that, unless you'reposting a million posts a day about a certain cause, that you're not beingimpactful. With as many different ways to be impactful, and I think whatI like to be is heard and understood, and I feel like if I cancommunicate better in my daily live streams then a static post that might getignored, that I'm going to do it that way. I want to talkabout Hbo, who knew in my very early childhood, and I'm dating myself, HBO used to play like the same handful of movies over and over andover and that was it. Like every Saturday you might get a new movie. Who would have thought that H Noo now would be representing the lgbt communityin such a big way, such as through euphoria, legendary were here,and now, of course, the Docu series that you were a part ofequal. How did you get involved with equal? It's really funny because HBOMaths is like the streaming version of HBO, even though HBO is already streaming.This is sort of their subsets, so I like to call it.It's like they're younger. Little step cuts the HIP. Yeah, it's alot of HBO hip. Yeah, and certainly equal was a very ultralo budgetproject. There's really no budget for this project. And I remember I wasauditioning for it and I had warned my eye. Watched the audition for ashow that takes place in one thousand nine hundred and sixty and or my scenes, and on my phone, my I watch was blowing up with text messagesand I left the audition and it was the queer eye boys and this isin February and they had flown in to shoot family feud. So that wasa Thursday and I said sorry for the delay and I noticed the creator ofQueer I was in the group chat and not that strange because I don't knowthat he's ever really reached out to us in that way before, maybe justonce or twice, but you know, since we wrapped. So I waslike sorry, guys, I missed all this. I was in an auditionfor an HBO show. He immediately said which one and I said, Oh, it's for HBO Max. That's called equal, and he's like that's myshow an ounced. I've never done this, but I literally was like so,I would just cut through all the rent tape here and you can justoffer me the role. But I knew I went and let you I wentin for something that I wouldn't be right for. I went in for astoryline for the Matachean society in the New York version, playing someone iconic whowas white, and I looked him up and I looked nothing like him.So I wasn't sure if I would, you know, be right for thisrole, but I knew they were reading everyone for the same handful. And, by the way, this audition, for some odd reason, I won'tgot the same call time. It was gay Hollywood. All every gay Lebertythat was there was all out a you know, actors and it was kindof a we took pictures. We felt like it was gay prom but that'skind of how I got it. Like he was like, Oh my God, Ha, let me connect you with my producing partner who also produced queereye. These are the producer of the show, also pretty square, andso I didn't hear anything for like two weeks and then they said, listen, there's this role in the San Francisco Story of this activist that we thinkyou're right for it. I got it and I was like, Oh myGod, there's so much crossover between Jose Saudia's journey and my journey, andI was like this makes total sense. And so if it like a glove, and I think one of the things that scared me most was Jose Saudia'slegacy with the imperial court, which is a large fundraising organization that, youknow, he established decades ago and he's still in existence over seventy chapters inthe US and Italy and Canada, and you know, his legacy runs deepand people you know who are still with us knew him very well and Iwas like there's gonna be such comparisons and you know, I'm I going tobe able to do this, and so I just delved right into the researchand just found every single youtube audio file and visual file I could. Isa specific tone to his voice and cadence and the way that he speaks andand even with the hair and makeup. You know, drag was the vehicleof art that Jose used to be, a storyteller and an activist in thenightclubs, and it was different back then,...

...and so I had to just likelet go of all my preconceived notions of what drag should look like andand I loved what the makeup artist did because we literally mirrored a photo almostexactly. And to my great and humble surprise, the imperial court, nowled by mother Empress Nicole of Ramirez, are actually awarding me the Jose SaudiaAward this Saturd sty of that. I see that. That's amazing, thegag of gags. What an honor. You was a huge honor because theonly gave it to one other actors, usually reserved for politicians or activists.And and I've always said my career has been this, this, this kindof I've had a sort of a chameleon career. I've never stayed in onelane and that's just that the necessity. But rarely have I had moments of, you know, being celebrated as an individual, not just a part ofthe cast, and it was humbling, but also just I just feel liketheir mission and the work they do is so in alignment with WHO I am. That was yeah, it's just, you know, these moments don't comeup too often and I'm a humble you know. Well, I have totell you you've been cast as Jose. I had heard the name the widowNorton, but I am going to be honest, I really did not knowhis story and so, being part of the Latin culture, I really wantedto know who we were portraying and what was going on. So to findout that he was a first openly gay candidate tour men for office and anypolitical office in the US. You know. So formed one of the first busines, Gay Business Associations and, like you said, he founded the imperialcourt. I loved some of the behind behind the stories, such as helied to get into the military because he wanted to serve in the military sobadly. He was super short of course gay. He kind of seduced oneof the recruiting officers into letting him in and he served our country. That'sall right, and I just yeah, and I just love that, thatkind of passion and women vigor that we have as a long and culture.What aspect of his life really affected you the most? The the fearless,bold nature of his activism, even in selecting his name, Jose Sadia.Also, you know, in the in the era of all these drag queens, and then suddenly they were empresses in San Francisco and he didn't want tobe just another empress. So in his own words, as the story goes, and this bunch of videos on Youtube where he's retelling the story, andby the way, I am using heat pronouns, because all his friends andand he himself use he pronounced so he said that he didn't want to beanother, just another empress, and took the bold and brazen step to linkhimself to this old eccentric from the eighteen hundreds who had, like you know, been a famous kind of eccentric personality who had passed away, you know, obviously way before Jose was born, and started going by this person's asthis person's widow, Edward Norton, was as eccentric, printed his own money. He was a coupe and so to got it, you know, bea step above the other empresses she created. She she said she was the widowNorton, so much soaked that she went to where he's buried, whichis in a public park, but it's kind of like private. You can'tjust be, you know, going up in there and like throwing a party. And she went there to lay flowers on his grave and they like stoppedher and she's like in like a limo and like black with a veil andflowers, like who are you? And without missing a beach, was likeone the widow Norton. And it's not, but I was it impossible, youknow, and they were so tickled and move because they were like noone's ever visited this guy before that they welcomed her back and then next yearthey'd had bagels, and then next year there was like a bigger spread andshe bring more people and then she started making it this part of their activismand fundraies. Was In such and I just think like even if you listento the audio of when she's speaking at the bar and Josey will call outthe gaze at the time, who were stealth and in the closet and,granted, you know, at this hour,...

...you could be fired from your job. It was illegal to address and drag. You need to have twogarments of men's clothing on at all times because it was considered the impersonation,but you were basically trying to fool people that you were a female. Sohe kind of found a way around that by giving the drag Queens a sign. If the police have rated that said I'm a boy. This way,they had no grounds to arrest them and I just thought that was great.Ut in terms of the activism, like called out members of the community whowere, you know, perhaps voting in the not in the best interest ofthe community, are not coming out, not standing up for what they believedin. But still want to go out. And I don't want to say whatshe said because it's, you know, the sexual sex talk. But ifwe doing that things at night, you know, and then during theday putting on the suit and pretending they were just one, you know,another straight guy, and and she would call it out. But one ofthe most beautiful things too, and I wish I we've done this at somepoint in my career, but she closed every single night of her set orcabaret shows, which were very frequent, with God save us Nelly Queen.She had rewritten the the the lyrics to a popular, you know, nationalanthem that we have here and and and when you hear people who are stillwith us who got to experience time with her during that era, there movedto tears when they think about it because at any moment the police could comein and they would just hold each other's hands and put their arms around eachother and saying God save us Nelly Queen's led by Jose and I. It'sjust like we take so much for granted and one of the things as Iget older, that I'm struck by is how we discard older people in thecommunity and there's such a focus on youth. And I guess that's with every community, but I feel like now more than ever, we need to leaninto our elders who really paved the way for us to have so many ofthe liberties that we have and we take for granted today. You know,the Gay Movement started long before we Paul's drag race hit the airways, andthis generation may not be fully aware of that. I'm so glad you saidthat. You know I volunteer with project Angel Food and I know that youdo as well as Saint Vincent meals on wheels in Los Angeles, and therates of the older generation being left on their own devices is increasing, becauseit used to be cultural. In the Latin culture we would have to alwaystake care of the parents. That's why you would always see the grandparents intoe. In the Asian culture that was also just what you did. Andyou know, with the lgbt culture it's people that might not have kids andthe young generation is just not doing their work, they're not taking care ofthe older generation, and so there is a huge need, and so I'mvery glad that you mentioned that, because we do need to reach out,we need to do our part and we need to take care of the eldersof and part way society. You don't need to have any money to bea nice us in to an old person, older person at a bar. Youdon't have to have a lot of money or time in your schedule todeliver meals to be kind to that older queer person that you cross paths with. But there's this underlying like, oh, that old guy hit on me orlike you want them in. This is whole weird thing, that thatyou hum around and and I'm thankful and grateful that there is a really intelligenceyoung generation who's coming up with access to more information than maybe you were,I had, about our history and certainly revering those who didn't have as easyof a go of it as we've had. Okay, Jay I, are youready play a little rapid fire? Yeah, okay, you have beencalled in to give the queer eye once over to president let Joe Biden.What part of him are you going to make over first? Oh God,I'm going to give him comfortable shoes, because I just feel like the poorman, like you know, they're always coming after him for being sleepy Joe, and he's run out now. Yeah, when he gave his acceptance, hedid that little jog and I was like, Yep, you know,we need to get him some easy spirits. Looks like a pop of you islike a speaker. Okay, the worst, strangest Christmas gift you've everreceived? Oh God, the worst and strangest would god, that's a reallygood question. I'm probably gonna think of...

...something better after we end this call. But I think this strangest one was like a dental kit, like itwas like like a weird toothbrush, but not like a battery operated one,and like floss and like lister. I thought it was such a bizarre gift. I was like, thank isn't there's something wrong. Okay, what's itcome from the past? Would you cast yourself in Male or female role?Oh, easy, golden girls. I would definitely be Sophia. Okay.And what would the name of your biography be if you were to write itright now? Oh, I you. I've have some work working titles thatI always kind of lean into, which was tales from an aging twink orstraight out of queer eye with the straight out of Compton logo. Yeah,and your favorite backstage memory from doing rent? Oh, there's so many good ones. Probably like there's I'm going to name a couple. They're all aroundthe celebrities who would come into the show, Melby when she would leave the stageafter doing another day. So you have out tonight, then you haveanother day where Roger Pushes back and we like no, Oh, they're allno other no day, but today, right and shoe come back in thedays that she didn't feel she did very well. She's like a sound like, I sound likely, I like, I don't like. And then thereI am about to go on for will I with my pickle drum in myage, and I'm like it's scary, spice when men say like she wasfine, you know. And then another one that's really funny and I'm finedragging him because I think it's hilarious. But Joey fatone, during another day, we be up on the loft, me and the Mark Collins and someof the like support group people, and Joey fatone, for the blocking wouldI'd be up against the railing and he would stand behind me and Joey wouldtake two fingers and literally try to shove them so far up my book.Why we were singing. I don't like trying to tell bow him. Yeah, that mean those I mean, but I have I my wig fell off. I mean we did, we were doing. I'll cover you. Andthere's a dance break in the middle of it, just a simple one whereyou like, you know, pull each other back and you go understand.And his arm just hit like this and that wig went on the floor andI have a weight cap on. So it's pretty tight. So I didn'tknow until he was like and then look and then one of the whole oneof the characters who plays a homeless person, grabs the wig in there and Iwas like, Oh, you can keep in honey, and I tookoff the weight cap of Chicago. That's you know, it's just that's acutry cover. That that's that's a good recover. Tell tell everyone where youwant them to find you and follow. Yes, so I'm just at JaiRodriguez on social media school with the blue check mark and every day around thirtyPM pacifics by my goal live on my facebook. It's on the blue checkmark and it's this great global community that we've just found each other and it'speople from all over the world. And on Monday's a new musical Monday.So you, the audience, get to pick what I get what I sing, which is really, really fun, because it is so fun. Havea drink with me sometime and and yeah, it's just it's been a it's beena really interesting quarantine experience. Thank you so much. This has beenour chat with a Rodriguez. You can read our in depth interview at Metrosourcecom. And that's our episode. I'm your host and lead writer for Metrosource, Alexander Rodriguez. You can follow me on Instagram at Alexander is onair and until next time, stay true and do you know? Bye.That has been another metro source mini like, share and subscribe on your favorite podcastplayer and check out the latest issue of Metro Sports magazine on newstands oronline at Metro sportscom. Follow us on Facebook, instagram at natural source andon twitter at Metro Sports Man. Until next time, they fast.

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