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, the official podcast to Metro source magazine and home of short form interviews with your favorite personalities from the lgbtq world and beyond. Quick, Fun and informative. It's metro source on the go, out in proud since one thousand nine hundred and ninety. Wello. Hello, hello, this is metro source minis. I'm your host, Alexander Rodriguez. So during those quarantine celebrities have been inviting us into their homes, their bedrooms, everywhere to share what they're what they're doing via digital streams. Our guest today has been giving us free digital concerts and candid 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 the queer 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 for ABC, Lady Gaga's telephone and kingdom with Nick Jonas spot, as well as critically aclaimed guest spots on niptock bones and Harry's law, and hosting gigs for numerous TV projects, including the dance mom reunion special, has appeared on stages across 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 his extensive 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 showcases lesser known lgbtq heroes from our past, and j played the role of activist Jose Saria, Aka the widow Norton. And to continue our chat today, please welcome Jay Rodriguez. Hi, welcome to my bed room. How many times have you said that? Honestly, not so often this year. Not so often. Okay, Right, Oh God, it's like a desert move I see the aquarium behind you. That's actually one of your hobbies that you've been yeah, I have six aquariums. This one's the oldest. I got with this one in ABC home and carpet in New York City. He's like a big furniture store, but they all have a pop art section. So you 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 sure all the aquariums were planted with real plants and in yes, that's been keeping me busy. Well, I mean that's a that's a good habit. My habit is drinking vodka and reruns of the Bachelorette, the pocket thing on my virtual happy on my facebook every afternoon. But Yeah, Oh, I know girl, I know you were built in out the other day you were singing that 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 different ways, 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 pull any punches, and so I want to talk about you know, we just got 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 support equality or even basic human rights. I had to delete people from my social media and even from my own personal life because they were sharing views and statements that were not factual or that we're extremely hurtful, and now that we've won the election, it's like, how do we handle those relationships? What do you think of cancel culture? Is it necessary? Ever, and now that 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 around opposition. 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 on on, you know, the what I believe to be true and my experience is proven to be true for me. So I'm so used to it and I think you know, when I was working in radio, I think one of the things that I was a big compliment that my program director would say to me all the time was that I...

...had a fairness to where I share the story, I would share my opinion, but then also understand that they in this digital age there's so much miscommunication and in the past x number of years, you know, news is really relative as to where you get it and for a lot of people, excuse me, I think they've been a little bit misguided and a lot of things that have been presented to them as fact, have fueled kind of this bias and and, to be honest, kind of a deep rooted hatred. So for me personally, I'm not the biggest 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 of muting 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 pure ignorance. I'm going to put you on mute because I want the opportunity to have a conversation with you. And I think the hardest thing is, you know, we can't kick people off the planet. Eventually you're going to encounter people that you don't see eye to eye with, and I remember growing up one of the things that growing up religious in the church, they always say with them will know we are Christians by our love and in while I'm not a practicing, you know, board again Christian now, I know that some of the best conversations that I've ever had were because I was open to hearing what someone had to say. However, we have to draw our line with our own self care, and that means if you're in a position in in your life or in your space where people are saying things that are really toxic and upsetting to you and impacting your daytoday life, I all means remove that party. And you know, I would say social media is it's a it's a 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 to say 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've struck, struck in the balance. We've had, you know, conversations with folks, but the indoctrination is so deeply rooted for folks who have gotten misinformed for several years that they're looking at us like we're crazy. And so while we have, you know, president elect Biden and president vice president elect Kamala Harris going to be in the White House, it is the work is going to get harder because a lot of truths are going to come to light and we're going to have to have really difficult conversations a match and we've been isolated from some of the people who maybe didn't post their feelings on social media and we don't know where they stand out. So the one of the biggest things I'm thinking of is, well, now I have to add a whole slew of things I took for granted before as characteristics and traits I'm seeking in a partner, because I would be very I was very, very shocked and surprised to hear that, you know, twenty percent of our community, twenty eight percent, which is double with voted for trump this time around two thousand and sixteen. Eh thing was fourteen percent. I think it's twenty eight percent this time, going to exiting polls. That was shocking to me. Enjoying, but that, I'm when I saw people's rationale for it. A lot out of it was based in giving a pass to the same bigotry they give a pass to within our community and we just haven't been shedding light on those issues within our marginalized community that you know, a lot of the same kind of well, if it doesn't impact me, it's not my problem mentality has bled into 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 eager to have empathetic conversations with people, understanding that many people have been misinformed for a long time. Well, I mean it's really a touchy subject. And somebody 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 just getting so dicey we stopped all communication. I just I kind of had a meltdown. I'm like, I cannot believe that you're doing this. You know, somebody so close to me, and now that the election, hopefully is over, neither one of us has made that text, and I'm talking about somebody that I was seeing or texting a million times every single day, and neither one of us has made that first move to like okay, now what do we do? And my friend just came out to their to their family and I and I and they were very surprised, or I guess they were expecting like an instant. We accept you, and I was like yeah, we also have to understand and that there was a journey, in a process for you coming to your own self awareness and awakening that this was something you wanted to share, and they are allowed to go through their own journey of acceptance. And so I'm hopeful that over the course of time that the temperature will come down a little bit more and we'll be able to to have some of 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 how much where my intentions are, and that is to try to lead, you know, 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 do daily on my facebook page, because I had a lot of people in there who are supportive of the president, certainly, and the spring and summer and as it just shared my organic stories and and and experiences I had and specifics that 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 he was like who's they? And like I don't know. I read something that he'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 you think I saw their kind of like ignorance to it and I saw their desire to say well, I would never intentionally had now that I'm fuel with this knowledge, I'm going to make a different decision. So, Jay, I want to talk to you. You know you have worked tirelessly, I'm especially during this election and covid and, of course, throughout your whole career and just like, like you just said, the work is just beginning. Do you ever suffer from what I like to call activist fatigue, or you're just like every interview has to deal with what I have to say about the election or what I've done for the LGBT community. I mean that has to be an exhausting and as a performer, it's like sometimes you just want to talk about 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 of celebrities in the LGBT community are really dealing with that and it's it's not going to end. Yeah, so I'll say it's too fold. One. I think selfcare is one of the most important things. You have to get from your surplus, not from your deficit, and I think that understanding when you don'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 want to put on social media a thoughtful post, but it is not your job or obligation to have to clap back in every troll, to have to post at everything that seemingly feels monumental. That you can do it in your own time if you'd like to. But I think the comparison to other activists I think kind of trip me up if I'd see someone you know and their post was longer or give more stats or you know more from you know. I just stopped comparing myself to others and understand that I'm waking up every morning trying to 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 in an epidemic, that it a global pandemic at that, where it has directly impacted my ability to work, my ability to navigate my own anxiety about the future. So with that, I'm actually doing the appropriate amount of stuff care and sometimes just unplugging. Sometimes I won't...

...even open social media or post the days where I I don't post anything and I've give allowed myself some grace for that and you know, I love there's all different kinds of activism and I think that a lot of keyboard warriors may want to say that, unless you're posting a million posts a day about a certain cause, that you're not being impactful. With as many different ways to be impactful, and I think what I like to be is heard and understood, and I feel like if I can communicate better in my daily live streams then a static post that might get ignored, that I'm going to do it that way. I want to talk about 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 and over 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 community in such a big way, such as through euphoria, legendary were here, and now, of course, the Docu series that you were a part of equal. How did you get involved with equal? It's really funny because HBO Maths 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 a lot of HBO hip. Yeah, and certainly equal was a very ultralo budget project. There's really no budget for this project. And I remember I was auditioning for it and I had warned my eye. Watched the audition for a show 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 messages and I left the audition and it was the queer eye boys and this is in February and they had flown in to shoot family feud. So that was a Thursday and I said sorry for the delay and I noticed the creator of Queer I was in the group chat and not that strange because I don't know that he's ever really reached out to us in that way before, maybe just once or twice, but you know, since we wrapped. So I was like sorry, guys, I missed all this. I was in an audition for 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 my show 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 just offer me the role. But I knew I went and let you I went in for something that I wouldn't be right for. I went in for a storyline for the Matachean society in the New York version, playing someone iconic who was 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 this role, but I knew they were reading everyone for the same handful. And, by the way, this audition, for some odd reason, I won't got the same call time. It was gay Hollywood. All every gay Leberty that was there was all out a you know, actors and it was kind of a we took pictures. We felt like it was gay prom but that's kind of how I got it. Like he was like, Oh my God, Ha, let me connect you with my producing partner who also produced queer eye. These are the producer of the show, also pretty square, and so 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 think you're right for it. I got it and I was like, Oh my God, there's so much crossover between Jose Saudia's journey and my journey, and I 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's legacy with the imperial court, which is a large fundraising organization that, you know, he established decades ago and he's still in existence over seventy chapters in the US and Italy and Canada, and you know, his legacy runs deep and people you know who are still with us knew him very well and I was like there's gonna be such comparisons and you know, I'm I going to be able to do this, and so I just delved right into the research and just found every single youtube audio file and visual file I could. Is a specific tone to his voice and cadence and the way that he speaks and and even with the hair and makeup. You know, drag was the vehicle of art that Jose used to be, a storyteller and an activist in the nightclubs, and it was different back then,...

...and so I had to just like let go of all my preconceived notions of what drag should look like and and I loved what the makeup artist did because we literally mirrored a photo almost exactly. And to my great and humble surprise, the imperial court, now led by mother Empress Nicole of Ramirez, are actually awarding me the Jose Saudia Award this Saturd sty of that. I see that. That's amazing, the gag of gags. What an honor. You was a huge honor because the only 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 kind of I've had a sort of a chameleon career. I've never stayed in one lane 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 of the cast, and it was humbling, but also just I just feel like their 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 come up too often and I'm a humble you know. Well, I have to tell you you've been cast as Jose. I had heard the name the widow Norton, but I am going to be honest, I really did not know his story and so, being part of the Latin culture, I really wanted to know who we were portraying and what was going on. So to find out that he was a first openly gay candidate tour men for office and any political office in the US. You know. So formed one of the first busines, Gay Business Associations and, like you said, he founded the imperial court. I loved some of the behind behind the stories, such as he lied to get into the military because he wanted to serve in the military so badly. He was super short of course gay. He kind of seduced one of the recruiting officers into letting him in and he served our country. That's all right, and I just yeah, and I just love that, that kind 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 to be 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, and by the way, I am using heat pronouns, because all his friends and and he himself use he pronounced so he said that he didn't want to be another, just another empress, and took the bold and brazen step to link himself 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 as this person's widow, Edward Norton, was as eccentric, printed his own money. He was a coupe and so to got it, you know, be a step above the other empresses she created. She she said she was the widow Norton, so much soaked that she went to where he's buried, which is in a public park, but it's kind of like private. You can't just 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 stopped her and she's like in like a limo and like black with a veil and flowers, like who are you? And without missing a beach, was like one the widow Norton. And it's not, but I was it impossible, you know, and they were so tickled and move because they were like no one's ever visited this guy before that they welcomed her back and then next year they'd had bagels, and then next year there was like a bigger spread and she bring more people and then she started making it this part of their activism and fundraies. Was In such and I just think like even if you listen to the audio of when she's speaking at the bar and Josey will call out the 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 two garments 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. So he 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 who were, you know, perhaps voting in the not in the best interest of the community, are not coming out, not standing up for what they believed in. But still want to go out. And I don't want to say what she said because it's, you know, the sexual sex talk. But if we doing that things at night, you know, and then during the day putting on the suit and pretending they were just one, you know, another straight guy, and and she would call it out. But one of the most beautiful things too, and I wish I we've done this at some point in my career, but she closed every single night of her set or cabaret shows, which were very frequent, with God save us Nelly Queen. She had rewritten the the the lyrics to a popular, you know, national anthem that we have here and and and when you hear people who are still with us who got to experience time with her during that era, there moved to tears when they think about it because at any moment the police could come in and they would just hold each other's hands and put their arms around each other and saying God save us Nelly Queen's led by Jose and I. It's just like we take so much for granted and one of the things as I get older, that I'm struck by is how we discard older people in the community 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 lean into our elders who really paved the way for us to have so many of the 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, and this generation may not be fully aware of that. I'm so glad you said that. You know I volunteer with project Angel Food and I know that you do as well as Saint Vincent meals on wheels in Los Angeles, and the rates of the older generation being left on their own devices is increasing, because it used to be cultural. In the Latin culture we would have to always take care of the parents. That's why you would always see the grandparents in toe. In the Asian culture that was also just what you did. And you know, with the lgbt culture it's people that might not have kids and the young generation is just not doing their work, they're not taking care of the older generation, and so there is a huge need, and so I'm very 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 elders of and part way society. You don't need to have any money to be a nice us in to an old person, older person at a bar. You don't have to have a lot of money or time in your schedule to deliver 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 or like you want them in. This is whole weird thing, that that you hum around and and I'm thankful and grateful that there is a really intelligence young 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 easy of a go of it as we've had. Okay, Jay I, are you ready play a little rapid fire? Yeah, okay, you have been called 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 poor man, 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, he did that little jog and I was like, Yep, you know, we need to get him some easy spirits. Looks like a pop of you is like a speaker. Okay, the worst, strangest Christmas gift you've ever received? Oh God, the worst and strangest would god, that's a really good 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 it was 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 it come 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 it right now? Oh, I you. I've have some work working titles that I always kind of lean into, which was tales from an aging twink or straight 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 around the celebrities who would come into the show, Melby when she would leave the stage after doing another day. So you have out tonight, then you have another day where Roger Pushes back and we like no, Oh, they're all no other no day, but today, right and shoe come back in the days 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 there I am about to go on for will I with my pickle drum in my age, and I'm like it's scary, spice when men say like she was fine, you know. And then another one that's really funny and I'm fine dragging 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 some of the like support group people, and Joey fatone, for the blocking would I'd be up against the railing and he would stand behind me and Joey would take 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. And there's a dance break in the middle of it, just a simple one where you 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 and I have a weight cap on. So it's pretty tight. So I didn't know until he was like and then look and then one of the whole one of the characters who plays a homeless person, grabs the wig in there and I was like, Oh, you can keep in honey, and I took off the weight cap of Chicago. That's you know, it's just that's a cutry cover. That that's that's a good recover. Tell tell everyone where you want them to find you and follow. Yes, so I'm just at Jai Rodriguez on social media school with the blue check mark and every day around thirty PM pacifics by my goal live on my facebook. It's on the blue check mark and it's this great global community that we've just found each other and it's people 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. Have a drink with me sometime and and yeah, it's just it's been a it's been a really interesting quarantine experience. Thank you so much. This has been our chat with a Rodriguez. You can read our in depth interview at Metro sourcecom. And that's our episode. I'm your host and lead writer for Metro source, Alexander Rodriguez. You can follow me on Instagram at Alexander is on air 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 podcast player and check out the latest issue of Metro Sports magazine on newstands or online at Metro sportscom. Follow us on Facebook, instagram at natural source and on twitter at Metro Sports Man. Until next time, they fast.

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