Interview with Jordan Gray: “A handful of death threats is a lot of death threats for a week. Spread them!’

TIt sounds so silly but just bear with me.” Jordan Gray tells me about the time she stripped live on Channel 4 a few weeks ago as part of Ben Elton’s Friday night live. It turns out her original plan was even more dramatic: the transgender comedian wanted to wear a magic cotton suit that would burst into flames before revealing her nude body. “You put this special airgel on your skin so you don’t burn but still stay really hot,” she says matter-of-factly. “I would have to do it and then jump right into an ice bath so I don’t keep burning.” Unsurprisingly, health and safety stood in the way. “Two weeks earlier, I got a really sweet email from Channel 4, like, ‘We love you Jordan, we’re really interested in everything you do. Please don’t set yourselves on fire live on TV.’”

Bold ideas like this make Gray unique as a stand-up. The 33-year-old’s Edinburgh Fringe Hour, is it a bird, also ended in a birthday suit moment, making it one of the most talked about tickets of the festival. The show – which Gray has just performed at London’s Palladium and will bring to the Soho Theater in December – also saw Gray break through issues of her right to occupy “female-only spaces” (e.g. the candle department at TK Maxx). ) about how Mr. Potato Head was co-opted by the Culture Wars.

It was also a great opportunity for the comedian to show off while roaring about how “damn talented” she is, with a huge vocal range and a real talent for improvisation on the keyboard. is it a bird won five-star reviews across the board, an Edinburgh Comedy Award nomination and the title of Comedian’s Comedian. Her celebrity admirers include Ian McKellen, Jennifer Saunders and Harry Potter star Jason Isaacs, the latter of whom has staunchly defended Gray against transphobic trolling.

The show’s title has a double meaning: it references Gray’s obsession with superheroes, but also how people in her hometown of Essex define their gender. Its climax combines both themes, with Gray dove into a phone booth and emerge completely naked: boobs, penis and all. It was funny but also profound as the nude Gray ended the show, hunched over her keyboard and chanting the words, “If I’m supposed to be a joke, I might as well be in on it.” When Channel 4 invited her to the Attending her 40th birthday celebrations in October, Gray knew she was repeating the strongest moment of her show. After pounding her song “Better Than You” on the keyboard, Gray’s pink suit was ripped away (using an impressive pulley system of fish wire and magnets) to reveal her naked body. The live audience loved it and Gray cried tears of joy in the car on the way home.

Then, “like on a bad mushroom trip,” the negativity began to seep in. “Jordan Grey” was trending on Twitter. People demanded their arrest. She was dropped as a patron of an educational charity. Ofcom investigated 1,400 complaints against them and later dismissed them. As part of her performance, she had sung, “I’m just better than you/ And somehow I always knew/ I’m such a fucking genius/ You have no fucking idea” (an “obvious exaggeration” for comic effect, she clarifies) , and half the country seemed to agree with her. The other half? They considered them morally reprehensible.

Given that we are speaking just two days after Ofcom’s ruling, Gray seems upbeat about the whole thing. She is wearing a dark blue Henley shirt and wide pants; Her long, curly hair is tucked under a baseball cap with a brain on the front. A silver necklace around her neck looks like a standard pendant, but upon closer inspection actually reveals a penis and testicles.

The past month has been one of extreme ups and downs, but Gray decided to just go with it. “I think I’m a nice person, but I don’t really know,” she says. “But if I turn out to be nice, it will probably work out. And they have proven themselves. I’ll take that as proof that at least I’m not a horrible, horrible person.” She pauses. “But a handful of death threats is a lot of death threats for a week. Spread them! I’ll take it over a decade…but not a week. That’s a lot for someone to deal with.”

Trans comedian Jordan Gray performs on Friday Night Live

Gray speaks softly but willingly, often proceeding in long tangents to offer quotations and trivia. Her broad knowledge can be heard in her new podcast, Translatewhere she and her celebrity guests attempt to answer a big question and a small question about the state of the world, ranging from “how do we get people to care about the end of the world?” to who did let the dogs out?”. In case the brain on her cap didn’t give it away, Gray really appreciates her cleverness. “If someone called me stupid, I would take it very personally,” she says. “Apart from that everything is fine, but if someone were to look for my intelligence, I would really seriously think that I could be upset.”

Growing up, her intelligence was all Gray had – because “obviously I wasn’t popular, I wasn’t cool, I couldn’t kick football”. Well, that and music. A professional singer since age 16, Gray has performed in death metal and acoustic bands and released seven solo albums ranging from classical to rap, driven by an obsession with “being the best in every single genre.” In 2016 she performed The voice, where she got her first shot at fame and reached the semifinals. She got audiences laughing, but was also — predictably — on the receiving end of transphobia on social media. “Half the audience said, ‘She’s amazing,’ and the other half, ‘He’s terrible,'” Gray recalls. (Deliberate gender mismatch was part of the abuse.) “There was no crossover, no ‘he’s great’ or ‘she’s terrible.’ You think that talent has absolutely nothing to do with it.”

After the show ended, Gray released a “garbage” first single (her words), which peaked at No. 114 and then quit music altogether. After working as a cleaner in a casino for two months, she decided to pursue comedy. Gray planned to keep the music separate, unaware of how their talents might complement each other. At the time she came to create is it a birdher sonorous voice and deft piano skills felt like a cool party trick — even though she’d mastered it for a decade.

On her stand-up show, Gray’s climactic nudity comes as a shock — but she spent an hour laying the groundwork. It’s no surprise that after only four minutes of live television, it’s harder to get that payout. But Gray’s bold denouement has been the subject of lively debate since The Fringe. The goal, she says, has always been to demystify and desexualize the trans body. Despite the heated “debate” in the trans community, she undressed and the world didn’t explode. “For most people, the body means everything: head, shoulders, knees and toes,” Gray explains. “A transgender person, the body means penis, vagina, it just means genitals.” Is there ever a concern that by undressing she’s encouraging that intrusive fascination with what’s between trans people’s legs? “It’s a really interesting thing to dissect,” she says. It’s not that she strips naked on stage to fetishize herself; she just undresses. “If it was tickling, that’s different,” she says. “You have to project a lot of your own sexuality onto it for it to become sexualized.”

“If someone called me stupid, I would take it very personally”

(Dylan Woodley)

The post-Friday night live Criticism was initially difficult to deal with, but it reinforced Gray’s philosophy that you can’t change anyone’s mind by shouting. In a piece for The Independent Earlier this month, she wrote that while she’s not “a dangerous threat to your kids,” her critics aren’t “untouched, pearl-clutching maniacs,” either.

She spoke of “the huge crushes of feminists who have spent their entire lives doing incredible work for feminism, and now I feel like I walked in and —” Gray’s eyes dart around as she searches for a simile . “It’s like boarding the Walking Dead [in] Season three if it gets good and telling everyone you’re the best Walking Dead fan. I understand. It’s not fair, I understand that.” Many of the trolls had branded the routine “misogynist,” pointing to the lyrics in which Gray sang that she was the “perfect woman” because she “used to be a man,” as if her subsequent yell of “sexism!” didn’t make it clear enough that she was joking. They misunderstood, Gray says, but “I’m not going to go in there and say, ‘You don’t get it, you’re wrong, you’re scared.’ It’s just an insult to people. They’re angry, and when you get angry, you’re not necessarily representing yourself very well.”

Gray doesn’t mind being on the receiving end of the “poison” if someone has to be — but she hopes her trolls “don’t feel like they should ever repeat that behavior with anyone else.” Maybe after seeing the Ofcom result, [they’ll] go, ‘Maybe I went a little too far in calling her a lunatic and a sex criminal. Because it turned out to be okay.

For now, Gray is happy to be “the friendly face of transgenderism,” able to steer audiences towards “all of the nuanced transgender people you’ve been ignoring.” “I got out of my lane because I want to talk to more people and the tradeoff for that is you get backlash.” Anyway, maybe none of this really matters. “We’re all going to die someday,” she declares with remarkable brevity. “As a bonus, it feels like I’m doing something nice. Hopefully I’ve added value to society and then I’ll die. That is beautiful. What more could anyone wish for in this world?”

Jordan Gray’s Is It A Bird? returns to the Soho Theater December 13-23. Transplaining is out now Interview with Jordan Gray: “A handful of death threats is a lot of death threats for a week. Spread them!’


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