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Queer Eye has been the societal corrective we need lately. Netflix’s reboot of the 2003 Bravo original is now two seasons old, and is, as its tagline notes, “more than a makeover” show. While Queer Eye for the Straight Guy helped schlubby cisgender hetero men make over their lives, the new Queer Eye sneakily wants to make over society.
It goes deeper than the original. The five gurus/stars of the show are as open to learning as their subjects are. As a result, after only a few months, viewers really seem to have forged a connection with them.
The show’s breakout star has arguably been Jonathan Van Ness, the long-haired goofball in charge of grooming. He is charismatic. He is sunny. He prances. He radiates self-assurance. The highest compliment he can bestow on anything is “cute,” though he also knows how to turn the word into cutting political commentary, as in a recent tweet where he wrote: “Omg can we do that cute unconstitutional thing again where we stall on nominees until the next election?”
Van Ness has hosted a podcast called Getting Curious since 2015. For each episode, he asks questions like, “What’s a menstrual cup?” and “Who is Bernie Sanders?” then finds the appropriate guest to help him answer it. He also hosts a Game of Thrones recap show call Gay of Thrones on Funny or Die.
So while he’s no stranger to quipping, this level of fame is new to him. He’s honed his craft on Queer Eye. And Kesha just announced a four-day music festival cruise called “Kesha’s Weird & Wonderful Rainbow Ride.” Van Ness is in the lineup.
Van Ness hopped on the phone with Racked to talk about fellow host and fashion expert Tan France’s awe-inspiring pompadour, cruising with Kesha, Trump’s misogyny, and who he wants to work with on Queer Eye in the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the question you get asked most by fans when they meet you?
I don’t get that many questions! It’s more like all-out shock and, “Oh my god!” and “Can we take a picture?” and “I love you!” then back to shock. I’m like, “It’s okay. Don’t cry! Unless you’ve really got to cry it out, then I’m here for you for that.”
I feel like I’m usually just trying to get everyone calm and not make a scene. Not that I’m scared of a scene, but if someone approaches me and starts freaking out, I’ve gotten myself into a position where it’s like an impromptu meet-and-greet and I’m surrounded by 40 people and I’m like [shrieks]. I’m usually just about comforting everyone and keeping the movement of traffic on the sidewalk flowing.
So how many selfies with people do you estimate you’re taking these days when you’re out in the world?
It depends how late I am. If I’m really late, I go into disguise mode. It’s head down, glasses on, lightweight summer hat. I do the Princess Diana treatment. But if I get spotted, my heart still is too big to not stop and chat and have a full conversation and take pictures.
But if it’s a day where I’m trying to do the incognito look, probably 10 to 20. If I’m lost and my head is up and out and I don’t have sunglasses on and I’m meandering, it could be like ... I don’t even know. 50? 60? It’s a lot, especially in New York.
Which episode in the first two seasons made you the most emotional or made you cry the most while filming, and why?
I think probably Tammye for all the obvious reasons. [In season 2, they made over a woman for the first time and helped her decorate her church’s community center.] Her family touched on so many stories that rang true for me. My mom is a cancer survivor and Tammye’s a cancer survivor. We lost my stepdad to bladder cancer, literally almost a year to the day when we found out about my mom’s ovarian cancer.
Losing one family member so close to you and then immediately finding out that you are sick and then also doing everything else for everyone else but not doing it for yourself, that hit so close to home for me with Tammye and my mom, so it was just emotional.
Related to that, do you think you guys will start focusing on more women, or was that a one-off?
I sure hope it’s not a one-off. I think that’s one thing that feels different tonally in this version of Queer Eye from the first one. I think the idea that the experts were gay and the heroes were straight was the focal point, and now it’s so much more about connection.
We learn a lot from the heroes — just as much sometimes as we teach them. I think the stories are so much more about the human experience. I love the idea of us working with more women, and just more diversity. I would love to work with people that have different body types. Not only body types but different [levels of ability.]
I have a lot of clients in LA who are in wheelchairs and I think those lives are beautiful and valid and need to be shown more not be something we’re scared of, but celebrated. And more trans people. And more gay men. We haven’t worked with any women who identify as lesbians. Everyone! I want to work with everyone forever.
On his Instagram story recently Tan said you’re the only one he trusts with his hair. You had put a bunch of little butterfly clips in the front. Can you please tell me all the secrets of Tan’s hair?
Tan’s really good at his grooming game. I’m always harping on him because I want him to use product but he knows his hair and he doesn’t like a lot of product in it because it keeps it nice and big for him.
He has naturally really curly hair. He sets it with a round brush and then he’s really good at bumping his pompadour with a flat iron. He doesn’t use a lot of product because he doesn’t like it weighed down.
If you put little butterfly clips in the base and then hairspray, it sets the roots straight up and gives you a little bit of separation. He normally doesn’t do that, but he loves that gentle separation and I was just showing him how.
Tan taught me about this great DIY Greek yogurt mask that he does. Tan’s really good at his grooming game. He could be a groomer himself.
You teach a lot of guys round-brushing and blow drying, but it could be seen as high maintenance for the average guy. Do they keep it up?
The idea that running a brush through the top of your hair for five minutes is high maintenance needs to change. It literally takes five minutes!
As a hairdresser, one of my really big pet peeves is when people come in with pictures and 95 percent of these pictures that people bring in were done on a photo shoot. There was significant grooming involved in that picture. And women will come in with these highly styled, highly glamorized pictures. Literally the photo shoot you brought that from cost thousands of dollars to make the hair look like that.
“Well, I’m more wash and wear, how can I make it look like that but not do anything?” Well, honey, as my mom would say, “People in hell want more ice water but it ain’t gonna happen!”
I wasn’t born knowing how to round brush hair, I wasn’t born knowing how to center part and flat iron my hair, I had to practice. If you go back to Gay of Thrones season one you will see the evolution in real life of me learning how to do my hair. I’m always learning new things about grooming and to do things with my hair and skin to make it look different. It’s fun and it’s a game. It’s nothing to be burdened by.
I want your opinion on a couple of current events related to guy hair. It’s the World Cup, and soccer players get a lot of attention for their hair. Do you have any thoughts?
Um, well I have Tivo’ed the World Cup because soccer is my favorite sport. [pauses] I’m just kidding, I’m pulling your chain. I’m not really that into soccer. But I love a soccer moment.
The thing I love about soccer players and their hair is that it’s playful. It does break gender norms classically. Highlighting it or putting a bobby pin in it or wearing it in little half man buns is fun. I love that they play with their hair and I think more men would be better served if they got excited and playful with their hair, so yay!
Recently at Trump’s rally there was a protester with long hair and he called him out, asking if he’s a man or a woman.
I saw that! It’s not a surprise that Donald Trump is sexist and misogynistic. I also think it speaks to the way he interacts with protestors at his rallies. It really goes to show the blatant disrespect he has for the First Amendment and his contempt for people who think differently than he thinks.
I think that also goes to show his shortcomings as a leader. As a leader we need to be able to work with people from both sides. And that’s something on Queer Eye that we really champion. We will work with and help people that don’t think the same as us and we will work to find common ground, even if it’s not political — it’s human.
Donald Trump has clearly forgotten that we are all human and that we are all American. I think [he] has really shown his inhumanity [with the immigrant crisis]. I don’t think that him calling out a guy’s man bun is going to be the thing that breaks it, but it’s just another stunning example of Donald Trump being Donald Trump and really giving us an inside scoop about how he thinks of men and women and how it relates to gender, which is not a world I want to live in.
Please tell me about this Kesha cruise.
When my agent called and said Kesha wanted me to come on a cruise and do a gorgeous Getting Curious episode on a cruise I was like, “Sign me up.” Yes, I love a cruise. I’ve never been on one.
I really love turquoise water. Kesha’s really inspiring because she uses her voice to lift up marginalized people and she is a champion for women’s rights and women’s voices and I think that’s great and I want to support her, and what an exciting way to get to do that. Not to mention I love [RuPaul’s] Drag Race and so many Drag Race people get to come.
Finally, how do you think Game of Thrones will end?
I don’t think I can handle another dragon death. I also feel like I still have post-traumatic Stark disorder from the Red Wedding. I just feel like there’s been so much screen time given to Dany and Jon and I just feel like what happens if they get wiped out?
The character who I refer to as Lena Dunham [Yara Greyjoy] — she’s Alfie Allen’s [who plays Theon Greyjoy] sister — I feel like she has comeback written all over her [ed. Note: Yara Greyjoy is Theon Greyjoy’s sister on Game of Thrones; Alfie Allen’s sister, in real life, is Lily Allen].
I just feel like George [R.R. Martin] loves to really devastate all of us and change everything in a moment. Everything just happened so fast last year and we were in lightning speed mode. We only have six episodes left and I feel like something unexpected is going to happen. I feel like something crazy’s going to happen and I’m just so scared.