Thursday, June 13, 2024

Jes Tom spills on they/them and feeling less lonely in their one-person show

Academy Award®-nominated actor, director, producer, and writer Elliot Page, along with award-winning producers Mike & Carlee Productions, recently presented a special engagement of Jes Tom’s Less Lonely, a one-person comedy about sex in the face of death, gender transition on the brink of oblivion, and the search for love at the end of the world. It’s on now and highly recommended!

From the opening lines of the show Less Lonely, you are invited into the world of Jes Tom, a performer who is well-placed to explain a few things to you, especially if you’ve been feeling more lonely since the ongoing evolution of our ever-expanding community and its definitions. Tom’s worldview is inextricably linked to their experience—in a way that makes for the best kind of stand-up comedy or performance art monologue:

What’s up everyone, I’m Jes Tom, and unfortunately I am a comedian. Most of my material takes
at least two semesters of gender studies to truly understand. But I’m gonna see what we can get
through in the next hour or so.
Usually when I do comedy I come out on stage, I do a bit that goes “Hi I’m Jes, my pronouns are
they/them, I like when people call me “they,” it makes me feel less lonely. Like someone can be
like, “That’s Jes, they’re gonna go smoke a spliff” and it sounds like I had a friend.

If you’re one of those people who can’t quite get your head around gender expansiveness and pronouns, this is possibly one of the best live experiences to tease out the realities of what is happening to a good subset of formerly queer-identified women who no longer identify as such. In fact they may, like Tom, have traveled an entire arc from high school lesbian to gay twink. It’s a privilege to get to spend time with Tom as they explain it to us.

Less Lonely is a triumph. I laughed until I hurt, and I resonated with Jes’s insights on sex, gender, grief, and more. Go to the show to cackle, to be moved, and to revel in the brilliance of Jes Tom,” said Page.

I caught up with the busy and talented writer-performer to find out more about one of the most fun and insightful nights I’d spent at the theater in a while.

Jes Tom | Photo: Samantha Brooks

Queer Forty: How did opening night go?

Jes Tom: It was fun and really crazy. It was a real sort of “who’s who” of the New York comedy scene. I walked out and looked at everyone in the crowd and thought “I set myself up, I can’t believe I invited all of these people and now have to do an hour of comedy for all these comedians…the hardest audience!” It was a really cool night and so special to share it with so many comedians who I have grown up with alongside in comedy.

How did your professional association with Elliot Page begin? And how has it transformed this piece and your approach to work in general?

Jes Tom: Elliot is a great fan of stand up comedy. He and I met at the after party for Mae Martin’s hour, “SAP,” and we have been connected ever since. So when Mike & Carlee (producers of Less Lonely) asked if I had somebody I wanted to present to the show, I naturally thought of Elliott, because I admire him so much as an artist, and I hoped that he would resonate with some of the stories I was telling. I reached out to him and asked him, and luckily he was totally on board. Something really cool about working on the show is that everybody who has been working with me, in every capacity, has been pretty willing to let me take the creative lead and make the choices that I want to make. I just feel grateful to have his trust in me.

Can you share some of the process of working with Em Weinstein as your director? 

Jes Tom: Em Weinstein and I know each other because we went to Smith College together and we were both in the theater department, so I’ve actually worked with Em before. But of course, in a totally different capacity. We were much younger, we were doing college theater, Em as a director and me as an actor most of the time. I was really excited to have Em on for this because I just feel like we already knew how we vibe together. It felt like doing something with my family. I wasn’t bringing a totally random person in for this project, which is really personal and really vulnerable. I wanted to work with somebody that I knew I could trust and Em was totally that person. Em was in L.A. for a lot of the time leading up to the actual opening of the show, so we were on FaceTime together most days, mostly with me sounding out ideas, having them be my sounding board, talk me through my anxieties. And then we started a kind of makeshift rehearsal process where I would be doing the hour in my living room, in my apartment, with Em on Facetime on mute, because I would be like, “You can’t be off mute because I’m going to feel pressure to make you laugh.” Literally talking into my home karaoke mic on Facetime with Em.

How did Em Weinstein get Less Lonely to a place where it feels like a complete theatrical experience while maintaining some of the expectations and devices of stand-up comedy? 

Jes Tom: This was a real meeting of minds between me and Em because he’s a brilliant director, mostly in the film and TV world now, but he has a long, long history in the theater. And of course, I’m more of a classic club stand-up comic. So when we came together on this project, I was very adamant that I wanted the show to be a stand-up comedy show that happens in a theater, a stand-up comedy show that’s enhanced by the resources of the theater, but isn’t changed into a totally different thing just because we’re in the theater and just because we can do it. 

Jes Tom in Less Lonely | Photo: Samantha Brooks

Em really helped mold and shape the shell so that it would really fit in the theater space. Em assembled the creative design team. For example, Claire DeLiso, who’s the scenic designer, is also somebody we did theater with at Smith. Em got Jennifer Fok, the lighting designer as well. And both of those people were extremely integral in creating the world of the show. Through the set design and through very minimal, very distinct and intentional lighting choices, we were able to create a show that has a place in the theater, but also, for the most part, is me giving a stand up comedy performance. 

And how important is it that you work with a trans director and producer?  

Jes Tom: More important than the basic fact of their transness, is that Em is someone I know really very well. We do have these certain shared experiences, and that does bring us closer together, but I didn’t want any trans director. I didn’t want any trans presenter. I had Elliot because as an artist, his work has been so formative to me. And I love his taste…I mean, we met at a show that we were both seeing. It means something to me that we all can share in some of these experiences, but I wasn’t looking for any random trans people. I wanted specific people I knew that I could trust with my vision. And a lot of the people on the creative and producing side of Less Lonely are queer and trans people themselves. It’s not just important, like for the label of their identity, it’s that each of them have their own way to connect to the story, and I think that really helped all of us create a cohesive piece together.

In the preview I saw, the audience was diverse in terms of identity: I saw straight and gay men laughing their heads off; there was an older straight cis woman sitting across the aisle from me vigorously nodding her head at every line. I was so happy about the audience’s openness and willingness to hear what you have to express. Has this always been the case with your audiences? Or has it changed recently and if so why?

Jes Tom: I want to say I’m so happy you noticed that, because it’s something I’ve noticed too. I think that comes specifically out of being in this off-Broadway space. I’ve taken an earlier version of this show out on tour, but at least right now, I’m not really a comic who does the club circuit where you just go and perform at clubs and the audience is there to see comedy, and it just so happens to be you. So as a comic, when I’ve gone out with my hour, for the most part the people who come to see me are fans, they’re people who know exactly who I am, exactly what they’re about to come see. And now in this off-Broadway space, I’m getting a much, much more diverse audience. I’ve particularly noticed older audience members, people who love going to the theater, straight people, people who have no idea who I am, and have no idea even what kind of show this will be. That’s new for me, and I think it’s so cool. I especially love seeing how these people react, and as far as I can tell, for the most part, they love the show. 

The script is beautifully and carefully written. How long did it take to write it and get a draft up-on-its-feet?

Jes Tom: The “script” is alive. It comes out of a long process of over two years of developing and changing forms and becoming different versions. But even as I have been running this version at Greenwich House Theater, I’m still editing as I go and learning what works. It’s always alive and changing.

What do you think – or what have you heard – are some of the most common misconceptions that gay cis people have about trans men and gender nonbinary folks? And how would you correct them?

Jes Tom: In the show, there is a notable moment where I say there’s no such thing as the LGBTQIA community, which I would like to clarify, [I say] as a joke. What I mean to draw attention to with that joke is that very often, and even within the quote “LGBTQIA community,” people tend to stick with people who are similar to themselves and there is not a whole lot of crossing over of between subgroups, and that’s what I’m trying to critique with that. But in practice, in real life, where we understand that there is nuance and complexity, all of these experiences do relate to each other. And are kind of borne out of each other. So I guess all I’m saying is “we’re not so different, you and I.” We maybe took a different direction to get there, but we’re not so different. 

Jes Tom (Writer and Performer) is a stand-up comic, actor, and writer, gleefully providing the trans, queer, Asian American, millennial twink perspective that everyone never knew they wanted. They are a story editor on HBO Max’s “Our Flag Means Death.” Jes can be seen & heard in the Hulu Feature Crush, HBO Max’s “Love Life,” Adult Swim’s “Tuca & Bertie,” and on their own digital series “Dear Jes,” for Netflix’s The Most. Their writing has been published by Reductress, Shondaland, and Condé Nast’s Them, and they wrote for the Audible/Broadway Video series “Hot White Heist,” produced by Alan Cumming. Jes has been featured in The New York Times, Vice, Ozy, Forbes, NowThis, Vulture’s Comedians You Should and Will Know in 2021, and were selected as a New Face at the 2021 Just For Laughs Festival.

Less Lonely comes to the Greenwich House Theater after playing a sold out engagement at the Cherry Lane Theatre, as well as shows across North America. Less Lonely is directed Off-Broadway by Em Weinstein, presented by Elliot Page and produced by Mike Lavoie & Carlee Briglia. 

The performance schedule is Monday – Friday at 7pm and Saturdays at 5:30pm and 8pm. There will be no show on December 25 or January 1. There will be an added performance on Sunday, December 31 at 5:30pm.

Tickets, beginning at $39, are available now at A limited number of rush tickets are available for $30 exclusively through TodayTix on the day of the show.

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