Getting High With Jes Tom: Talking Comedy, Transmasculinity, and Taylor Swift

Feature image of Jes Tom by Gonzalo Marroquin/WireImage via Getty Images

Jes Tom is a comedian and writer best known for their off-Broadway solo show Less Lonely and writing on the gay pirate show Our Flag Means Death. They’re a trans elder in the Brooklyn comedy scene – not because of their age – but because they’ve been doing this thing so damn long and so damn well. To the uninitiated, yes, Jes is that hot twink in those Gucci photos with Elliot Page.

I arrived at Jes’ garden apartment just as they were getting ready to take their testosterone shot, so I waited for them on the couch as Andre 3000’s new flute album, New Blue Sun, played from a bluetooth speaker on the coffee table. On their floor were production equipment cases from various TV networks and an open suitcase; a glimpse of the bicoastal, on-the-go lifestyle I had known Jes to be living this year. “Living the dream,” some would call it.

They came back, took out a bag of California weed, called themselves a snob for wanting to smoke it over the bodega bud I’d brought, and ground it as they told me what it was like to be misgendered in both directions at their grandmother’s recent memorial service, amongst other things.

We discussed turning heartbreak into content for Less Lonely, emailing Elliot Page, and – for fuck’s sake – Taylor Swift.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Jes: I’m not really a gender euphoria person. I just do my little thing and people around me respond however they will.

Motti: It doesn’t make or break your day?

Jes: Certainly not my whole day. There’s something really fun and funny about somebody seeing me talk for 10 minutes and thinking, “That’s a regular guy! That’s a normal guy who I have no questions about.” Then, two seats over there’s someone who’s fully thinking, “That’s an adult woman! A regular woman and we have no questions about her either. So beautiful and we watched her grow up so normally. She looks exactly regular.”

Motti: (laughs) It doesn’t make or break mine, either. Only if I get “ma’am”ed and that’s because I’m… twenty-seven. I’m still my mom’s daughter and my nieces and nephews aunt because that is the role that I play there. But I don’t want to ever be someone’s uncle.

Jes: Uncle is such a hard one. They’re bad shoes to fill. I believe that all of that stuff can fluctuate and change over time and it can change again. I feel similarly about that and once I started taking hormones and medically transitioning, that changed how I felt about certain things. The Jessica of it all. In my family, I’m the weird one–

Motti: Because you’re a professional comedian?

Jes: Because I’m a comedian and because I’ve been some kind of queer my whole life. Since I was 14, I’ve always had weird hair and I had an eyebrow piercing. If I would shave my head or get tattoos, people would just say “There you go doing another thing that we don’t really get but that’s fine.” Which is amazing. Lots of people don’t get that.

(At this point in the conversation, I had gotten so high that my entire left leg fell asleep.)

Motti: What’s it like then, being public and speaking publicly about transitioning if it’s not spoken about at home? Does your family have a Google Alert for you?

Jes: I don’t think my family knows what Google Alert is. It’s super weird because they come to see my show sometimes, so my mom learns a lot about me from my comedy. When I did an earlier version of Less Lonely in San Francisco, afterwards, my mom immediately said, “T-M-I.”

Motti: What’s been the life cycle of Less Lonely? When did it start?

Jes: I’ve been developing Less Lonely for two years now. Maybe even a little longer than that. It’s changed a lot and it’s been through a few life cycles at this point because in the beginning, there’s a relationship I talk about. A polyamorous relationship that I was in when I started doing the show. So the theme of the show was this idea of looking for love at the end of the world or looking for the person you die with. In the beginning, it was about having found that person. That’s what I had thought.

And then, of course, we broke up. The show had to change and at the same time, I was transitioning, I was taking hormones, my sexuality changed, and my whole life was changing. I had to shift the show to match that. The latest update is that my grandmother died in the past year and I felt really changed by that. That’s the thing about standup – it’s always changing with whatever you’re going through at the time.

Motti: Is it still about finding love at the end of the world?

Jes: That’s still the narrative arc. It really started in the beginning as this romantic puff piece, almost born out feeling so happy that I had to go and tell everyone.

Motti: Did you regret that at all when you broke up?

Jes: (laughs) I’m curious to see how this will reflect on me – especially in a queer publication – but this is not the first time I’ve done a breakup comedy show. I feel very Taylor Swift in that way.

Motti: (sighs)

Jes: (doubling down) I’ll go through a big breakup and it really galvanizes me creatively. I’m like… “Look what’s gonna happen,” I become really shiny; everybody’s thinking, “Oh this one’s about that person, this one’s about that person.” I really identify with Taylor Swift.

I love Taylor Swift’s body of work and I think I’m more familiar with her greater body of work than I am a lot of other artists. I really identify with her music and her Sagittarian-ism but the second I see her in a video, I’m like, “Oh, that’s a white woman.”

But I identify with her strongly and deeply as a Sagittarius. I identify a lot with the ways that she seems to make art out of deeper things.

Motti: Do you think it’s petty at all to make a lot of your art about your ex or do you think that’s just what being an artist is?

Jes: You know, I think it’s petty. I think Sagittariuses can be really petty but in the way where you still like them.

Motti: What was the moment that you knew you wanted to create Less Lonely? Did you have a really solid set you wanted to develop or…?

Jes: Less Lonely is my second hour. The first time I ever did an hour was for Break Out at Caroline’s… which, Caroline’s doesn’t even exist anymore. It was my first hour so it was sort of… here’s all of my material. Less Lonely was my first time actually trying to create a narrative, complete piece.

(Here, Jes gets up off the couch to turn on a lava lamp behind us.)

Motti: Tell me about Elliot Page. Is it an I-met-Elliot-Page-I’m-never-going-to-fail situation?

Jes: (taking a deep breath) It’s awesome.

Motti: How did it come about that he’s presenting Less Lonely?

Jes: Elliot and I know each other through Mae Martin and it was sort of a trans magic thing. Before, it seemed as though we were from totally separate worlds. Then, he came out and it was like, “You’re trans, I’m trans. Now we know each other.” It’s really awesome because he was so influential to me growing up.

I met Elliot because we both saw Mae’s hour, SAP, when they performed it in New York. It was a huge week of queer comedy hours because I saw Mae’s hour the same week I saw Hannah Gadsby’s Body of Work, which later became Something Special on Netflix at Brooklyn Arts Museum. Then, at the end of the week, I performed Less Lonely at The Bell House. I was like, “How cool is it that I’m part of this lineage that’s happening?” and I invited Elliot but he had a date. After my show, Mae invited a bunch of us out to karaoke – so I went straight from my show to karaoke.

I didn’t have anyone presenting the show yet and I took a shot in the dark. I emailed Elliot a video and said, “Hey, this is crazy, but would you check out this video and present it for this short run off-Broadway. I think it’s a cool show and I hope you think it’s good too.”

I waited a week with bated breath. We were coming up on when we had to announce – to get the tickets on sale – then he emailed back and he said something really nice.

(Jes bravely checks their phone for the email, despite not liking to look at screens while they’re high.)

Motti: What is the role of presenting? Is it an endorsement or…?

Jes: It’s kind of just that.

Motti: That’s cool. Has he given you any notes?

Jes: Does Elliot Page give me notes? (laughs) Elliot has not given me any notes but I would be open to hearing them.

Motti: I would love it if he was punching up your jokes. That would be really funny.

Jes: I don’t know that he’s the type.

Motti: He comes off as very polite.

Jes: He’s a sweetheart. He’s a really really good guy.

(Jes finally gives up on looking for the email from Elliot.)

Jes: No… I’m not going to find it.

Motti: That’s fine.

Jes: Now I’m high and looking for an email.

Motti: Would you say that the moral of the story is that we should email our trans heroes?

Jes: I think the moral of the story is to ask for what you want and to ask for it only when you have something you think is ready. Which is funny, because now that clip I emailed to Elliot was several versions of Less Lonely ago. I don’t even do that part anymore.

The show has really grown up with me and I’ve grown and changed so much over the past three years. I feel like I’m ten years older – like I’m a hundred years older – and the early versions of the show presented this starry eyed, naive, romantic point of view. As it changed, there started to be more material about my sexuality changing and hooking up with all these gay guys. My life is totally different now.

My grandmother dying was my first time somebody really close to me died. She was my last grandparent. It ushered me into this new era of my life and I think the show reflects that. It’s less about a great, romantic love story where I’m searching for the love of my life and more about asking the question, “What is love?”

Motti: Did any part of you want to change the title of the show when the material changed?

Jes: You know… the show is called Less Lonely and I hope that’s how it makes people feel. I’ve always felt that way about it and I feel that way about my comedy in general, especially as a queer person and as a queer person of color blah blah blah. That’s what I hope I can give to people.

Motti: You felt similarly about your experience in the Our Flag Means Death writers’ room, yes?

Jes: It was a really cool room for me to join and be like, “Oh, look at all of us! We’re from all these different perspectives. We’re all different ages, all different ethnic backgrounds. There wasn’t only one nonbinary person or one queer person, and there were other queer people in the room too. It was really cool to share that credit with Nat Torres.

It’s a fun show to write for– I got to write a really exciting episode. I learned that I really like to write. I wrote a sword fight scene… no spoilers! It was my first time writing for TV so it was cool watching it later and being like, “Wow, that did happen exactly how we said it would. That’s so crazy.”

It’s been cool to see how much people like the show. Something really, really cool about that was that I knew for sure that people were going to see it. You know? People like it.

Motti: (nods enthusiastically)

Jes: In this day and age, unfortunately, people put so much work into shows and then not that many people see them–

Motti: Or they don’t even get released!

Jes: Right, totally. Or the studio can scrap it after you’ve worked on it. So, it was cool to look at Twitter when the episode came out and see everybody react.

(It’s at this moment that I notice the intricate crown molding design on the wall opposite the couch and compliment Jes as if they carved it themself. From here, we drift into a conversation about interior design, settling into Brooklyn apartments, and I guess drywall and plaster? Eventually, we landed on the topic of astrology and gave up on recording once Jes took my phone in their hands to look at my CoStar app and analyze my birth chart. They said a lot about it that I don’t remember, but I did appreciate that they validated how hard it must be for me as a Leo Sun, Scorpio Moon, Scorpio Rising, Cancer Venus and Cancer Mars. The rest is between me, Jes, and the California weed.)


Jes Tom’s solo show Less Lonely is running November 28, 2023 – January 6, 2024 at Greenwich House Theater, NYC. The second season of Our Flag Means Death is now streaming on Max.

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Motti

Motti (they/he) is a New York born and raised sorority girl turned writer, comedian, and content creator (whatever that means these days). Motti has been featured on We're Having Gay Sex Live, The Lesbian Agenda Show, Reductress Haha Wow! Live, the GayJoy Digest, and even played the role of "Real Life Lesbian" on Billy on the Street. In 2022, they wrote about how clit sucker toys are a scam, sweet gay revenge, chasing their dreams, and getting run over by a pick up truck in their now-abandoned newsletter Motti is An Attention Whore. Motti has a Masters in Public Administration and Local Government Management, you'd never know it from the shit they post online (see previous sentence), but occasionally he'll surprise you with his knowledge of civic engagement and electoral processes. They live in Brooklyn with their tuxedo cat, Bo, and their 20 houseplants.

Motti has written 14 articles for us.

3 Comments

  1. Achieving new heights (pun very much intended) in the “loose friendly chat” genre of interview! With excellent editing to make sure the content and context is clear and amusing.

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