‘Queer Eye’ star Jonathan Van Ness opens up about two of his obsessions — comedy and fashion
Hairdresser and “Queer Eye” star Jonathan Van Ness, known for his long, dark hair, handlebar mustache, scruffy beard and penchant for non-binary gender dressing, is adding stand-up comic to his increasingly diverse career.
The perky Van Ness, who has more than 2.7 million Instagram followers, has been a pivotal part of this year’s Netflix reboot of former Bravo stalwart “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” And in September and October, he hit the road for a 10-night comedy tour that was filmed for a documentary-style, behind-the-scenes web series. Episodes of “10 Nights With Jonathan Van Ness” began dropping this month on the YouTube page of Hotels.com, which sponsored his road shows.
Van Ness, 31, said he’s been honing his comedy skills his entire life. He cut his teeth on Funny or Die’s “Gay of Thrones,” a recap parody focused on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” and has a longstanding podcast, “Getting Curious With Jonathan Van Ness.”
“I feel like I was bitten by the stand-up comedy bug,” Van Ness said recently. “When I first met Margaret Cho in 2014 through ‘Gay of Thrones,’ she said, ‘Girl, you are so funny you really should be doing stand-up.’”
Van Ness has had a busy year personally as well. He has been photographed — on vacation in Hawaii, at the Emmys and just out and about — with his new hunky, bearded beau, rugby player Wilco Froneman. The two have also been documenting their time together on Instagram.
“He’s great,” Van Ness said. “He’s really such a good guy. I haven’t had a man for a long time. So, yay me. … When I first met him I thought we had sister energy. … I did friend-zone him and then I was like, ‘Oh, my God — wait.’”
The “Queer Eye” star has also fallen hard for fashion. For his eye-catching outfits, he has worked with stylist Alison Brooks (“I didn’t know I was a clothing addict until I met her,” he said), and he often wears an array of looks that he says are just him exploring what he likes regardless of traditional gender roles assigned to clothing.
At the 2018 Creative Arts Emmy Awards in September, Van Ness strolled the red carpet in a Maison Margiela mesh and sequin high-slit dress with Pierre Hardy platform booties on his feet, a Prada clutch in one hand and a tuxedo-wearing Froneman on his arm.
Van Ness’ look sent the internet aflutter, as did his outfit a week later for the Primetime Emmys — a flare-leg white suit by Stella McCartney, see-through high-neck blouse by Prada and a purple silk purse by the Row. He described his look in an Instagram post as, “She came to slay, ‘henny,’” before tagging his style team.
“I like to have fun with it. I’m kind of like that with grooming too,” he said, adding that his advice for bearded men is to skip having a chin strap and allow facial hair to go from the face down the front of the neck. “I like to play. I like to explore. I don’t like to be put into boxes.”
Thanks to making more money and being on social media, Van Ness said he has become a bit of a shopper. “If your budget is Payless or if it’s Yves Saint Laurent, there is a way to inhabit your truth,” he said about the importance of people being able to explore themselves through clothes. As for his fashion-spending habits, he said jokingly, “I think I will end up in my mom’s basement no matter what — no matter how successful I am. My mom is great. I think she’d be such a fun roommate.”
Fans of the “Queer Eye” reboot — it’s tear-jerker television for some binge watchers — know the show picked up three Emmys in September, including structured reality program and casting for a reality program. And this month the “Queer Eye” cast was named Out magazine’s entertainers of the year; they also have a new self-help book, “Queer Eye: Love Yourself, Love Your Life” (Clarkson Potter, $29.99) out now.
“From the Fab Five, I learned — oh, my God, I think I could cry — they are four of my best friends,” Van Ness said. “They are just really, really good people, and we’ve all learned how to celebrate each other.”
Co-host Tan France, Van Ness said, also taught him about creating healthful boundaries in life. And after shooting “Queer Eye” in Atlanta and Kansas City, Mo., he has learned a big lesson about humanity: that despite differences in politics and beliefs, people have similar wants and desires.
“More unites us than divides us, but what divides us gets more [online] clicks,” he said. “Drama sells more.”
As for his exploration into comedy, Van Ness was able to fulfill one of his dreams through the tour, which included a Los Angeles stop billed as “Jonathan Van Ness & Friends.” (The tour recently wrapped up in Washington, D.C.)
Late on a Sunday night in October, just hours before he’d return to shooting Season 3 of “Queer Eye,” Van Ness hit the stage at the Hollywood Improv on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles before a packed audience. He spent the evening introducing the night’s other comedy acts, telling colorful stories jokes and sharing fanboy moments about one of his childhood and adulthood obsessions — gymnastics. (He owns a massive VHS collection of gymnastics meets and can rattle off facts about gymnasts as if he were on “Jeopardy!”)
For the occasion, Van Ness wore joggers and a light-colored cropped sweatshirt with reflective elements that appeared to send beams of light into the audience from the stage lighting. A camera crew was there to capture all of the action.
“I was really feeling like impostor syndrome before I even did it,” he said the next day over a burger and carrot juice lunch at the London West Hollywood hotel. For the occasion, he wore a blue turtleneck sweater dress and brown knee-high boots.
“There are so many people I look up to and I’m a fan of — [Cho] and Joan Rivers and Lisa Lampanelli and Kathy Griffin and all of these women,” said Van Ness, who grew up watching “Will & Grace” and “Queer as Folk” and is a fan of Ellen DeGeneres and Janeane Garofalo. “People who have been stand-up comedians have been giving their entire professional life to this, and I have been in a salon and on my feet doing hair this whole time. When ‘Queer Eye’ was about to come out in February — it was between November of last year and February — I was like, ‘Let me just try. I’ll just see.’ … I did a little storytelling thing here and I did a little five-minute [comedy] set here. I went around L.A. and tried a little bit, and by the second time, I was like, ‘Oh, no. I have a new obsession.’”
But which is he into more — comedy or hair?
“I definitely want to keep doing comedy and keep doing stand-up,” said Van Ness, who runs L.A.-based MoJo Hair with business partner Monique Northrop. “I’m a firm believer in the law of abundance. I think there’s enough Jonathan to do both. … I was a pretty busy hairdresser before this happened. … The only reason I got to this point in my career or in my life is because I’ve been willing to be myself in public.”
He paused to take a bite of his burger. And then it happened. A piece of the sandwich broke free, falling in what seemed like a slow-motion Hollywood tumble.
“Noooo,” Van Ness said. “Missed it. Thank God. Not on this dress.” Laughter filled the room.
Follow me at @marquesharper on Twitter.