Jeff Jones will tell you that he isn’t a gay comedian; he’s a comedian who happens to be gay. He’s also an actor, producer and playwright, one who frequents Orlando and Tampa and that’s even shared the stage with late comedic icon Joan Rivers.
On Nov. 8, Tampa Bay residents will get to experience Jones for themselves as drag and comedy collide for his “Pink Collar Comedy Show,” a night of laughter and drag divas with Brian Bradley, Carol Lee and Trixxie Deluxxe.
Ahead of the show, Watermark spoke with Jones about the full-time career in stand-up he never saw coming, the importance of comedy in today’s age and—naturally—children falling.
WATERMARK: It was your co-workers that first urged you to pursue stand-up. Did you ever foresee it as a career?
Jeff JOnes: Hell no. I was signed up as a birthday gift to a comedy class. Everyone I worked with thought I was funny. After I quit my job and walked away to do this full-time, maybe they regretted that decision? Either that or it was just a plan to get rid of me. I’ll be 42 this year and I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up.
You’ve been performing stand-up for twelve years. What’s kept you on the stage?
Laughter… laughter is the greatest drug of all. You can have the [worst] day, but when you get on that stage and hear people laugh at the things you say, it makes it all better. If you bomb, though, it sucks—and you just return to the fetal position on your bathroom floor.
On that, what would consider to be your worst show, and what would you consider to be your best? What stands out in your mind?
I don’t know if it was the worst show, but there are situations that are just not good for comedy. I showed up to do a show in a Mexican restaurant on the coast. It was a rare, rainy and freezing night in Florida. There was one table of three people in the entire place, [but] we still did the show.
We basically just stood table side and did a conversational comedy show. One of the women liked one of my jokes so much that she asked me to do it again while she recorded it on her phone to send her daughter. I ended up having to do it like four times because she wasn’t that great at using her phone. One of the best shows was this year at the Michigan LGBT Comedy Fest in front of about 1000 people in a really nice performing arts center. When that many people laugh and it comes at you, I swear you can physically feel it.
What makes you laugh? Who do you consider to be your comedic influences?
I like the old school comics a lot. Joan Rivers and Buddy Hacket are two of my all-time favorites. I love the fact that you can be a little dirty without going all in. The stuff they got away with in the 60›s and 70›s would never fly now. What makes me laugh? I like to see children fall down, monkeys and farts. If you can combine all three, it›s amazing.
Are there particular audience interactions you’ve had that stand out to you?
I perform 95% of the time for straight people in the Southeast U.S., mostly in small conservative towns. I know going into most of these shows that they may have a negative perception since I’m openly gay on stage and with my material. When I get people coming up to me, eager to shake my hand, take a photo with me and tell me how much they enjoyed the show… that makes me feel like the world isn›t totally f*cked yet.
Has being an out gay man influenced or affected your comedy?
Not really, I don’t hide it. I don’t like to hit people with it over and over though. I never start out with the gay material; it would turn some people off right away. I like to ease into it and get the crowd to like me as just a comedian first.
I never want to be just a gay comedian. I am a comedian that happens to be gay. If I’m performing for a gay crowd then I’ll gay it up, though. That’s mostly because I’m trying to find a groupie that isn’t a single, heterosexual female.
You’re also a playwright, producer and actor. What led you to pursue theatre?
Almost all of my friends are actors, writers [or] producers. I just had a funny idea for a show, sat down and wrote it out. I look back at my first script and can totally see my evolution as a writer though. I don’t think I’m a good actor at all, [which is] probably why I only get cast in shows that I write.
How does it differ from stand-up to you? Do you have a preference?
They both have their pros and cons. They are very different though. One I am hiding behind a character and costume and the other I’m out there totally solo. Comedy is very personal: we share stories that are true, embarrassing, and humiliating, just for a cheap laugh.
Tell me about your writing process.
I don’t really have a formal writing process. If I see something that makes me laugh or I think is just stupid I’ll write it down. Social media has become a good tool for writing a joke. I’ll post an idea as a status update and if the response is decent, I’ll try to work it into a new bit or an existing one.
You’ve performed with Demetri Martin, Joel McHale, Hal Sparks and Joan Rivers. You’re about to host a show for John Henson. Were you a fan of Talk Soup?
I grew up watching that show all the way back to Greg Kinnear. A show that basically takes clips from TV shows that I’ve seen and says the same things that I am thinking is going to get my attention. After John Henson I will have worked with 3 Soups hosts. If you can put me in touch with Aiysha Tyler, that would be great.
What memories stand out about those entertainers?
Comics are just nice people. I did a few shows with Joan and those were incredibly memorable. She told me that I am very likable on stage and that was a huge asset. As long as you get the crowd to like you, you can get away with just about anything.
“The Pink Collar Comedy Show” features Carol Lee, Brian Bradley and Trixie Deluxxe. How did the show come about?
I have been friends with all of them for many years, they make me laugh. The drag queens come from the old school of camp comedy drag as well. Addison Taylor is another member of our crew that does dates on the tour with us. Occasionally Ginger Minj will also join us when she’s not on the road. Brian is totally hysterical and is a master of comedy. He doesn’t really work with a set and just get on stage and goes. He mostly works cruises and corporate gigs, so he’s looking forward to joining us in Tampa and gaying it up. I had to talk them all in to doing it and convince them, just take all of the stories you normally tell between numbers and put them together for a 20 minute set.
What are your goals for the show?
We’d love to do this show more and expand to doing shows outside of Florida for sure. We’ve done some Pride events and some small theaters. We do find that the majority of our audiences are straight people and that’s great. They might not be comfortable enough to go to a gay bar to see a drag performer, but they’ll go to their local comedy club or performing arts center.
Why do you feel comedy is important today?
Comedy is more important than ever. The higher visibility comics seem to be holding politicians more accountable than the news channels are. As far as those of us working the smaller venues and clubs, I think we’re there to be a good distraction. No matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, I think we’re all getting burned out. If you can go out and laugh at my dating misery or the idiots that live in tiny houses, then we’ve all shared something. Comedy can unite us, I think.
What else do you want readers to know? What’s next for you?
I’m single and always looking for more material, so if you’d like to go on a date you can reach me through my website. You can’t get me through Grindr though, I’m over 40 and we aren’t allowed to have that app on our phones over 40.
You can ask Jeff Jones for a date, or learn more about him, by visiting jeffjonescomedy.com. Doors open for the “Pink Collar Comedy Show” at 8 PM on Nov. 8 at Side Splitters Comedy Club in Tampa. Tickets and more information are available at sidesplitterscomedy.com or by calling (813) 960-1197.