Jordan Pease is full of pithy observations and snickering commentary, but his ambition is a no-joke situation: The 22-year-old gay standup released in a book in February, Accidentally Okay, about living in Italy, and he’s constantly adding new material to his repertoire. His guilelessness and frankness make his comedy feel personal and even familial, and he’s not afraid to endear any kind of audience member. In fact, connecting with straight audiences is something of a speciality for him. (“I think this is the one gig I’ve booked that doesn’t turn into a foam party,” he said to one straight-ish crowd.)
We caught up with Pease to discuss his favorite comics, his favorite audiences, and the old text message that helps him stay ambitious.
TheBacklot: What’s your preferred standup audience? All gay? Some gay?
Jordan Pease: I like gay and straight shows, but I get more nervous when I book gay shows than straight. So my ideal audience is like, Latino nights, or when I get booked for urban audiences. They’re like, “Oh, he’s fun!” And maybe they’re drunk.
TB: Do you have lots of gay friends in standup?
JP: Personally, I think I personally have a relationship with five or six gay comics. We’ve been on the same shows randomly. We’re all kind of going in different directions; a lot of gay comics run towards doing all gay shows, and I’m kind of going in the opposite direction. Like, I don’t need to be in San Francisco or Seattle or LA. I’m totally fine doing Idaho.
TB: There still seems to be a large number of closet cases in standup. Why do you think that is?
JP: Standup comedy is basically run by straight white men. As time goes on, while the diversity in comedy is amazing, a lot of people think if they stick with a mainstream, I’m-just-going-to-be-a-heterosexual-guy-talking-about-heterosexual-stuff [style], it’ll be easier for them. It’s like Tom Cruise. Everybody knows. You’re gay. We know you’re not coming out of the closet for acting roles. Some people are more afraid to come out. I’m not the type of person to rush anyone out of the closet, but there are guys who do comedy sets about their girlfriends cheating on them, and it’s like, I know you’ve hooked up with one of my friends! It’s weird. They’re focuses on their career, and they think, “To be mainstream, I need to be this straight comic.”
TB: I was just watching clips of your standup and trying to guess your influences. Who are they?
JP: Funny thing is, there are so many different joke structures, but if you watch four comics in a row, you’ll see that there’s always something that comes up that’s in current news. A lot of comics have similar material but present it different. So when you look up your icons, you see how they do their timing and it really influences you. My biggest influence — and I’m only 22 — my parents always had Jackie Mason impression on television. Even though we were super Italian, Italian and Jews are very similar. I would watch and be like, this is hysterical. He could just make anyone laugh. I loved him. I also love comedic writing and want to be a bestselling author. I look up to Chelsea Handler so much. People think she has all these writers, but I look up to her as a writer. I think her material is hysterical, and I love the way that she presents herself. I think she’s great. And as a businessperson? She built an empire for herself. It took her 10 years, but she built an empire.
TB: Not many people your age have written a book. Was publishing always part of your plan?
JP: I never really wanted to until I went to Italy. I always had this feeling, like, “I’m going to do standup! I want to be a writer!” I never had the balls until I struck out on my own in Italy. I kept a journal and it developed into a book. I thought, “I’ll see where this goes and pursue it.” I have to go 100% in whatever I do. I can’t be like, I’ll put 40% of my energy into my standup and 60% of my energy into writing. I go balls-to-the-wall on one thing, then break and go 100% on something else too. When I started pursuing the book, I thought, “I’m going to Barnes & Noble, getting one of those publishing books, and literally applying to every lit agent and every publishing company.” In my mind, I wasn’t 21 then and I’m not 22 today. To me, I’m legitimately 45. That’s how I feel.”
TB: What propels the endless ambition?
JP: My dad passed away when I was 19 — and not even kidding, hand to God, over my dad’s dead body if that’s not too inappropriate — one of the last things he said to me was, “When you get famous, pay off my credit card bills.” So that gives me a little drive! Legitimately, it was in a text message. I will never get rid of that cell phone. I have it in my closet. I’ve always been super driven. When I was 13, I would say, “I’m going to be famous!” And people would ask, “Why?” And I’d say, “I’m going to be famous. That’s all that’s important.” You know how people say you just have a feeling that you’re meant to do something? I had a feeling my entire life that I was supposed to make people laugh and be onstage. I haven’t slept in my own bed for the 32nd day in a row. People are like, “You’re 22. Don’t you want to hang out with your friends?” And it’s like, yeah, I did that until I was 20. Then I thought, “Get your sh*t together, Carol.” I want to make it when I’m young. I want to able to inspire people who are my age, especially now since the economy sucks. People think the American dream is completely gone, and I want to prove that you can be 20 years and a gay guy who moves to Los Angeles and make it. I knew no one when I came here. I moved in with four people off Craigslist.
TB: Your trip to Italy appears to be a breakthrough moment in your life. Do you think about it often?
JP: I reflect on it all the time. I feel like I started there and I’m going to end there. I went to Italy, and I feel like I’ll go back to Verona. It will always feel like home, almost. I met people that barely spoke English and said, “We don’t know you that well and we know you were meant to do more than go to college.” I think back on it a lot. The whole trip, it was this bail-on-life situation. It doesn’t say this in the book, but I’d just broken up with someone before I went. It was a year-long relationship, but in gay years, that’s like 60. I was happy in my relationship, but I wasn’t happy with myself. I’d just moved to LA and gotten into a relationship with a genius professor, and I just felt really stuck and stagnant. I can’t handle the feeling of being stagnant. That’s why I went to Italy. I wanted to find myself and figure out what I wanted to do. I went there thinking, whatever happens happens. While I was there for three months, this coming-of-age comedic travel memoir happened, this book about getting beat up my gypsies, meeting 95-year-old women, going to festivals, and stuff. When you take yourself out of your culture and comfort zone, you learn about yourself. That’s how the whole trip played out.
TB: Would you travel elsewhere and write about it if given the chance?
JP: I really want to go to India, but I’m nervous because of the whole Eat, Pray, Love thing. I would love to go to Morocco, somewhere that’s so different from the U.S. and Italy. Thailand?
TB: What kinds of things do you feel most observational about? You talk a bit about the differences in straight and gay culture.
JP: Just last night after a show I was walking into a bathroom with two straight comedians, and they were talking about the best cheeseburgers they’d ever had in the area. The difference between conversations in a straight bathroom and a gay bathroom is insane. In a gay bathroom, gays are talking about a drag queen who just OD’d on meth. Straight guys are talking about, oh, delicious cheeseburgers.
TB: Do you glean most of your observations about sex and gays and straights on the road?
JP: Oh yeah. My heart is all sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll. It’s basically the reason my dad passed away. On the road, seeing the difference between gay, straight men, men and women? Holy sh*t, women will blow your mind. I wish I could paint you a picture of people I’ve seen, but there is no canvas big enough for middle America. No one can be this big! You’ll pop! It’s physically impossible.