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Queer Eye's Jai Rodriguez is set to slay at The Big Gay Cabaret
by Jerry Nunn
2024-03-05

This article shared 14737 times since Tue Mar 5, 2024
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Out and proud performer Jai Rodriguez is set to play at The Big Gay Cabaret this March for three days. Presented by RuPaul Drag Racer Ginger Minj, this monthly series highlights the wide world of cabaret in an intimate setting on Southport Avenue.

At the early age of 18, Rodriguez joined the cast of Rent, before landing the culture expert role that would change his life in the original Queer Eye television series.

The hit show led to many honors, including an Emmy Award, and soon the Fab Five were writing a New York Times bestselling book together. This inspired him to create a live stage show about the experience, called Jai Rodriguez: xPosed.

He went on to excel as a host and judge on television while working nonstop as an actor. Rodriguez has appeared on hit shows such as Nip/Tuck, How I Met Your Mother, Grey's Anatomy and Uncoupled, among others.

No stranger to cabaret, Rodriguez created his own show in New York and has adapted his stage act over the years to suit his audiences regionally. The talented showman talked about this and much more on his way to the Windy City.

Windy City Times: Hi, Jai. You are finally returning back to Chicago. Have you been here many times in the past?

Jai Rodriguez: Just a handful of times. I was there for The Oprah Winfrey Show, so in and out, and also a quick pop-up appearance at a club in 2010. I went a few years ago to see Wayne Brady play Aaron Burr in Hamilton in Chicago.

WCT: Talk about your cabaret act, which brings you back this time.

JR: I am excited, because this is for something that is the most like me. It is an intimate vehicle that is partially a concert, and a lot of storytelling. That is a specific skill set that I don't get to showcase too often, but it is in my sweet spot.

WCT: How do you pick out the stories you tell onstage?

JR: Usually I will have a theme for that particular cabaret spot. One was called Dirty Little Secrets, where I shared things I hadn't before, and this past fall at 54 Below was about my journey with sex and relationships.

This one in Chicago is "Jai 101," and an introduction, since I don't know the people there. I will go over things that some people may know about me professionally, but add in the specifics of the situation. It will be about how I am navigating the world today. People may think they know someone who is famous, but not really know the real person. Cabaret is a space, unlike a big concert, where people can get to understand an artist and their journey.

I look forward to pulling out some songs I haven't done for a while because my regular venues have heard the songs too often. This time I can try out some new stuff.

For the final moments, I will perform a duet of "I'll Cover You" from Rent with Ginger Minj each night in Chicago. There will be a bona fide celebrity drag queen in the role of Angel Dumott Schunard, and I will play Tom Collins in the ultimate role reversal. I hope Ginger knows there's a kiss at the end of the number because she has to lay one on me every night!

WCT: What a dirty job!

JR: Because of my professionalism I have to be true to the script…

WCT: Ginger's The Broads' Way show was so well constructed with very funny parodies.

JR: Agreed. I saw The Broads' Way in LA. What it did was give me some artistic license and permission to unbutton a button. In New York at 54 Below, I felt the pressure of singing at a venue where Patti LuPone performed. I had to be professional and button my top button for musical theater. I did sing a few songs that were blue though, and pushed the envelope.

My show is rated R, so leave the kids at home. I wanted New York to be a shiny package since I hadn't performed there in over 17 years. I was no longer the little boy who used to run around in glittery cutoff shorts in New York. I am a fully realized man now, and have shown that.

When I saw Ginger's show there was so much joy that I had to reevaluate my setlist and put songs that were more tongue in cheek in the show. She told me recently that her Mama Rose moment was going to be funny at first, but wanted to make it serious. She draws you in with a strength and a power that inspired me to be my most authentic self in the space. Ginger said, "You can't lie in cabaret. The audience can tell if you do."

It's campy, while sharing my truth with stories and with music.

WCT: A Big Gay Cabaret sounds like the perfect title.

JR: When I did the show in New York, it was described as sharing a cocktail with a friend and I love that sentiment. I want to obtain that. I am excited about starting a presence in Chicago because I would love to come back.

WCT: What is your favorite musical of all time?

JR: You are wearing it on that Wicked t-shirt! It is the perfect show. It's about two strong women, and much more than that. While everyone knows the Wicked Witch of the West, it's about uncovering the layers there.

I have always been an empathetic person, and when someone comes at me harshly I always wonder what they are going through. Not judging a book by its cover is an important theme in Wicked. I am singing a Wicked song in this show.

WCT: I heard that the movie is incredible from people who have already seen the dailies.

JR: At the auditions, apparently people came in trying to impersonate Kristin Chenoweth, until Ariana Grande entered the room as how Galinda would be in 2024. The fresh new take made the part hers.

Sometimes it's hard to tell how far to take things from the source material. When I took over Angel in Rent, I loved Wilson Jermaine Heredia's version. I had to find a way to make it my own while still honoring the text.

WCT: Why do you think movie musicals are not resonating with audiences recently in the cases of The Color Purple or Mean Girls?

JR: I loved The Color Purple. I just watched it again at home after seeing it twice in theaters. I remember seeing Fantasia play it years ago and she was born to play the role. Her raw vulnerability just fits it.

Mean Girls I saw on tour in LA and I didn't leave the theater humming any of the songs. I didn't find it memorable. The movie I saw at a screening in New York, and it didn't hook me. Mean Girls is so iconic and quotable that it's hard to impress people with a musical version of it.

Wicked has a special place in my heart, so I expect it to be a very different story.

WCT: You have been friends with Wayne Brady for a long time. When did you realize he was a part of the LGBTQ+ community?

JR: Wayne was on a journey. I think people will share when they are ready to share. When he texted me about it I responded with, "Your toaster is in the mail!"

What was beautiful about the way he came out was the family knew, and they are a modern mixed family that all support him. He's such a solid guy and it tracks for me that he is pansexual. He just loves everybody and is a generous person.

I am wondering if he is dating anybody. I can give him the Yelp review if it's a man, but it could be a woman. He's never brought around anyone that he might have been dating before.

I was on an Atlantis cruise and the owner Rich Campbell had someone cancel as a performer. He asked me to find someone and we were at sea. I asked Wayne and he was on a plane the next day. He did two shows, and we did "I'll Cover You" with a kiss at the end. He's always been an ally, but I am so happy now that he can live authentically.

WCT: Speaking of kissing, you almost kissed Bowen Yang in an episode of Nora from Queens.

JR: It was so close. I missed it by just a hair! I was going to do the Bros red carpet at the premiere and told my agent if there was anything going on work wise while I'm in New York to let me know. Lo and behold the guest star part came up to shoot that very day.

Bowen has so many career highlights including Wicked and Saturday Night Live now. He's constantly working and I am very happy for him.

I remember hosting Channel Q on the radio and talking about an out gay man being on SNL. I would have never believed that would happen one day if someone had told me that when I was a kid.

WCT: I just remembered you had me as a guest on your radio show several years ago to talk about the Jussie Smollett controversy. How did you wind up playing a straight character in the movie Bros?

JR: I mainly audition for straight characters in the bulk of what I do. In Bosch: Legacy I recently played a womanizing cop.

Queer Eye is so far removed from the ether of casting directors who don't remember me on it. All they see is my work and they no longer see me in person. They are just getting a tape and I remember sending this one in. I was so sad because I knew it was a good audition, but they might google me and I wouldn't get it because of Queer Eye.

I sent in a tape to play the love interest and didn't hear anything, then I sent in a tape to play the straight brother and didn't hear anything. Almost two months later, I got the call and I pulled over my car and cried. It was a profound moment because it was really about the work.

The director Nicholas Stoller said that after only a couple of lines into the tape he knew he had to have me in the film.That was validating because I come from an era where I was told not to come out, and if I did my opportunities to work would be cut in half.

I'm interested to see what will happen now that the writer's strike is over and disparities within the business have been brought to light. I will say that the queer roles that I audition for now are more multifaceted than they used to be. Gay people used to be the punchline and that was it.

WCT: Hollywood will give a straight person an award for playing LGBTQ+ roles but not the other way around usually.

JR: Right,—"they are so brave to play gay." It doesn't work in reverse. I have tried it. If someone is in it for the accolades, then they are going to be disappointed.

The shift is now on the work because no one has personal relationships with casting directors. I don't go in and have multiple tries. I send in tapes that I am satisfied with to see what happens.

WCT: Is there one thing you would still like to accomplish in your career?

JR: To be a series regular on a procedural medical or legal drama. Being a guest star is great to come in, cause havoc, and then leave. A team of people writing to play to your strengths is fun, but my heart is set on being on a Latin family sitcom. Sitcoms with a live audience always remind me of theater.

WCT: So maybe some Chicago Med while you are in town?

JR: I was just up for one of the Chicago shows back in December, but didn't get it. It was when I was filming one of the Queer Eye reunions in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

WCT: I talked to [Queer Eye co-star] Thom Filicia about the show then. What is your overall takeaway from Queer Eye?

JR: It shaped the way culture and humans from around the world saw five gay men. We were being our authentic selves, although we couldn't represent the entire community. I was dating a psychologist one time, and he said his textbook mentioned the show being important in social acceptance.

We stood on the shoulders of the unsung heroes who fought for our rights decades before we were on the scene. The generation that grew up with the small crack in the door that we opened now demands to be seen, be respected and have equal rights. It is a given for people now. I am inspired by the impact that Queer Eye had and continues to have.

Rodriguez rules The Big Gay Cabaret on March 15, 16 and 17 at Venus Cabaret Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave. Tickets are available at mercurytheaterchicago.com or biggaycabaret.com .


This article shared 14737 times since Tue Mar 5, 2024
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