BEING Trans is a six-part unscripted doc-reality podcast series from Lemonada Media follows four transgender individuals living in Los Angeles. Over the course of three months, the crew recorded hundreds of hours of live conversations, experiences and intimate moments with cast members as they lived them, providing a uniquely unfiltered look at their daily lives. The crew recorded 50 hours of tape for 12 weeks, for about 600 hours total, which they then had to whittle down into just six 45-minute episodes.
Plenty of podcasts rely on a documentary format, still more are improvisational and unscripted. But Being Studios, which plans to release two limited series per year, aims for something different. BEING Trans hopes to immerse audiences in the subjects’ lives. “Our whole goal of Being is radical empathy,” says Lemonada co-founder Stephanie Wittels Wachs. “You’re just hearing people existing.”
One of the cast members on this revolutionary podcast is Jeffrey Jay, a Los Angeles-based, transgender stand-up comedian born and raised in a town that is so Texas it’s called Texas City, Texas. With a Republican judge as a mother and a father who works on oil tankers, he didn’t think life was tough enough and ventured into a life of stand-up. Since 2011 Jeffrey has made his living touring the NACA college circuit and to date has done hundreds of shows that combine stand-up with a comedy Q&A. He also participates in ally training and speaks at colleges and high schools sharing his story to educate others about trans issues.
As a writer, Jeffrey has been a comedy writer for Feast of Fun, a second-rounder in the Warner Bros Writing Fellowship & Sundance in 2021, and a Writers’ PA on Season 6 of The CW’s Riverdale. He has been seen on Hulu and was featured in The Advocate as one of the “Top 7 Transgender Comedians” and “7 LGBT Comics You Shouldn’t Have Missed.” He’s also headlined national and international comedy festivals. We got the chance to speak with Jeffrey about the podcast, comedy and lots more in our exclusive interview.
What is your comedic process? How do you go about crafting your jokes?
Oh, cool. I love that question. That’s a fun one. I start with trauma. I start with whatever’s the most frustrating, that’s where my jokes start. Whatever is the thing that’s on my mind that’s frustrating. And then I work backwards from there and I usually use a mind map.
I don’t know if you’ve ever used a mind map. It’s basically, if I’m frustrated about a certain thing, then I’ll figure out what the additional frustrating things are and then see which one I get the most mileage out of. And then I go, okay, this is frustrating for me because I mean, if you’re a comic, you just have to be willing to talk about yourself – otherwise it comes off as inauthentic. I did comedy a long time ago when I was a very attractive young, middle-class girl and I was the least funny person because I did not have enough problems. It wasn’t until I was trans and had been through some stuff that my comedy was relatable, which is crazy.
Did you find it harder to gain acceptance among male comedians before you transitioned or now?
I think it’s hard either way. I never had it easy. I was never just a guy. I mean, I want to say I wish, but I don’t at all. but I think unless you’re a female comic, nobody can truly understand how difficult it is to be a female comic. It is one of the hardest things in the world.
And even being a trans man comic, I think it’s comparable, but being a female comic is so difficult and it is the largest uphill battle. And I think that’s why I love female comics so much, because guys will never understand. They just won’t. You have such an uphill battle. You know, no one ever told me I wasn’t funny when I was an attractive girl and I really, really wasn’t funny.
How did you get involved with BEING Trans?
Somebody called me and said they were looking for trans people and it was that vague, I believe. And I was like, I’m that! And then I spoke to someone briefly and then it was kind of a whirlwind. It kind of went from there and then there was some kind of interviews in place. And then I didn’t know if I was going to be on it or not. And then, and then I was, but it was just a simple phone call from somebody saying, “Hey, I know you’re trans and in LA and they’re looking for trans people in LA, do you want to talk to these people?” And then I just did it and once I got to know the people who were interviewing me, it felt very comfortable, which it usually doesn’t.
What was it like to have a crew following you around?
That was the weirdest part, having a crew with you. And I think that’s why it became the show that it is, is because I think they were just with us long enough that we became immune to the feeling of the crew.
So then we were able to just be honest and then occasionally I’d go like, “Oh yeah, that’s right. There’s five people behind me.” You would just forget. And, also, everyone was some sort of either an extreme ally or queer identifying and everyone just kind of felt like a family. I’ve never been a part of a crew that felt like that before.
And like what what’s been the coolest thing that’s happened to you since this podcast has come out?
I don’t even know what to say about the coolest thing. It’s been so amazing, so many people message and reach out now, which is really insane and so lovely. It’s kind of what you would imagine happening, but don’t know if it will, but I would say the biggest surprise to me is that the whole cast, I think we became like legit best friends. And with anything I’ve ever done, that’s never happened. There’s usually one, there’s usually at least one that causes drama or that you don’t get along with. But I mean, we became like a family, which is really cool.
That’s great, because I was going to ask you if you stayed in touch with the other cast members.
Oh, yeah. We talk every day, we’re texting each other stuff and cheering each other on and the episodes are still coming out. And so, sometimes you’re not on an episode and you were there for some of it, but a lot of it, we didn’t see go down with our friends. And so now we’re getting to hear about it and you just feel even closer to them.
You mentioned on the podcast that you do Q&As at your college shows. What is the wildest thing somebody has asked you during one of those Q&As?
Someone once asked me if I was going to be a dog next, Nothing ever phases me. I’ve done it for so long. I get all of the sex ones – and I love those. They’re all prepped, but “Are you going to be a dog next?” is something that I didn’t expect. And those are always my favorite because then I get to riff. And when you’re confident in yourself, you don’t actually have to berate somebody to make a heckler feel bad. If you’re confident and you let the jokes fly, you’ll get the audience on your side without ever having to be mean.
And being a comedian, in light of the Chris Rock slap and Dave Chapelle attack, do you think about that when you’re on stage?
You know, I don’t, I survived Texas and I don’t have a very punchable face and I’m not super threatening, so I think it’s the thing that helped me a lot in comedy. I think people end up just kind of having my back because I try my best not to give anybody a reason to be upset with me. And again, if you’re just confidently you, you never have to be mean, because everyone else will feel bad for the other person and that’s way better.
Jeffrey Jay Answers the Socialite Seven
Who has been the biggest influence on you in your career?
Christopher Titus, for sure. He does long-form comedy and he comes from a place of pain and I’ve just always respected his work ethic. I was obsessed with him when I was younger and growing up. And then, I went and saw him and he signed my joke book. I’ve run into a bunch of times and all sorts of stuff and I’ve never had the courage to tell him, “Hey, I’m doing it. And you signed my first joke book.” – because that feels weird. But one day, we’ll work together again and I’ll tell him. He’s the loveliest human. I mean, I even ran into him a couple of years ago at, just at the grocery store and I was like, even when you’re standing in line, you’re great. It’s awesome. That’s when you know. I think he’s an unexpected one to people. I think people don’t expect me to pick a white guy, but sometimes someone resonates for other reasons.
Who, if anyone, would you like to work with?
Laverne Cox. She’s always been much bigger than I in her career and above me, but we did a bunch of shows throughout the years where she would be there right the day before, or even like hours before and then I would come in and I would be like, this is the day. This is the time we were going to be in the same space and then every time, it was like ships in the night. Also, she’s from Mobile, Alabama, and that’s where my whole family’s from, so we have a lot of amazing similarities growing up in that Southern life.
What talent would you like to wake up with tomorrow that you don’t already possess?
I don’t know how to whistle. Yeah. I know. It’s really embarrassing. Do not go back to the office and tell anybody.
What are three things you can’t live without?
I’ve got a really cheesy…it’s like a manifesting…it’s a bunch of racks and candles. It’s an alternative thing or whatever that I put rocks on and I put my wishes and I write them down and I draw them out. And even when I leave, I take a picture of it and then I bring some of the rocks with me. So, my little manifesting thing, my morning pages journal so that I can get the crud out of my head in the mornings. And, this will be horrible, but more than one computer monitor. I always need two. I don’t know how anybody gets things done on one. How are we supposed to get distracted if we don’t have two monitors?
If they made a movie out of your life, who would you want to portray you on the big screen?
Oh amazing. There’s this guy, who’s a trans actor named EJ who’s on TikTok and he makes me laugh so much. We do not know each other, and I think he’s the funniest person in the world. And I hope that he sees this so that we can become for realsies friends, because I’m not a great actor, so whoever plays me will not be me. I think most people should [play themselves], but I also think there’s value in knowing when you’re not a great actor. I can do a bit part very well, but ask me to do a range of emotion and ‘ll tank a movie.
What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
Getting sober, for sure. I was an alcoholic for a long time and I’m lucky to not be anymore.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I don’t know who said it and so now I say it all the time, but it’s not me. It came from something and whoever it was, it was the best thing I’ve ever heard. It was: If you work really, really hard, you can do whatever you really want to do for a living. That doesn’t mean you’ll be rich. It may take a very, very, very long time, but you can make enough money to live. If you work really, really hard, it can happen. So as long as you don’t want fame, you can be a comedian and make enough money. You can be a writer, you can make friendship, bracelets. And\ that changed my life because then it happened to me and I got on the college circuit and nobody knew who I was, but I made my living doing it and that was lovely.