Jordan Gray: ‘You very much can live vicariously through me’

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Jordan Gray: ‘You very much can live vicariously through me’

Jordan Gray
Words by Joanne Brookfield

“I’m a big, six foot toddler running around making jokes about boobs and Batman and babies and dogs. On the way, I'm just chucking in transgender stuff, because it's my life, it's my actual lived experience.”

When preparing for an interview, naturally you turn to the internet to begin researching your subject. Not everything you read online will be true, of course, so the interview provides an opportunity to verify certain things.

Some questions are basic fact checks (“are you really completely blind in your left eye and coeliac?”) and others are because the random specificity of the details are assembled in such a way they create a sentence that both delights and demands further investigation.

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Such as this gem that leaps off Jordan Gray’s Wikipedia page: “Jordan realised she was transgender while chopping wood in Sweden and came out while accepting a trophy for best original artist… while dressed as a cat”.

Brilliant! And, as Gray tells Beat, all true. Gray is on the eve of her Australian premiere of Is It A Bird?, her smash hit show that in a five star review The Guardian UK described as “a gorgeous, accomplished and deeply funny hour of comedy combining Gray’s musical talents with nuanced, creative stand-up.”

The show was nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award 2022 (the highest honour at the world’s largest comedy festival) and has been selling out as it tours across the UK. On the back of this, Gray’s been doing the rounds of the all the TV shows, with an appearance on Ben Elton’s Friday Night Live late last yearthat – well, let’s just say – got everyone talking.

As a result, Gray is one of the fastest rising comic stars in Britain. While relatively new to her celebrity status as a comedian, Gray is no stranger to the stage or screen, having spent a decade as a musician.  “I was very, very lucky. I’ve had the most wonderful music career straight out of school, really,” she shares with Beat via Zoom, from her home in Southend in Essex, where she lives by the sea. “It’s as far as you can go before you’re in the water,” she explains.

Her career as a musician had been going very well: “did Europe a bunch of times, and then a bunch of albums and then I did The Voice.” Admitting the old adage ‘every comedian wants to be a rock star and every rock star wants to be a comedian’ definitely applied to her, it was while performing as part of The Voice television franchise that she first experimented with comedy.

“I tried to be funny on live TV, and you don’t get a response from six million people, you don’t know if they’re laughing in their living rooms. But I think it went down quite well, I certainly enjoyed myself in the moment. So I thought, I’d rather do that for the rest of my life, than pour all this money and work into songs that I’m slowly falling out of love with anyway,” she says.

While The Voice was a “wonderful experience” the single she released after appearing on the show in 2016 “was rubbish” and she realised “I didn’t ever want to do that again.”

The high turnover of material that comedy demands, writing a new hour each year, suits Gray better than being trapped having to play the ‘best of’ hits for eternity. “We have to stay on our toes and I get bored so fast, that comedy is the perfect vehicle for me because it keeps my brain ticking.”

Gray released ten albums in various styles but “never really landed on a genre” which she sees now as a virtue with her comedy “because now I can play music in any style I like because I’m not putting out commercial music I’m just trying to make people laugh”.

Along the way, she’s also knocked out several books. “I was way too young to write an autobiography, especially considering nobody asked for it. It’s such a pretentious thing to do at like 21,” she says with a self-deprecating chuckle. There was also a couple of novellas in the mix (“that I’m really proud of”) and there’s more in the works, with Gray currently discussing the possibility of there being a companion book to the live show, Is It A Bird?

Gray believes the show has struck such a chord with audiences because “the point of the show, and everything I’ve ever done, is that you don’t need to know the first thing about being transgendered to hopefully enjoy the show. I talk more about Batman in my show than I do about being transgender,” she says of the “million miles an hour” performance that is punctuated by big musical numbers.

“I’m a big, six foot toddler running around making jokes about boobs and Batman and babies and dogs. On the way, I’m just chucking in transgender stuff, because it’s my life, it’s my actual lived experience.”

This brings us back to chopping wood in Sweden and the cat suit. What was that about? “Wikipedia is such a fun game because I’ve had a weird life,” the 34 year old admits. “There’s some sentences that are like that new chatGPT wrote it, like it was written by AI and they found one sentence in an interview and extrapolated,” she says of the fact it is not true that she is blind in one eye.

She can’t see out of her left eye very well, so “people must think I’m incredible if they think I’m legally blind jumping around on stage the way I do.” Despite a brilliantly written song on the topic, she’s not coeliac, either. “No, my sister has coeliac disease, so that’s why that song’s for her”.

“But the first thing that you asked is correct. Yes, I was living in Sweden. I was engaged to a wonderful Swede – a person, not a vegetable,” she laughs. “A really nice lady who’s Swedish and then I had one of those strange moments, like all-of-nature’s-screaming-at-you type moments…I just realised I was at odds with my body and who I was. So I started to course correct from there and left Sweden and came home to England and slowly began to transition,” she recalls of her life at 24.

“Then I was very sweetly given the Artist of the Decade award at this Essex Entertainment Award Ceremony and I was wearing a cat suit, complete with ears and tail, and I thought this would be a good moment to tell everyone that I’m transgender,” she says, adding coming out on stage “in front of 500 people” in her hometown spared her “100 awkward conversations individually”.

When she arrives in Australia for her Melbourne International Comedy Festival debut, it’s bats and not cats that will be the bigger theme.  “I’m a little bit jealous of Batman. I’m jealous that the same people that don’t want me using the women’s toilet seem to have absolutely no problem with Bruce Wayne self-identifying as a bat his entire career”.

In order to enjoy Is It A Bird? Gray says you don’t need to know anything about superheroes or transgender people “because I don’t make anybody feel bad for not understanding stuff.” Instead, it’s just joy, she says. “I’m just having fun from start to finish and I think that you very much can live vicariously through me for an hour.”

Jordan Gray is playing Melbourne Town Hall’s Powder Room from March 30 to April 23, grab tickets here.