Jes Tom Wants to Make People Feel Less Lonely at Their Off-Broadway Comedy Show | Playbill

Special Features Jes Tom Wants to Make People Feel Less Lonely at Their Off-Broadway Comedy Show

The trans non-binary comedian on how they never thought they'd be an actor: "I didn't think I fit into that world."

Jes Tom Michaelah Reynolds

Jes Tom started coming up with punchlines as a little kid because no one was paying attention to their long-winded stories. "When I was a kid, I had a reputation for talking a lot...and I needed to figure out how to get my stories out in a way that people would listen to me the whole time," they say. "So that was really the seed of how I learned to tell a story." Since then, they have cracked the comedy code. People across North America have listened to Tom's stories with keen ears throughout their 10 years in the stand-up comedy scene.

Now, the New York-based comedian, actor, and writer is performing their solo comedy show Less Lonely Off-Broadway at Greenwich House Theater through January 6. Presented by lauded actor-writer Elliot Page and directed by television writer-director Em Weinstein, Tom's takes audiences on a journey of becoming "less lonely." Both playful and poignant, the trans non-binary comedian’s stories of life, death, sex, gender transition, self-discovery, and finding lasting love strikes a heartwarming chord. 

Tom grew up in San Francisco. In high school, they found a sense of identity in the theatre. "I did my first play in eighth grade—a horrible abridged production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. I played Flute, who's the boy who plays the girl," they say. "So I was a girl playing a boy playing a girl, which at the time was confusing to me, but now I see how that happened." 

Tom loved to act. They continued pursuing theatre after high school, and was on the improv team at Smith College in Northhampton, Massachusetts. "Which is vulnerable to admit," they express with chagrin, through gritted teeth. "But I wreaked havoc [performing comedy improv] in that college." Despite their passion for acting, Tom could not see a real future for themself in the industry. "I was queer and visibly gender non-conforming from a really young age," they say. "So I always just thought that I couldn't be an actor, because I didn't think I fit into that world."

But Tom has not only fit into the acting world—they have taken it by storm. The artist has been featured in HBO Max's Love Life, Adult Swim's Tuca & Bertie, and Hulu's Crush, and have also had a part in creating new on screen worlds, working as a story editor on HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death and their own digital series Dear Jes for Netflix's The Most series. They are actively changing the narrative of what "fits" in the entertainment industry. 

"Representation, and casting specifically, has changed so much just in the past three years since the pandemic," says Tom. "We're currently at what I think of as a transitional moment... of trying to figure out how we can cast different kinds of people that we haven't historically seen a lot in the American media. But we're also [trying] to create interesting characters and interesting storylines." Tom feels that the next step is having representation that goes just beyond tokenism. "I want trans actors, and actors of color, and etc, to be considered for any sort of worthwhile role," they say. "I want them to be put in the roles that are right for them as a person, instead of trying to cast them for the thing that they are."

That is what Tom loves stand-up comedy: "You get to be your own person, and you get to have a voice." Stand-up allows Tom to be the most honest, dynamic, and fully-realized version of themself. Discovering comedy was a turning point for Tom that changed their life forever. For better or for worse, stand-up was their calling. "The first time I ever did an open mic—which was at a bar/café/laundromat called BrainWash in San Francisco—the host came up to me and was like, 'What's your name? And are you going to come back?'" recalls Tom. "I remember thinking, 'This is when I go full evil.'"

Screen actor Elliot Page fully supports Tom's villain era. The pair first met through their mutual friend, comedian-actor Mae Martin. "There's a thing about trans people finding each other," says Tom. "Elliot came out, and suddenly we were in the same world right next to each other." 

The week they met, Tom was performing an earlier version of their solo show at The Bell House in Brooklyn. Shortly after, their show was booked to have its Off-Broadway premiere at Cherry Lane Theatre, and Tom needed someone to officially present their show (and provide creative input). "I really just shot my shot with Elliot and sent him a video [of my show]," says Tom. "He wrote back saying it was phenomenal. Since then, we've been working on it."

Jes Tom and Elliot Page Michaelah Reynolds

Tom's solo show has been in continuous development over the past two years, as they refine the material to reflect what they're going through at the time, including the pandemic. "[Less Lonely] changes a lot... but that's really what the show is all about," they say. "I hope that people can take away that change is good, and that they don't have to be so afraid of change [because] things are always going to change—and that's OK."

Tom's coping mechanism for dealing with inevitable change, repeatedly referenced in their show, is using humor and romanticizing the idea of love at the world's end. "Partly because I want to spend my last moment on Earth having hot, end-of-the-world apocalypse sex," they joke. "But really—I know it sounds so corny—but I think that loving other people in your life is really important."

Since the pandemic, Tom has reflected more and more about how they want to spend their time, and who they want to spend their time with. "If death is just around the corner... I need to be spending [my time] with people I love," they say. "In a world where everything is about war, profit, dividends and corporatization —in a really escalating way— I think it's really important to try to take stock of the love [in your life], and love your fellow human beings."

Representation, identity, love, and connection are at the heart of Tom's work. "A lot of my core audience are people who share identities with [me]—a lot of them are trans masculine Asian's a very narrow margin of people," they say. "I think it's so important that I speak to them, because those kinds of people don't have a lot of things to relate to, or see themselves represented by."

Tom’s show is personal, but there is a universality to their message of loneliness and the human experience that aims to make every audience member feel less lonely when they leave the theatre. "By fate, stand-up creates these moments of collective joy, and catharsis, and release," they say. "No matter what, I think that it's really good for people to just get together and laugh together."

Photos: Jes Tom's Less Lonely Opening Night Off-Broadway

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