Jonathan Van Ness, hairdresser, TV star, author, podcaster and comedian, wants you to know something.
They really love Phoenix.
Their Arizona roots go back generations (more on that later), and they lived in the Valley in the mid-2000s, where they found a place to be themselves.
"I loved Phoenix," they say. "It gave me a safe place to grow and learn and experience. And I loved my clients there so much. I think Phoenix is such a cool city because the people who are from Phoenix are really fun, but it brings in such an eclectic mix of people that I think the energy in Phoenix is so unique and exciting."
So they were excited about returning to the Valley Friday night at Celebrity Theatre as a stop on their "Fun & Slutty" comedy tour that's currently traveling the U.S.
We spoke to the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" star in advance of the appearance and got the lowdown on what goes into putting a show together, the deeper meaning behind hair and more.
Phoenix New Times: What can people expect at “Fun & Slutty”?
Jonathan Van Ness: Well, they can expect someone who loves Phoenix and lived there for years making a triumphant return. No, but it’s a really fun show. “Fun & Slutty” is set up like a sex ed class for adults. That’s what my shtick is. It’s a really fun hour and 20 minutes of all the sides you haven’t seen of me and maybe never wanted to, but you probably did. It’s really funny and it’s just a really good time, very sex-positive.
What goes into crafting a show like this?
I usually think of bits and things I think are funny. I have the Notes app in my phone and I just start writing things down. And then when it’s time for me to put together a longer set, I see what I have and I’m looking for themes that I can kind of make fun of or put together.
And so this time, with everything that’s happening, the backlash against trans existence and just this conservative asleep mob — like if we’re the woke leftist mob, then the conservative sleeping mob is just so intense — a lot of my comedy is about what it’s been like to live through this era and how we can all stay positive and stay engaged with a smile on our face and a dance in our hearts even though there’s so much vitriol around.
What was your time living in Arizona like?
I lived here from 2006 to 2009. I lived in Scottsdale and central Phoenix. I loved it. I lived on Hayden and Via de Ventura for a year and then I lived on 36th Street and Campbell for a year and then I lived in my grandparents’ snowbird house there for a year so I could save money for rent so I could go to L.A. Go Katie Hobbs!
No, but really, I loved Phoenix. My dad still goes there every winter in that house that my grandparents had. My dad went to college in Tucson, and my mom’s parents were stationed in Tucson because my grandpa was in the Air Force, so my mom’s oldest brother was actually born in Tucson. It’s kind of interesting how both sides of my family had this Arizona commonality, but independent of each other. I loved Tucson. I went to a year of college at U of A.
Tell me about your haircare line, JVN Hair, that you founded in 2021.
I’m so proud of JVN. It’s really been the culmination of my entire career behind the chair. I started hair school when I was 18. I finished hair school when I was 19. And I did hair full time until well after "Queer Eye" came out. I still style hair on the show and on my YouTube, obviously. I’m not in a salon five days a week the way I was, but I missed doing hair. That was part of why I started my YouTube and part of why I started JVN Hair because I just missed it and I wanted to keep my hands in hair. I wanted to keep my brain in hair.
Hair is such an interesting mix because it’s art but it’s also science; it’s self-expression, but it’s also skill. It’s interpretation. It’s objective but it’s also subjective. If someone asks for a chin-length bob and you cut it up to their earlobes, that is objectively not what they asked for. But is it cute? That’s up for anyone to decide.
Similarly, with hair care, everyone has different experiences with hair care and how they kind of feel about their hair. With JVN specifically, what my goal was is: I have curly hair, and when I was growing up I didn’t know how to style it and it made me feel less-than because I got made fun of for my hair and people called me mophead and stuff like that.
When I started doing hair, part of why I wanted to do hair was because I wanted to straighten my hair. Really, I think the beauty industry for so long has sold us on the idea that if you could change yourself to be whatever, people will like you more, you’ll get better reactions, you’ll be more confident.
What I want to teach people is whether you love your natural hair texture and you want to learn how to embrace it or you don’t like it and you want to wear it some totally styled way, they’re beautiful, they’re deserving, they get to express themselves however they want no matter what.
So it’s not so much that you have to change yourself to like yourself, it’s more like, “whatever you do, I want to meet you where you are and celebrate what you are, because we’re all fabulous.” I want people to know they’re already worth celebrating.
What else are you working on now?
"Fun & Slutty is so much of what I’m working on." I will say we have some exciting announcements coming up a little later for next year. I’m working on a few other projects I can’t talk about at the moment, but they’re really exciting. We just launched two new really fun podcasts, called "Curious Now," which follows legislation that affects queer people, it follows all the stories that I’m kind of following and also just the main headlines, but so it’s not all doom and gloom, we end with resources — how can you help, where can you volunteer.
And then "Pretty Curious" is our beauty-based podcast where I’m doing product reviews, I interview other hairdressers and makeup artists, cosmetic chemists, beauty industry insiders to learn everything from how to achieve certain looks to how to save money while beauty shopping, how to make your products last longer, just all things beauty.
We also launched this kind of naughty, adults-only, behind-a-paywall sex and relationships podcast just called "Ask JVN." I’m not a sex doctor and you probably shouldn’t take my advice, but it’s fun.
Is there one aspect of all the things you do that you like best?
I think my ADHD makes it such that I only do things I’m really obsessed with. I don’t love doing something if I’m not interested in it. So if you were to ask me in the middle of when I’m doing anything, that would be my favorite thing and there could never be anything else that I love that much. And then when I go to do the next thing, I’m like, this is the most amazing thing. When I’m writing a book, I’ve never loved anything more than writing. When I’m onstage performing, I’ve never loved anything more than performing. If I’m styling someone’s hair, I’m like, "Oh my God," this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
So I really am very lucky that I get to do things that I really kind of am butt-crazy in love with. I love getting to be a pet parent, I love JVN Hair, I love comedy, I love "Queer Eye," I love doing hair, I love ice-skating, I love all of it. I guess I don’t get paid to do figure skating, but you never know. Maybe someday I’ll join the Ice Capades. I’ve been pretty shocked so far.
Jonathan Van Ness: 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1. Celebrity Theatre, 440 N. 32nd St. Cost is $35 to $45. Visit celebritytheatre.com.