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Jordan Gray: Is it a bird? Why I identify with superheroes

Transgender comedian Jordan Gray hit the headlines after stripping on live TV during an appearance on Friday Night Live.

The 34-year-old from Southend, with an Essex accent and wordy delivery, started out as a singer and was previously a contestant on The Voice. But following a five-star rated show at the Edinburgh Fringe and notoriety following the naked finale to the performance on Channel 4, Jordan will bring stand up show Is It a bird? to Cambridge.

Comedian Jordan Gray. Picture: Dylan Woodley
Comedian Jordan Gray. Picture: Dylan Woodley

Tell us about the show.

It’s an hour of stand-up and it’s punctuated with musical comedy. I’m a big fan of Tim Minchin so I always aspire to that and I’m behind the keyboard for half the show.

You really don’t need to know anything about anything going in. I talk about Batman, you don’t need to know anything about that. There’s a bit about being transgender. You don’t need to know anything about that either. No one’s going to be made to feel bad or tripped up for not knowing words. I don’t use any phrases people don’t already know. It’s really just an hour of fun. It’s just joy.

How does Batman come into the story?

I just always found it incredibly jarring that the same people that don’t want me using the women’s toilet had absolutely no problem with Bruce Wayne self-identifying as a bat. These people have absolutely no problem with this man who has taken a bat as his entire identity. But they sniffed at the idea of me having augmented my own. It’s all very silly and tongue in cheek, but I think there’s quite a lot of parallels.

I don’t want to oversell how much Batman is involved. I’m just a little bit jealous of how he gets to go through his life with no complaints from anyone.

Do you think that you will always need to discuss your identity in your show?

The show is probably 45 per cent transgender stuff – that’s really more of the kicking off point. And everything’s going to be through that lens. I think the first show did its job. The next show will probably deviate a little bit from that.

I think there’s a tension around a certain few subjects. And it’s my job to come on stage and pop that bubble. When that bubble is gone, then there won’t be a need for me to do it anymore. But for now it feels like at the end of each show we’ve achieved something as an audience without really trying. I always say when you’re transgender you sort of have to bring it up, if people don’t know, otherwise people will be sitting there going, ‘Just mention it so we can move on’. Like if I had a nose in the middle of my forehead and I didn’t bring it up for an hour.

Comedian Jordan Gray. Picture Dylan Woodley
Comedian Jordan Gray. Picture Dylan Woodley

You have said you don’t want people to worry about using the wrong words around you. How would you describe yourself?

Comedian, trans woman, woman, bird. I mean you can be as militant about it as you like, I’m happy with that prefix. I’m not naive to the fact that I grew up with 24 years of male privilege. It’s not my place to suddenly adopt 500 years of feminism and take that as my own. It’s lovely to contribute, and I really want to be a part of it. But there’s certainly situations in life where I feel more honorary than anything else. And it’s just the state of the world.

It would be nice if I was able to, in any room, call myself a woman without repercussions, but I’m really here to make people feel more comfortable.

Were you surprised that your stripping off on Friday Night Live attracted 1,500 complaints?

I was surprised that the message was not received by certain groups of people, like vastly intelligent people. I guess once you’ve decided you don’t like someone or a subsection of society, you don’t see the nuance to a performance. You shouldn’t laugh really, but there’s this Tory politician, bless her, she was fully calling for my arrest because she thought that I just stripped off against the knowledge and will of Channel 4.

There was a man called John with a length of fishing wire about 10 yards long to rip that suit from my body. We rehearsed it about 200 times. I don’t have the strength to rip the suit off my body and cast it behind me, but she thought I’d just decided to do it. When you were a kid you thought grown-ups knew things. It was all very, very choreographed and with Channel 4’s blessing so yeah, it surprised me. I thought people were smarter than that.

Do you feel the need to be a role model?

My job is to make a soft landing for people that would otherwise be turned off by the idea. I think that’s my job. There’s a lot of my friends are activists across the LGBT spectrum and they’re all incredible influencers and such but that’s not my strength. And I’m not necessarily a fan of these things. I’ve performed a lot of Prides and with all the love in the world, they’re a bit loud for me. I’d rather be in a hotel with a cup of tea, but there is kind of a place for all that.

How did you move from being a singer to a comedian?

I was a singer for 10 years straight out of college, a professional recording artist. I did The Voice in 2016, which was lovely actually and I have no bad stories. There’s a live bit on the show, it’s called Marvin’s Corner and during that I was wearing a suit that was the same colour as the couch. And I thought it’d be really funny to lie down live on TV with the mic and try and be invisible, because I just thought it was funny. I think that was really the start. I thought I’d really rather be doing this for the rest of my life than singing.

Jordan Gray: Is it a bird? is at Cambridge Junction on September 29. Tickets, priced £29 are available at https://www.junction.co.uk/events/jordan-gray-is-it-a-bird/

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