The Queer Eye reboot was chock full of breakout stars — and the campiest, most unapologetically exuberant one was flowy-haired grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness. Through all eight episodes Van Ness twirled, sashayed, and honeyyyy’d his way into some viewers’ hearts as much as he got on the nerves of others. But no matter how you felt about him, Van Ness undoubtedly caught your eye with his buoyant spirit.
Hovering close to his position as the show’s most “stereotypical” gay man, however, is the assumption that he is just a happy-go-lucky sprite with a flair for beard trimming. But another of Van Ness’s endeavors plays into the assumed persona marked by his valley-girl manner of speech. Since 2015, Van Ness has hosted his own podcast Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness, in which he focuses on a subject that he is ignorant about and invites an expert to explain it to him. Topics cover everything from America’s opioid crisis, gender identity, and strokes to menstrual cups, psychedelics, and being an MTV VJ.
“I’m so sorry if you have a reading level above eighth grade and I ask stupid questions sometimes.”
Queer Eye fans will recognize the Jonathan they love from the show even in this new more serious context, but smartly, Van Ness adopts an earnest curiosity that is desperately needed in many informative, news-y productions. In his latest episode about America’s bail system, Van Ness isn’t afraid to sound dumb when asking California bail reform activist Tim Molina the basics of how the bail system works, an innocent ignorance most interviewers would be afraid to reveal in the same position. Interestingly enough, his genuine curiosity keeps him from looking stupid. He asks thoughtful follow up questions and shares his observations without ever losing the light of his personality. “To me the bond system is like that tangle in the back of your hair when you sleep with your hair down and you get this really big knot and then when you go to comb it out you never even realize what a gigantic dreadlock there was back there,” he says after introducing his guest. “I object, giiiirrrl, I object to this broken system!.” In the same way he reads Queer Eye clients’ styles, he says the U.S. bond system is “feeling a little North Korea. It’s feeling not super American, honey.”
Of the little I’ve heard, I was refreshed. Van Ness makes space for learning without the threat of social media dragging that comes with not yet knowing. On Queer Eye, he uses his expertise to create a safe space for repressed men. On his podcast, he uses what could be construed as a flaw to make a safe space for the still un-woke parts in all of us. “I’m so sorry if you have a reading level above eighth grade and I ask stupid questions sometimes,” he apologizes at the show’s end. But he has nothing to be sorry about — he knows who he’s speaking for.