Before Jonathan Van Ness taught hapless men to use face wash on Queer Eye, the luscious-haired god of gab split his days between grooming — he founded two L.A. salons — and showing off his sparkly personality. You might already be familiar with Van Ness's foray into TV recapping. In the Funny or Die show Gay of Thrones, Van Ness summarizes the week’s Game of Thrones while cutting hair.
Not as well known, but no less entertaining, is Van Ness's podcast Getting Curious, which he began 2015. Unlike Gay of Thrones, which is on hiatus until 2019, Getting Curious is still released on a bi-weekly basis — which is a blessing, because two seasons of Queer Eye don't provide us with nearly enough Van Ness. As David Collins, Queer Eye’s producer, told me: “Just get to know Jonathan for five minutes, and you’ll realize you want to spend the rest of your life with him.” At the very least, with Getting Curious, we’ll get the rest of our commutes with him.
The podcast's format is simple. In each episode, Van Ness sits down with an expert to discuss a different topic, which vary wildly from episode to episode. He talks triple axels with figure skater Mirai Nagasu, investigates out who the "Beyonce of Renaissance Art" was with an art history professor, and discusses the future of artificial intelligence with a neuroscientist. Essentially, if you voyage through the backlog of Getting Curious, you’ll emerge with a more well-rounded understanding of the world (and the inside of Van Ness’ brain).
The experts are knowledgeable, sure — but Van Ness is the definite star of his own podcast. He's as compelling as the topics are. Van Ness is an active interlocutor, constantly cutting in and asking serious questions cloaked in his idiosyncratic language. “Didn’t some people used to have a cute life in Iraq before we came in there and like, did what we did?” Van Ness asks repeat guest Professor James Gelvin in the May episode entitled, “Is Saudi Arabia Cute Now?” Gelvin then pivots into a discussion about the brand of corruption unique to Saudi Arabia’s government, using language that sounds nothing like Van Ness’.
You can tell Gelvin’s not often on podcasts like this one — conversational, casual, and more than occasionally bonkers. Sometimes, Van Ness’s overactive, hot-wired brain causes the podcast to veer unabashedly off the rails. A slightly jarring detour comes in an episode called, “What Do White People Need To Know About Racism?" Between talks about America’s deeply entrenched racism, Van Ness launches into a portrait of his idea of heaven: “My heaven would be so awesome. Aly Raisman would be the president of my heaven. I would do her hair. I’d have the nicest boyfriend who truly understood my dual-spirited nature and embraced it completely and wanted to bang me, slash, get banged by me, all the time. Is that asking so much?” For fans of Queer Eye, these detours will be welcome; for people really searching for a serious, chuckle-free exploration of heavy topics like racism in America, they might not be. ’
What I admire the most about the podcast is Van Ness’ willingness — eagerness, actually — to learn. Notably, not a single episode of Getting Curious focuses on grooming, Van Ness’ area of expertise. Van Ness clearly doesn't feel the need to prove his own skills or worth (that's what Queer Eye is for). Instead, he wants to absorb others' knowledge. When speaking to the experts, Van Ness fully embraces how much he has left to learn and asks questions with childlike enthusiasm. Van Ness is a model for behavior. We can’t be experts in everything, but who says we can’t try to learn about everything?
In one of the more endearing and openly goofy episodes, Van Ness has his mother, Mary Winters, on the show. Winters, with all her motherly wisdom, sums up the virtue of her son’s podcast. “Being curious is such a fabulous thing. Even if you can’t remember it, it’s like your mind just opens. That’s a great state of mind to be in,” she says. So, listen to Getting Curious and get in Van Ness's state of mind. It's an electrifying place to be.