Going Out With Jake Cornell: Shit Talk (w/ Jess Henderson)
This week, Jake goes out with comedian Jess Henderson. The two discuss the merits of talking sh*t, the joys of queer and Black spaces, and going out in gentrified spaces. Tune in for more.
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Jake Cornell: Okay. This is why I love going out with you. You talk sh*t.
Jess Henderson: Okay. I do. I do, I do. And you know what? I’m actually sort of reframing. I used to feel really guilty like, “Oh, you can’t… Don’t ever say anything bad about people. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And then, “Gossip is bad.” You know how society always has these…
JC: A hundred percent
JH: Golden rules. And then I realized, like everything, it’s institutionally racist and the whole point of gossip and the birth of gossip was to keep your community safe.
JC: Yes, exactly.
JH: So now it’s like no, these people deserve to be sh*t talked because what they did was f*cked up. Also, I’m always okay to go back and apologize if I was wrong.
JC: A hundred percent.
JH: I’m totally fine to do that. And I think that we should give everyone more permission to not… For both things to be true, like talking sh*t and also being wrong.
JC: Also to me it’s actually, it’s abstinence only education, where it’s like-
JC: People are going to talk sh*t. People are going to talk sh*t. I’m always going to talk sh*t.
JC: So it’s like why are we… It would be better to train people to, one, talk sh*t in a way that is at the least-
JC: One, productive. Two, the least likely to produce misinformation or misconstrued truths and three — and there I had a third one and it was good. Hold on.
JC: And three was… Oh. And being able to comb through gossip with a fine-tooth comb and be like, “That seems legitimate to me. I don’t think I believe that.”
JC: Do you know what I mean?
JC: You need to be able to suss that out.
JH: Yes. And this is also something that I’ve talked to my therapist about, because I was feeling literally every week in therapy would be a good 10 minutes of me keening and ringing my garments about, “Oh I said all these things about this person but they have this and this going on so maybe I shouldn’t say these terrible things.” And finally my therapist was like, “It’s really misogynistic the definition of gossiping the way they think it’s just women and it’s how you keep your community safe.” Hold on my ear itches. Ugh. Oh that felt amazing. My lock was stuck inside my ear.
JC: Yep. That’ll happen.
JH: And I believe in it. I believe in it. And especially in our industry, it’s like, first of all, if you think that agents and managers aren’t talking to each other, wrong. But for some reason we won’t talk to each other about, say, we had a bad meeting with someone or-
JC: A hundred percent.
JH: It’s always like, “Ooh, don’t talk about it.” Because you never know how it’s going to get back. And I’m like, f*ck that. I stand beside what I say and when I’m wrong? It f*cking sucks when I’m wrong, but I know that I will apologize and move on.
JC: So the thing is with defamation, you can’t be charged with defamation if it’s true. You cannot defame someone with the truth. So when you charge someone with defamation, your burden is truly to prove that what they defamed you with is untrue. And so it’s like if you’re talking sh*t, but it’s true. It’s not sh*t.
JC: But this is why I get so excited whenever you and I are going out or I know that we’re going to do a show and then go out, because I’m like we’re not going to — because I hate small talk. Yes. And so I’m like, “Let’s really get down to the brass tacks.”
JH: I hate small talk, I hate small talk. I want to know what your fears are, what you hate, what is really going on.
JH: I value that. And I feel like a lot of times it shows people want to be polite or that’s also how I quickly figured out who in the comedy scene to f*ck with.
JC: A hundred percent.
JH: Literally because people are willing to talk sh*t or talk the truth. Also money.
JH: I am so grateful for the people that were willing to be like, “They don’t pay because this is how much I get paid.” And sh*t talk.
JC: Yeah. I used to be someone, when I was younger I was very much someone who was like, “I’m going to be as people please-y as possible. I don’t want anyone to be mad at me and I will be whatever you want me to be to give me an opportunity.” And no one gives those people opportunities because they’re nothing. I literally was nothing. I was just whatever people needed me to be. And I wasn’t like… I was just taking on and I wasn’t putting out. And it’s like, no, have opinions, have opinions say when someone sucks, say when they don’t and call people out when they do bullsh*t.
JH: And I also feel like that’s how, to take it back to the industry, that’s how you get better representation that understands you, because they know what you stand for.
JC: A hundred percent.
JH: Oh I know this job wouldn’t work. There’s times when my manager is like, “You would not fit in that writer’s room because you are like this, this, and this”. And I’m like, “You know what? Tough but fair.”
JC: No. A hundred percent.
JH: I won’t put up with somebody just taking my whole… Just out of nowhere making me work a 15-hour day.
JH: When it’s not even my work.
JC: Yeah. No, a hundred percent. Okay, wait. So when we go out, it’s normally comedy shows. We’re doing a comedy show and then we go out after. Is that how you’re going out most of the time?
JH: No, no.
JC: That’s really good.
JH: Most of the time I have recommitted myself to hanging out with my community and most of the time when I go out it’s a queer Black event or a gay bar or it’s specific friend dates. That’s how I like to go out. I love little romantic friend dates.
JC: Yeah. So basically avoiding all small talk. In communities where it’s like we can just get down to talking about-
JH: Yeah. Just get down to talking.
JC: Wait. This I don’t know about you. How long have you been openly queer?
JH: Oh, not very… Well.
JC: I was like, has it been always or was it new?
JH: No, it hasn’t been always.
JC: But it’s not new, either?
JH: It’s not new. It’s always evolving. I think I came out… I didn’t have a big, I’m coming out. My whole life, I’ve always liked women and my friends always knew that that was something that I was open to. And then I told my parents, I think, when I was like 28.
JC: Nice. Because this is a thing I’ve been honestly dealing with in my… This has been a big thing I’ve been working through in the past few years. In my early 20s and definitely in… I think it started because I went to a college where it was mostly straight people or at least mostly straight-presenting people and then working in restaurants. And just kind of how the plinko of my life played out is for all of my teens and most of my early 20s I did not go to queer spaces. I was a guy who didn’t go to gay bars. Not because I was against it, but because that wasn’t the friend group I had. And then at some point it was like I didn’t feel comfortable because I was like, “I don’t know anyone there.” And now it’s like there are people my age who are part of that scene and I feel ostracized from it and I think I still… Did you have that or when did you enter the queer spaces that you’re kind of talking about?
JH: So I know exactly what you’re talking about and I felt… and I think it’s part of the reason why I came out to my parents when I was 28, because it became a priority for me. And I knew that I was going to be okay. I knew it was going to be hard, but I was going to be okay if my parents disowned me. I fully prepared for them to be, “Forget any help we ever gave you.” And I mean that was the complete opposite response.
JC: Thank God.
JH: Yes, thank God. And I have always felt a little on the outside of, not necessarily the gay community, but the Black community based on how I grew up. And I grew up in the South, which is incredibly segregated. And I grew up in Florida, which is a whole other layer. I mean I grew up all over, but I spent the most amount of time in Florida and I just realized that a lot of it was in my mind. The ostracization that I felt was because I had a lot of internalized anti-Blackness myself, based on going to private school and being the only Black kid and being constantly told that I wasn’t Black, like Black enough or other Black people or I was better than other Black people because I talked a certain way. And it just very recently occurred to me that the only people that are really preaching that stuff are people outside the community. And once you show up, everyone is just so happy that you’re there and it’s not about where you’ve been before or how long it took you to get there. It’s like, show up and everyone’s always ready to receive you.
JC: Because I think the people at the true center of the community, be it of any community of minority, or I guess better to say community of identity.
JC: The people at the center of that are, I think, are almost always true believers of if this is your identity, you’re a part.
JC: And nothing else. Because I think that’s what I experienced with the queer community was like, I had all these lists of reasons and I’m a f*ggot. Look, you can hear me talk. I’m gay. It’s not like I’m some rugby- playing, deep voice. But I had all of these reasons where I was like, “I don’t fit there.” And then it was wasn’t like I don’t fit there. It’s like it’s too late for me because I realized I fit there too late and then it was like, “Oh wait, no, I’m intrinsically a part of this.”
JC: And it’s intrinsically a part of me.
JC: And the people who are the best part of this community are welcoming me in.
JH: Are welcoming you in and it doesn’t f*cking matter. And I think when you internalize these lists, you start projecting that experience too and you ostracize yourself. It’s something that… My ex was white and it was something that I constantly thought about all the time. “Oh, Black people are going to see this and think that I don’t want to date other Black queers and that’s not true.” Or, “I’m not going to be welcomed into the Blackest parts of my community because of this.” And the truth was, first of all, I was the only one. That’s your ego talking.
JC: No one’s thinking about you like you’re thinking about you.
JH: Yeah, I’m the only one that’s breaking down this relationship like this.
JC: A hundred percent.
JH: Also, get to know me and if you knew me, the things that do happen and are very valid with some Black people and interracial relationships, you’ll know that’s not happening in mine.
JC: Yeah, I would say it would take about 2.5 seconds talking to Jess Henderson before you could possibly think.
JC: “I bet they only date white people.”
JH: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And I just realized I’m the only one that’s thinking about me like that. And when I show up and I’m authentically myself, nobody gives a f*ck. I remember I used to announce it to people and they’d be like, “Okay…”
JC: Announce what? That you are into Black people?
JH: Or not…
JC: No, I’m genuinely.
JC: I was just trying to…
JH: No I’m laughing because it’s like when it’s put out like that, it’s like yes. Yes, I did announce that. And also I would tell people like, “Oh my partner, she’s white.” And everyone without fail would be like, “Okay, are you happy? Is she a good girlfriend? Girl, what are you doing all this for? Let’s dance.”
JH: Yeah, yeah. It was a really interesting experience where I realized that ultimately I was creating this narration because of the way I grew up. And that’s not for my community to hold. My community holds me and they show up for me. And I love Black queer people. They’re the best.
JC: Where have you found that community in New York?
JH: I have found it within comedy. Talking to other gay Black comics and going to Papi Juice parties or brown — Oh God, forgive me. I f*ck up all the names all the time. So I did a Brown Sugar party. There’s so many things.
JC: You got Papi Juice, right? That’s the name of that party.
JH: Yeah. That’s because I’m like… I’ve looked at that for years. Wet Noise. Not Wet Noise, sorry. Gush. Wet Noise is another party. But it’s not necessarily QPOC. But it’s fine. It’s fine. It’s for the girls. It’s for the girls.
JC: So it was in party spaces? Is it in party spaces and-
JH: In party spaces and seeking out my identity in a community that I love, which is comedy. And all over Brooklyn. I feel like all of Brooklyn is my gay Black playground.
JC: Yeah, it’s interesting, because I’m so happy that you had that experience and I feel like my… And obviously I don’t want to be constantly comparing my experience navigating queerness with your experience of navigating queerness within being POC as well, because I think they’re wildly different.
JH: Yeah, they are. Yeah.
JC: Undeniably. But I felt like my comedy experience in the comedy community further ostracized me initially from being gay.
JH: I was going to say. Yes. I was also going to piggyback on that about where the industry that we’re in and what we love, she who cannot be named UCB, is what was predominantly straight and white. And it wasn’t until very recently that it has become profitable enough for people to platform it. And yeah, I totally get that. Because I used to think… I remember telling my friend Milla, like, “Oh I have so many white friends because I do comedy.” And Milla was like, “Yeah but there’s just as many Black people doing comedy too.”
JC: And it’s true. Yeah.
JH: And I’m like, “You right.”
JH: In my head again.
JC: And it’s like where do you… Yeah it gets so f*cked up. It gets so f*cked up, because I think I thought for a long time, “Oh the way I’m funny is only funny to straight people, because gay people can see through it or gay people won’t get it.” And I truly hate that I ever felt that and I hate that that was how I was conditioned because for so long me being funny was a way to earn…
JC: Earn place.
JH: Yeah. I 100 percent identify with that. Me being funny was how I disarmed racist people in the South and made them realize that I wasn’t threatening or dangerous. It’s how I earned my spot amongst all my pretty white friends. When I first moved to New York, every single roommate I ever had was very thin, white, rich. All of them worked at the Soho Grand and the Gansevoort. So I would go out with them and party promoters and the way I earned my spot, because I was not only Black but also fat, was that, “She’s really funny.”
JC: Yeah. Was that really f*cking intense? Because we’ve talked about the promoter circuit and doing that whole thing and obviously as a 6-foot, 200-pound gay man, I’ve never done that. But was that having that experience with that being your path in it, was that really intense? Were you… I’m sure you were quite young.
JH: I was young. I think it really contributed to me having to unlearn a lot of stuff about what was beautiful and what made me worthy. Looking back on it, it really f*cked with my self-esteem.
JH: 100 percent. I never had bad self-esteem until people would apologize to me about things about myself. Like, “Oh you have such a beautiful face or you’re so brave. I love that you wear whatever you want.”
JC: That “You’re out here with the rest of us.”
JH: Yes. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And then I’d be like, “Wait, why? What?” Or I’ve always been an athletic person, people coming up to me at the gym and being like, “You’re so inspiring.” And that or even the people I lived with being like, “Oh, I thought basically that you were going to be fat and lazy and you’re the complete opposite of that.” That really internalized a lot of…
JC: Of course it did.
JH: Yeah. A lot of self-hatred. So it was intense, but it also was… I have a really good lifelong friend from that experience. I went to her wedding, she’s beautiful, she’s wonderful. And going to the Gansevoort and being… I’ll never forget, I went to a dinner– I also have always been the friend that you bring that my friends would bring me along when-
JC: When parents are in town?
JH: When parents are in town. Also when creepy guys want to take you out, but you don’t know how to say no. I’ve also been that friend too. So I’ve seen a lot of-
JC: That sh*t’s f*cking labor.
JH: It’s labor and I’ve seen a lot of things now that I’m like, “Whoa, that really was not okay. That was some Harvey Weinstein.” I have met many men like that. And I have left places knowing my friend would’ve been assaulted if she didn’t bring me. And so I’ve seen firsthand how women make excuses for men, how power totally shifts the narrative. And that used to… I’ve spent a lot of time in those days being very confused thinking that I was dumb and being very angry and I realized no, I was just living my divine truth and being a gay Black advocate before I even f*cking knew what that was.
JC: Yeah. It was intrinsic.
JC: So it sounds to me, validly so, your earlier times in New York going out was the source of trauma probably in a lot of ways.
JC: And I would venture to guess based on the time we’ve spent together, that is not the case now.
JC: I’m just curious how… And that’s 1) hugely impressive to me. That sounds like taking a space and an activity that was a source of pain and being like, “I’m not going to forego this, rather I’m going to retool it and find a way to have this be where I-”
JH: Well I realized, “Oh, I’m not…” Oh, I feel like I’m going to cry. I realized, I’m like, “I’m not crazy, I’m not stupid, I’m just literally hanging out with people. Straight, rich, white people.” And I’ve met a lot in my lifetime. But the community and the way they move, especially the New York crowd, is scary. And I was like, I have to unlearn all of these things that I have been constantly told that are okay and create my own experience.
JC: I’m having a thought that… So it might not be articulate, because I’m thinking it for the first time, but do you think part of it is there’s something so scary about… I think sometimes you look at the people who are actually how you feel intrinsically who you are and the people you actually feel like you might be like and there I feel in times I’ve had a rejection to those people and been like, “No, that space is not for me. I don’t want to be a part of that.” And I think, I wonder, if part of it is on some really deep level, it’s the thought that, because if I don’t make it in that space, I won’t be able to make it.
JC: There’s nothing left.
JH: Well everyone is a mirror, right?
JH: Everyone is a mirror and there is this sort of control that you can maintain when you stay in spaces where you know what everything is right and wrong about it and where you can keep the moral superiority.
JC: And you know how you are being viewed.
JC: I know if I’m the funny gay guy in the group, I know the whole script.
JH: The whole script, how to play it and it’s a way to keep safe. But when you are around… Again, it’s what it means to really live life, which is full of mistakes, triumphs and it’s really f*cking scary to sort of face yourself. I talk about this in my comedy. It is so scary. Growth, facing yourself is frightening because it’s like, “Well if I’m unhappy here or if I fail here, what does that say about me?”
JH: Because we’re constantly trying to intellectualize our lived spiritual experience.
JC: And if I try to join the place where I actually really want to be among people I feel like actually look like who I am or behave like me or doing what I want to do, if I try and fail, then I’ll never get it. And that’s so scary.
JH: Yeah, I get that. But the truth is failing and all of this darkness in life is just as powerful and beautiful as your success is and as your ups. But we are taught intrinsically by society that it’s all about the wins. It’s all about the positivity. It’s also, spiritually, I’m a practitioner and I see a lot of people preach, don’t work with the left hand, don’t work with dark magic, blah, blah, blah. Don’t contact dark spirits. But the truth, first of all, if you’re scared, just say that. Just say that. But the truth is that is life. It is dark and light. It is not just about the light. And when we start to respect the darkness in us, respect the ego in us. I think that we become… It’s your medicine wheel, right?
JH: When you know your “weaknesses” and your demons, those things cannot be poked at and used against you and weaponized against you because you know your f*cking truth. And that’s what you get when you are in spaces with people of shared identity and experience. I also think it’s important to learn about other people’s opinions and other experiences. I’m not trying to preach segregation here, but it is important to have your community.
JC: And I mean it’s humanity. So there’s always gray areas and constant questions like that. But that is one of, I think, especially in terms of going out and nightlife and restaurants and bars, is towing the line of having spaces that are for specific people and how sacred that is. But then also the blending of those spaces or someone who’s not of that community being welcomed in under certain circumstances or whatever. Navigating that, because it always ends… I feel like it always tends to swing towards, eventually they are subsumed and then new spaces have to be found. Because whiteness is a virus that just eventually takes it over.
JH: Yeah, I do think,
JC: And it’s whiteness and it’s whiteness above all also.
JH: Right. Yeah. I do think that it is. I’m for spaces and that are POC only, not even POC, but Black-only spaces. That’s important and they will always be important as long as the most underserved people are Black people and Black trans women. And until we have some sort of equality that will always be important. I also believe that the revolution cannot happen without white allies and real white people doing the work. And I will also say that I can count on — I’m 33. Yeah, I’m 33, 32, 33. Don’t remember.
JC: It’s not important.
JH: I can count on one hand the amount of white people I know that are willing to divorce their whiteness, their comfortability to show up for Black people. And I know a lot.
JC: You do?
JH: I know a ton. So I just want to put that in perspective. I do think that there are some good white allies, but there’s very, very, very, very few.
JC: Because you’re saying it takes true…
JH: Because it takes a lot. It takes a lot, to truly divorce from whiteness takes a lot and I-
JC: And it’s not a singular moment of, “I am divorcing my whiteness”?
JH: It’s not a singular moment. And it is something that I ultimately see creep back up. And I’ll watch people that I’m like, “I know you know better, but you will choose your whiteness over everything.”
JC: Yeah. And it’s also doing that without having, asking black people to do the labor of explaining it.
JH: Educating, explaining, making you feel good about what you’ve done. Yeah. It’s always interesting to me to see the amount of white people that really think that they’re advocates. But then I think, “Well look at your life and look at the Black friends that you have.” Or, “I’m your only Black friend. I cannot also be your only Black friend and you think that you’re doing all of this work.” Where the work starts is much closer to you than I think a lot of people think.
JC: Yeah, because it’s internal.
JH: Yes. Yes. I think a lot of people are like, “Well I don’t outwardly… I’m not a racist person from the South.”
JH: “I’m not this, I’m not that.” We live in a society of such extremes where it’s this or this. There’s no nuance. And you can… I think the best… Sorry, I have ADD, so I’m talking all over the place. I think the best example I can think of is when I used to babysit and I would see different types of… I see everyone, different types of parents, people reading lots of anti-racist literature. But you cut my hours at the last minute, you pay me late, you don’t respect what time I need to be gone. Your kid is super disrespectful to me. It’s like that’s actually your anti-racist work is how you’re treating me in your life. Not these books that you buy, not these events that you go to, not buying Black. How are you showing up for the neighborhood that you’re gentrifying?
JH: Do you know your community leaders? And I understand, to a certain extent, that inflation is a thing and New York is becoming less and less affordable so people are moving to places that are more affordable. But when you are rich enough to buy an apartment, but you can only get an apartment in Crown Heights and then you have parties bringing in nothing but white people to the neighborhood and you’re buying your groceries from Amazon instead of from the grocery store across your street, what are you doing? Do you know where you live? Do you know who your community leaders are? Do you know what the people in your community are saying that need to change? How do you show up?
JC: And, I think about that a lot. As someone who will exist in, find myself in situations where it’s only white people, I have been in situations where people then will start to talk about how they feel bad about gentrifying. It’s a thing of, “Okay, now that we’re all here…”
JC: “Let’s talk about how we feel bad about how we’re gentrifying but we can’t help it because we can’t afford it.” And it’s like, that’s not it.
JH: That’s not the conversation.
JC: That’s not the conversation, because no one’s expecting you to be able to afford to move to f*cking Park Avenue and not be gentrifying. But the point is it’s not about whether or not you live here, because trust me, I get it and I’m also not perfect, but I’m like, “I wanted to move to New York too and I had to move to a neighborhood. Every neighborhood I’ve lived in is traditionally…” You know what I mean? I lived in Washington Heights and then I lived in Crown Heights and I’m in Bed-Stuy. Like Dominican, Black, Black. Those are two… Those were those neighborhoods. But it’s like you need to look into how can you give back? What are the mutual aids? What did you displace by moving here? Where are you spending your money?
JH: And how are you acting when you’re on the street? For instance, there are certain neighborhood social — when you’re paying attention — social courtesies that you should respect. Are you calling a noise complaint on the Dominican man that’s playing his music at 3 in the morning? Those types of things. Are you moving… If you know that there’s a guy in your neighborhood that always saves his parking spot with a traffic cone, are you getting pissed off, moving his traffic cone and parking your car there?
JC: And also, do you know what I think another big part of it is? Are there conversations… Like, because you’re going to have inconveniences when you live in a neighborhood. Especially when it’s like you’re not of the culture that is prominent in the neighborhood. Are you unwilling to have conversations with those people directly because you’re intimidated by them? Because you’re afraid of them and then are going up to management, essentially.
JH: Escalating, calling 311, noise complaint.
JC: Go downstairs and talk to the man.
JC: And obviously I’m speaking with that as the privilege of a man of size. Obviously, I understand that not everyone is going to feel comfortable and rightly so going downstairs and talking to someone at 3 in the morning. But it is that thing of, is there a way to have this conversation in a way that’s not as violent?
JH: And also understanding what neighborhood you’re in.
JC: Totally. Because you’ve lived in Harlem for a while now, right?
JC: Do you have places in Harlem that you like to go out to? Do you feel like there are bars, restaurants, places where you have found community in Harlem?
JH: So my issue with Harlem is that there isn’t a gay, queer, fem, trans Black scene. There’s like gay, cis scenes kind of.
JH: I haven’t been to those bars. When I go out to Harlem, I like to go to Belle and there’s some really nice bars and rock bars, cocktail places. But in terms of going out partying, I go to Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights.
JH: Don’t ask me the names of those warehouses and spaces that I go to. But that is more of the scene where I see myself, especially spiritually and what I practice. I see that in Brooklyn, which is new. I didn’t know. My understanding of Brooklyn for a really long time was just white and queer because of the comedy scene.
JC: Because of Williamsburg. Yeah.
JH: And because of the comedy scene. Sorry, When I first moved to New York, I did live in Brooklyn. I lived in Brooklyn Heights off of Clark Street. And that was… Also, it was not what it is today. Nothing was out there. Dumbo was completely-
JC: Dumbo’s a WeWork now. And it used to be like, it used to be a…
JH: Just cobblestone streets. I used to love walking the promenade and then walking down to Dumbo and standing in the open warehouse spaces, which is kind of dangerous. But I did it anyway. And the merry-go- round was broke down as f*ck. You couldn’t ride it. And then you just had the water there. Bricks and then water, no beach. And now I think I left Clark Street when they first posted the announcement that they were going to build out the promenade more.
JC: The Brooklyn Bridge Promenade? Which is… It’s gorgeous now.
JH: I haven’t been.
JC: It is beautiful but it is also intense.
JH: So I never really knew that I had that sort of crunchy granola hippie community. And it became really important to me to live around Black people. I spent some time on 26th and 3rd and that what I would say was my most intense-
JC: White period?
JH: Time in New York. Yeah. And just being completely saturated.
JC: Can I just call it a white period?
JH: Yes. That was my white period. And then I tried East Harlem and I just didn’t feel like I belonged, like my soul locked in. And then I moved and I tried West Harlem and I kind of felt the same way. I used to live… I did have a beautiful street. I used to live on Convent Avenue, overlooking city park.
JH: But I still didn’t feel the way I felt until I moved to central Harlem. And that was like-
JC: It’s a different vibe in Central Harlem.
JH: Yep. I was like, period. Also-
JC: Streets are wider.
JH: The streets are wider. Also, it’s generationally Black. And I feel the ancestor spirits of the Harlem Renaissance, I feel all of that when I’m in central Harlem and in my building, there have been so many famous Black people that have lived in my building. Musicians. And I was talking to my neighbor who is in his — I think he’s 80, almost. He might be turning 90 this year. My neighbors are incredible. And he was telling me he used to live across the street in the Lincoln Projects and his hustle that he had with his brothers and sisters was going to bed at 9, waking up at 3 and helping all the actors and musicians into the apartment after a night of partying to get tips and make money. And they used to do the red carpet outside of my building. And then they would take all the pictures, they’d take all the pictures and then they’d go to the Apollo and perform. It’s a really magical place.
JC: I will say that’s another thing, one of my pet peeves is people who are like “New Yorkers don’t talk to their neighbors,” and make it a personality trait. And I’m like, “That’s a white gentrifier thing.”
JH: Yes, I was about to say that is a white gentrifying thing.
JC: Because it’s not true. When I lived in the Heights, I knew Florence, my neighbor, she was old and she would — Oh my god, we got bed bugs once. And so we had to put all the furniture out and she was like, “Do you have f*cking bed bugs?” Lost her mind on me. I was like, “Flo, I’m really sorry I didn’t try to do this intentionally.” But you can know your neighbors and in fact, I think it is intrinsically old-school New York to know not just the people in your building, but-
JH: It’s important.
JC: It’s important.
JH: I know my neighbors. I love my neighbors and not just my building. I know people all over-
JC: The block.
JH: All over Harlem. And some of my closest friends in Harlem are black women over 60. Amazing. They also make the best edibles. They make the best edibles
JC: Wait, put a pin in that, because I do want to transition to talking about that in a second. But I was going to say that it just makes sense because we’ve talked about this before. Your pull between Harlem and Brooklyn is just like, I want to say that I really see it for you. I see that for you because it’s really hard. I’m sure.
JC: Because the roots there are so deep. But then you are having this pull to Brooklyn.
JH: The pull to Brooklyn is strong. There’s also a pull to the West Coast and I am just-
JC: I’m ignoring that.
JH: Yeah. Well I have decided to just be in a place where I’m open to flexibility and I am open and willing to be surprised. Which before, I was very much, “I want to be in this apartment forever. I love this apartment. I want to be in this neighborhood forever. This is the view I want to wake up to every morning.” And now I’m open to change.
JC: To change.
JH: So we’ll see where I end up.
JC: Okay. I will be following you wherever. Okay. So you mentioned that the women, your friends in Harlem make the best edibles. Weed versus booze?
JH: Not always, but I mean I’m always going to pick a plant, but there are plants that make alcohol like mezcal and the agave plant is incredible. I would say in terms of the feeling that I like more, I’d rather be stoned than drunk. But I love a good drink. One of my favorite bars, I think it’s called Apotheke, which is in like-
JC: Yeah we just talked about this in another episode.
JH: Like the unnamed bar. Any sort of…
JC: Off on Pell Street.
JH: Yes. Any sort of apothecary-type cocktail magic. That is magic. Actually my best friend, his wife, I call her a drink witch, because she has these herbal tinctures that she makes from plants in her generational family garden in Macedonia and makes these cocktails that are-
JH: Yeah. Insane.
JC: I mean that’s witchcraft. Full witchcraft.
JH: Witchcraft and I appreciate a good cocktail or Ode to Babel. Have you ever been there?
JC: Actually this is incredibly topical. My friend, one of my boyfriend’s good friends who is my friend texted, was like, “I’m having my birthday party here.” And I was the first to arrive. This is a white woman from Brookline, Mass.
JH: A white woman had a…
JC: And this is the thing and I’m sitting there and I’m looking around and I was like, “You can’t have your birthday party here. We’re finding a new location.” She was having 15 people come. And I was like, “I think this is an invasion of this space.”
JH: Yeah. Okay.
JC: Was I wrong for that?
JH: Here’s the line. I understand the instinct but I’m also get money.
JC: Okay. So when I tell you I sat in this bar for… Because I was also early and they were late. So I was in there for 15, 20 minutes really thinking about it. And I was looking and I was like, I thought the same thing. I was like, “It’s money. It will completely change the vibe of this room, 15 white women showing up.”
JH: That is the thing. How do you act when you are in those spaces and taking over those spaces? Because there’s some people I’m like, “B*tch, you’ll never act right. Please leave.”
JC: And my friends would’ve been well behaved. But it was purely… And well behaved but also culture… I don’t even know that’s the correct language to use, but I was just like, “People will have to move tables, it will take up most of the space.” Because it’s also not a huge bar.
JH: Yeah. It’s a very small place.
JC: I was like, “Is that appropriate for tonight?” If it was dead. And I got the sense that this is predominantly a Black space that might be different. But I think there would’ve been a situation where people were showing up and would’ve been, “Not tonight now.” Because these people are here and they’ve taken up four tables.
JH: Fair. I definitely think that if I was there and I saw that happening, I’d be like, “Oh…” But I don’t know, this is where I feel like life is not one or the other.
JC: There’s a world where I didn’t make that call and we had a wonderful night and really connected with everyone there. And maybe I robbed everyone of that and we’ll never know.
JH: Yeah. I also think that Blackness and that space is undeniable. And when the institution is there, the roots, the history, you can’t really rob that. So even… There’s a part of me that’s like, “Okay, so 10 white people show up to Ode to Babel. It’s a Black space first. It’ll always be a Black space and that vibe will always prevail no matter what the f*ck is going on.”
JH: Because we will do what needs to be done. So either you can get with the program or you can leave.
JH: And I do think that that space has that get with the program or leave. So maybe for next time.
JC: And also I very much felt the energy of get with the program or leave and I think I thought, I don’t know that they’re going to get with the program, so we’re going to leave.
JH: That’s fair. And that is-
JC: I think that’s what it was. I’m not joking. I think they’re coming-
JH: Think that’s a good call then.
JC: You know what I mean? I just don’t think so. I was like, “This is not a good marriage and there’s plenty of other bars around here where we can do that.”
JH: But shout out to Ode to Babel.
JC: It’s beautiful.
JH: I love that space. And there’s a really good plant store right around the corner.
JC: Natty Garden. Yeah. Wait, we should go to Natty Garden together.
JH: Oh, I love that place.
JH: I love the guy that runs it. Well I haven’t been in a while but I think it was before everyone got super, super addicted to plants. He would always give me really good deals and let me take the plants that maybe were infested or having a hard time because I knew how to…
JH: Yeah, get them back. And he’d sometimes give me them for free or severely discounted.
JC: Oh, nice.
JH: Which I always appreciate plant shop owners that are like, “Yeah…”
JC: Well yeah. Because they care about the plants before the business probably a little bit. Which is challenging. What cocktails you like? You mentioned mezcal.
JC: The greatest.
JH: I love Lambrusco. That’s not really a cocktail, but I love Lambrusco. I hope I’m saying that right.
JC: You are. Lambrusco.
JH: Oh, and orange wine.
JC: Love orange wine. Orange wine’s delicious. We need to have a date night because we’re really-
JC: We’re really synced in a lot of ways.
JC: We are very synced in a lot of ways. And it’s always just us right after a comedy show.
JH: Data dumping.
JC: Yes. And just data dumping. “Well, I heard this.” And just gossiping.
JH: Well I love seeing you too, because I know I’m going to get the real sh*t.
JC: Yeah. We were on a show recently where we were… There were other people on the show and I was like, the second everyone else leaves the green room, I have so much I need to say to Jessica.
JH: I know, I was literally trying to shoo everyone out.
JC: And then someone was like, “I’m going to go get ready.” And I was like, “Thank God.”
JH: I love those. And our relationship is very valuable to me, because it’s rare. Most of the time people will keep their… They won’t talk because it’s considered talking sh*t. But it’s so valuable.
JC: And it’s also never… I don’t want people who know us who are listening to us thinking that we’re talking behind their back. “Their outfit was this.” One, it’s not that surface or vapid.
JC: It’s more, it’s just what have you been dealing with in life recently?
JC: What’s going on? What’s this? What are you… You know what I mean?
JH: Is this person also acting terrible at shows that you’re on?
JH: Is this producer also not paying anyone? Actually, that was a conversation I had with somebody else, but…
JC: Oh, I’m going to need information after this recording.
JH: It’s so valuable for me. And I was on a show, a Bellhouse show, kind of in the lull of the pandemic but not quite at the height. And it had a ton of names, won’t name them. But I was so relieved, because everyone in the room was just willing to talk sh*t.
JH: “Say this production company doesn’t pay. These people don’t pay that well when you develop shows with them.” Or the most valuable part of the conversation that they were having is just that nobody tells you once you break into the industry that we all think, “Okay, all I need is one good job.” That’s not the truth. You need your first three. You’re not going to start making any sort of money or be upright again unless you’re generationally wealthy. Which is a lot to unpack, but not what we’re talking about right now. But you won’t start making real money or be really good money or be upright again until after your third job. And that’s why it’s so valuable to be staffed, because it’s the most consistent paycheck that you can get. And also gives you the best health insurance versus having to do SAG health insurance. And there was a time when I was coming up that people weren’t even willing to… They’re like, “Don’t talk about money, don’t talk about health insurance, don’t…” Like I grew up hearing adults all the time being, “Never talk about money.”
JH: “Never tell people what you make.”
JC: My family is still kind of that way.
JH: And I’m like, “Are you f*cking kidding me?” I would not have known how f*cked I was going to be after I did my first pilot if it wasn’t for, shout out to Taylor Ortega, literally breaking it the f*ck down for me. And this is, again, all these things are considered talking sh*t.
JC: And this reminds me of what you were… When you were talking earlier about your Gansevoort days and my version of that was when I first moved to New York and going out with all the people I was meeting at UCB and I was the poorest I’ve ever been.
JC: There was a period where I was living off of dollar pizza. And when I say living off of dollar pizza, I mean I would wake up and look at my bank account, look at my food and be like, “I’m getting two slices of dollar pizza today.”
JH: Yes. Yes.
JC: And I would go out with these people and not sometimes get waters or whatever. And I was like, “I don’t understand how everyone’s affording this. I must be f*cking up.” I thought it was my fault for years. And then I was like, “Oh, your dad made what? Your mom does what?” And then it was like, “Oh, this is the…” And then you start to realize and they’re all hiding it because you have to hide and that’s when I realized the insidiousness of don’t talk about money.
JH: Is it coming from the top and that’s what I mean when all of these things are systemic. It’s the way they keep us divided. Not realizing, I have seen twice now, because of people’s transparency about getting paid what they get paid. I mean $30,000 pay gaps from people who have equal…
JH: Equal roles on a show. But one is a straight white man.
JH: Okay, construction. It’s so, so, so, so important to be transparent about money.
JC: And that’s one of the… I talk a lot on the show about how much I love going out. And I think part of why I love going out is this space in which I have these conversations. When I’m sitting down with someone I see people at… I love parties. I love a big group at a bar. But my favorite is one to four people going for drinks.
JH: Yes. Yes.
JC: Because you are connecting and you’re talking and you’re sharing information and you’re deepening your relationships, but you’re also deepening your network of channels by which you’re going to learn things, get information, figure out your place in where you live, community based, how you’re working network based and your social circles.
JC: All of that is deepened by doing this.
JH: Yeah, Yeah. Talking about money is so important and yeah, I don’t know if I have any other words to articulate other than it’s so important and I’ve learned so much about the industry just based on how people get paid and what kind of jobs I want to go after based on how they’re paid.
JC: And also another extension of the oppressive notion of “don’t talk about money.” You can be critical of capitalism, you can be critical of these systems of how toxic the rich are, the have and have nots and still try to go after what you need. Go after it for yourself, because don’t put yourself on the cross to prevent…
JH: Yeah. And this is what I mean when I see a lot of people posting infographics are posting anti-capitalism and all this other rhetoric, but you are an anti-capitalist, but you won’t tell your counterpart employee how much money you’re getting paid? This sh*t doesn’t add up. You’re anti-racist, but you treat the one Black person in your office like sh*t.
JC: Or are you not willing to say something to someone because you’re afraid that you’re not going to get the gig because of it? Do you know what I mean? And that’s-
JH: Exactly and this is what I tell a lot of people too. You have to, to use an improv term, you have to come up with your own baseline of reality. Your own f*ck budget. Because if you don’t define that for yourself, you’re just going to get beat up everywhere you go by everyone in the industry. You’ll be, again, know your shield, know your medicine wheel, know your weaknesses. Because then they cannot be exploited. Like, I don’t know how to stress that enough. Know what you are willing to walk away from. I’m just going to be completely transparent. I did a pilot and my initial offer to star in a pilot was $7,500.
JH: And if I didn’t know what I knew from talking to other people, I would’ve taken it because A) it’s money. I was unemployed. I don’t have anything. But I knew it was an insult and I was willing to walk away from it all because of my values and what I need and I knew if it couldn’t come up from this price, then it wasn’t for me.
JC: And what f*cking sucks about that is that it can come up from that price. So why-
JH: Oh, absolutely.
JC: So it’s like they’re cutting a corner on your ignorance.
JH: And not only did I… They’re cutting a corner on my ignorance. It’s also racist, because I knew what a white woman was offered at the same level of experience that I had. What they were offered, I think six or five years before me and it was double.
JC: Which is still kind of low.
JH: Which is still low. And it’s-
JC: For what a pilot normally looks like.
JH: So not only is it racist, it’s also misogynistic and representative of how little the institution actually cares about creatives.
JC: A hundred percent.
JH: And if I didn’t know what I knew, I would have taken that happily and just been like, “Well this is exposure.” I think we’re taught a lot of times like it’s about exposure and connecting and networking and it’s like, “No, b*tch. None of these people are doing any f*cking favors. That’s why you’re doing sh*t for free.”
JH: Because you are the one doing all the favors.
JC: Yeah. A hundred percent.
JH: No, no, no, no, no, no.
JC: Don’t do anything for free. Don’t do anything for free.
JH: Don’t do anything for free. Don’t do anything for exposure.
JC: Thank you for being on my podcast.
JH: Yeah. You know what I mean.
JC: No, I’m teasing.
JH: This is different. This is different. But this is where I get f*cked up. It’s just like the people before us, what they’ve put up with and this is why I’m excited for the future, because I do really feel like there’s a shift in narrative about what people are willing to put up with. But I mean, and you get distracted by accolades. Right? The whole reason why I believe the Academy was started was because-
JC: It was a distraction.
JH: Yes. The actors were trying to unionize and be like, “This pay sucks.” And it was like, “But you’ll get a shiny gold award.”
JC: That is the origin of the Academy Awards.
JC: It’s crazy.
JH: Yeah. Lots to unpack there. But hello? If I get an Academy Award, I’m going to go.
JC: Oh yeah. Oscars, nominate us. You and I want us to plan our next night out.
JC: Right now.
JC: We don’t have to schedule it.
JC: I meant the activity.
JC: For the…
Katie Brown: I’ll just send you a Google invite.
JC: Can you imagine if I was like, I want the listeners to hear that we’re going to meet on June 12 and then that’s it? No, let’s plan how we want to have our night go.
JH: Okay. I would love to do some sort of vibey shared-plate-restaurant type of experience.
JC: And do you want to do a midpoint between Harlem and Brooklyn? Do you want to do Brooklyn? Do you want me to come to Harlem? Because I’ll do any of them.
JH: Oh. What kind of food do we want to eat?
JC: You like shared plates vibey?
JC: I’ll do that too because I trust you. I’m not doing it with a picky person. I’ll lose my mind.
JH: Oh my God. People are like, “Do you have chicken with no sauce.” I’m like, “Go home and learn how to f*cking cook, you baby.”
JC: So let’s maybe do somewhere in the Village.
JC: When I’m meeting someone who lives uptown, Village is my first point.
JC: Because we’re both going to get there quick. You know what I mean?
JC: Maybe East Side? You’re off the 4-5?
JH: No, I mean I’m off the 2-3, but the 4-5 is easy. If we stay out late though, I don’t like coming back late on the 4-5. I could do Soho.
JC: Soho. That could be interesting for us.
JH: Oh. But that could be super expensive. But also not…
JC: Well I’m also thinking we can start… Why don’t we do… Because I feel like there’s better small-plate food options in the East Village.
JC: And then let’s go over to…
JH: Walk over?
JC: Wait. Small plates and you mentioned Apotheke. Why aren’t we just going to Chinatown?
JC: That’s where we should go, right?
JH: Yeah. Chinatown. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
JC: And then I’ll go over… Here’s what we’ll do.
JH: Oh my God.
JC: Okay. I have-
JH: Soup dumplings. Is it going to be too hot? But I love soup dumplings.
JC: Well, no, just we’ll go somewhere with AC. I don’t care.
JH: Okay, okay. Okay.
JC: We’ll do soup dumplings. We’ll do small plates in Chinatown. Maybe Joe’s Shanghai. They’re good. Apotheke.
JH: Okay. I don’t know Apotheke.
JC: That’s, I think that’s how you pronounce… Like A-P-O. I think it’s Apotheke.
JH: Okay. Yeah.
JC: But also I’m saying that not confidently.
JH: Yes. I would love to go there.
JC: So we’ll go there.
JC: And then I would love to head back west with you because then I can take the train home.
JH: Do you live off the 2-3?
JC: I can take 2-3 or the A-C, but mainly the A-C.
JC: So I can take you to 2-3 and then I’ll take my train home from there.
JH: Okay, great. Also, I can take the C home just fine.
JC: We love that you can take the C home. I love-
JH: And then I get off at 138th and St. Nick and then I just walk over to central Harlem. It’s like 10 minutes.
JH: It’s a really pretty romp.
JC: And we’re not going to… Let’s be real. We’re not going to be out late. I’m not-
JH: Yeah, yeah. It will wrap up around 11 at the latest.
JC: I love that. Because we’re meeting, what? Like 7:30?
JH: Yeah. Or 6:30. I can do that.
JC: Yeah, let’s do 6:30 cause there’s going to be time.
JH: I love a little sunsetty walking on the streets like a downtown summer moment.
JC: Summer sunset. I was feeling mentally weird yesterday. It was like yesterday or the day before I was having a weird mental day. Not crushingly bad, I just felt off.
JH: The eclipse is ending. So that might have been like boop boop boop. Like the last little bump.
JC: And Saturn’s retrograding. Mercury’s going direct.
JH: Yeah, that’s what I meant. The retrograde.
JC: The full moon’s next week.
JH: Yes. So full moon’s next week. That’s what I’m getting my period. Yes, we’re synced with the moon.
JC: Congrats. That’s huge. But what I was going to say was I was feeling off all day. When I tell you the second the sun moved to where the sky starts to turn lilac from bright blue, I’m some… I can’t explain it. There’s nothing in the world my body more viscerally reacts to than that. The second we enter the dusk hour, to two hours in summer, I’m okay.
JC: It’s so soothing to me.
JC: So you’re right. Let’s get dinner right around then.
JC: And we’re ideally somewhere with outdoor seating in that case.
JC: Period. And I also love that we’re starting early because then we don’t have to worry about getting anywhere in time to get in. Apotheke’s not going to be busy that early and right as it’s getting crowded, we’re heading back to the West Village for a nightcap before we get on the train.
JH: Yes, exactly.
JC: Okay, perfect. Now we’re going to off mic, get that on the calendar. But thank you so much for doing the show, babe.
JH: Thank you. Okay, bye.
Thank you so much for listening to “Going Out With Jake Cornell.” If you could please go and rate and review us on whatever you’re listening to this on, that would be really gorgeous for me in a huge way, so thank you.
And now, for some credits. “Going Out With Jake Cornell” is recorded in New York City and is produced by Keith Beavers and Katie Brown. The music you’re hearing is by Darbi Cicci. The cover art you’re probably looking at was photographed by M. Cooper and designed by Danielle Grinberg. And a special shout-out to VinePair co-founders Adam Teeter and Josh Malin for making all of this possible.