Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UPC event hosts Jonathan Van Ness from ‘Queer Eye’

UMass hosts star of Netflix’s ‘Queer Eye’
Courtesy of JVN Facebook Page

Jonathan Van Ness, one star of the Netflix reality show “Queer Eye,” appeared Wednesday night virtually as part of the University Programming Council’s Fall Concert Series.


The event, streamed via the online platform Looped, was free to attend for both students and faculty. It centered largely around a Q&A in which Van Ness discussed a wide, diverse range of topics with the audience.

Van Ness has reached pop culture notability in recent years, primarily thanks to his role in Queer Eye, a reality makeover show in which a group of five gay people give lifestyle advice to guests. The show is a reboot of the 2003 Bravo television series of the same name.

On the show, which was recently renewed for a sixth season, Van Ness is the designated grooming expert, reasonably so, given his extensive background as a professional hairdresser. He received his training for hairstyling at the Aveda Institute in Minneapolis, Minn. — his alma mater.

Among the broad list of questions that were asked –“How did you meet the Fab Five?” — referring to his “Queer Eye” castmates, “What’s your favorite city and why?,” “What would you say to the young adults who are afraid to come out [as LGBTQ+] right now?” and “What do you think about gender expression in the workplace?”

“We’ve fought really hard to have gender expression,” Van Ness said in response to the latter question, “[but] we need to stay fighting and we need to stay aware. We have to stick together right now because there is so much happening.”

One question revealed an attribute that is perhaps unexpected of his character; Van Ness told listeners of his apparent “obsession” with figure skating — a passion that he indulged in, even during the production of “Queer Eye.”

“Who is one celebrity that, if you could, you would like to style?” read another question.

“This is only because I want to meet [her], but can I just say Oprah? I just really want to meet Oprah,” Van Ness said.

Born and raised in the modest midwestern city of Quincy, Illinois, Van Ness was not always predisposed toward the media buzz and exposure of his highly successful undertakings such as “Queer Eye.”

A naturally expressive and exuberant personality, Van Ness has been openly gay for the majority of his life, but this has caused him a great deal of bullying, coercion and even death threats. Though his radiant and positive demeanor may suggest otherwise, Van Ness is no stranger to hardship and misfortune.

While attending the University of Arizona, Van Ness found himself partaking in self-destructive behaviors, developing drug and sex addictions that took heavy tolls both on his financial well-being and mental health.

After finalizing his tenure at the Aveda Institute, Van Ness worked as a stylist in Arizona, before eventually moving to Los Angeles in 2009.

His life into media began with his role in the 2013 web series “Gay Of Thrones,” produced by the sketch comedy website Funny Or Die. The series, which featured Van Ness humorously reviewing episodes of the “Game of Thrones” TV series, received an Emmy nomination for “Outstanding Short Form Variety Series” in 2018.

Van Ness has also hosted a podcast since 2015 — “Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness.” It has enjoyed impressive listenership, largely thanks to his involvement as a cast member of “Queer Eye.”

 This past year, Van Ness published the picture book “Peanut Goes for the Gold,” an unconventional children’s story about a nonbinary guinea pig — based off of his own childhood pet — who is a prodigy of rhythmic gymnastics. Making a point of empowering themes, such as human uniqueness and independence, Van Ness unified the book’s release with the No Kid Hungry organization to stop childhood hunger in the United States.

One humorous question also invited Van Ness to speak on becoming a ‘cat parent,’ being the owner of two cats himself — one is named Liza Minneli — who briefly made an appearance on the livestream.

“Though I had seen him [Van Ness] before on “Queer Eye,” I liked seeing a celebrity such as himself appearing so candidly at home,” said Michelle Thach, a senior public health major who tuned into the event. “And seeing his kitten was a nice touch, too.”

He also revealed that his favorite member of “Queer Eye” to work with is anyone who will “pull the car over to get fast food”.

The star moved to Texas this past year, describing his time in quarantine as “nesting.”

“JVN definitely put a smile on my face,” said Victoria Di Salvo, who graduated from UMass this spring. “I wasn’t expecting it to be entirely a Q&A but that was a cool format. I also appreciated how a lot of colleges were represented and got to participate, since it was a virtual event.

Cameron Gibney can be reached at [email protected].

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