One of the deepest creative minds of our time, Justin Sayre brings a lost romanticism and an endearing queerness to his work. An author, screenwriter, and performer, he’s become known for his hilariously poignant The Meeting of the International Order of the Sodomites at Joe’s Pub in New York. His latest cabaret show further solidifies is place as a true original of the New York arts scene.
In I’m Gorgeous Inside, Sayre pays tribute to the bad girls of his adolescence who shaped him. A celebration of slut-dom, it’s an interactive experience that gives the audience an intimate look at the dirtier side of the artist. Taking place during Bushwig weekend, the performances feature cameos from various drag talent.
We recently caught up with Sayre in preparation for his return to Joe’s Pub.
— Justin Sayre (@JustinSayreCHM) September 25, 2017
Tell me about I’m Gorgeous Inside.
It comes from a real estate sign that I kept driving past on my way to work. I thought it was a very pretty apartment but apparently, these people felt like they needed to say more about it, that it was gorgeous inside. I thought I wished I had a sign like that.
That was also coupled with this idea that when I was thinking about what I wanted to do for this new show, I kept talking about all these bad girls that have influenced my life, that I was really kind of interested in. It’s kind of the slutty girl from your high school who always had unlimited supplies of gum and always pulls out the lip gloss. They were honest girls and they kind of knew the world in a way that I wanted to at least.
And I thought it was a nice correlation to talk about the landscape for women who are strong and women who are sexually free but also kind of live by their own rules and how they informed a lot of what my life is about. So, it’s kind of a celebration of those women.
And you have some actual bad girls joining you?
We have a team of bad girls who will help you through the experience of the evening, kind of interact with you a little bit. Also, since it’s Bushwig weekend, we’re having a different drag queen each night do her favorite bad girl number, whatever that means to her. It’s kind of a bad girl jamboree. I think it’s going to be a fun night.
You also said the show is a lot about slut-dom?
I think it’s about sexual freedom. In writing this show, even coming up with it, I was like, “slutty girls.” There’s no pejorative in that statement to me. I’m not here to slut shame anybody. I think if you have a lot of sex, good for you.
But I think it is talking about women who are sexually free in some way are kind of set apart. There is an element of shame. And I think even in the gay community, there’s a slutiness that we don’t talk about. And it talks a little bit about the barriers but also wondering why we still kind of project that on each other. Everybody wants to be doing it, so why are we mad about the people who get to? And when I talk about “slutty girls,” I’m not talking about the male image of what that is. I’m not talking about the naughty Catholic schoolgirls. I’m talking about real girls who sat outside arcades and sucked back Jolly Ranchers, who knew about life.
Your queer identity is a huge part of your work. Would you describe queer performance in general as political?
I think it is political, certainly with what’s going on right now. I think right now, with everything that’s happening, there is a pull toward intersectionality, which I really like seeing, and it’s become what I talk about a lot in my work for a long time. You can’t be queer and not worried about immigration because immigrants are queer people. You can’t be queer and not worried about women’s issues because women are queer people.
So, I’m glad to see that’s happening in an interesting way, unfortunately under really dark circumstances. I think what we’re dealing with politically now, we’re no longer questioning identity. It’s not so much “I’m queer and I’m here.” It’s become a point where being queer is not enough in some ways, and I think it’s really a time when we have to delve deeper and start presenting new ideas about the world. Because I think the thing that is so deadening is that we’re not presenting a new vision.
You’re a big part of the New York cabaret scene but you currently live in LA. Are there elements of the west coast that you bring to your performance?
LA is a very different animal. I think in LA, everybody is sort of aspiring to be on Conan. In New York, at least when I was there, it was all about playing the big room. This is it. It was a means to an end. There was a certain looseness and comfortability you could have with an audience. You were doing better work because you were making art for a group of people that you loved. The thing about LA is I don’t know if it’s changed me, but it’s made me kind of polish off some of my edges and made me very aware of my own uniqueness. But I also know I have a long way to go, and I think LA has kept me more aspirational in ways.
You’ve also recently written some young adult novels. Would you say there’s a bit of young Justin in there?
None of them are autobiographical, certainly. But they deal with feelings that I have had and certainly feelings that I continue to have. Someone who read the books asked me once, “How do you write for a 13-year-old so accurately?” You just kind of turn your impulse control down a little bit. Instead of getting mad about something somebody said at brunch, you just get mad about it in the moment. You just kind of instantly process it. I think that was sort of freeing, writing those books.
But I wrote them for two reasons, one is that I just liked writing them and thought it was an interesting thing to do. But they’re also things I wished people had talked to me about at those ages. It’s these thoughts about conformity and what people think about you and how you deal with that or don’t deal with it. It also delves into these characters as real people with as much depth as I could, because I felt like it was important to give these people their say.