Justin Sayre’s Gay Agenda
Writer, comedian, and performer Justin Sayre has been named one of the “Funniest People in Brooklyn” by Brooklyn magazine and among “LA’s 16 Most Talented LGBT Comics” by Frontiers magazine — and he’s done it his way. “I walk around thinking, ‘This is normal, right? People do the stuff that I do.’ And then I’m continually shown, ‘No. They do not.’ Not all men see a hat somewhere and say, ‘Oh, I should try that out with a jaunty scarf today.’ Not everybody does that. In a strange way it’s made me double down.” It’s not just his fashion sense that sets him apart. Sayre sits as Chairman of the International Order of Sodomites, a “centuries-old organization which sets the mythic Gay Agenda.” The goings-on of the organization are on full display at Sayre’s long-running show The Meeting, held at Joe’s Pub in New York City. After eight years, The Meeting is coming to an end so Sayre can pursue other ventures, including his current writing job on Two Broke Girls and a Lifetime-movie-inspired live show. I talked to Sayre about what it really means to be a sodomite, his new album The Gay Agenda, and our mutual love for Angela Lansbury.
My first question is what does it take for one to become a member of the International Order of Sodomites?
Well, sodomy is very widely defined. So you’re probably already in. It’s a broad area. I found out that oral is technically sodomy. Anything that’s not exclusively male bits in lady bits is sodomy. So you can be, no problem.
You hold the title of Chairman of the International Order of Sodomites. Is that self-appointed or were you chosen by committee?
I run every four years with the board. I have to schmooze. There’s a lot of foot rubs and listening to Isaac Mizrahi late nights on the phone. I run a platform where I’ve been keeping the male culotte going for years and that seems to be very effective for me.
One of your top priorities is to run the monthly show The Meeting, which is in its eighth and final season. What prompted you to start The Meeting and what were your goals with the show?
We wanted to take the meeting public. It was a forum to talk about culture and politics and where we are currently. I started it as a lark. The other component we do with the show every month is we celebrate a gay icon. We invite performers from on and off Broadway and downtown performance artists to come in and interpret the work of a gay icon like Diana Ross or Beyonce. Rather than a show about imitations we want people who have a unique perspective to bring something to the table of their own, like, “This is what Beyonce means to me. This is what Angela Lansbury means to me.”
I love Angela Lansbury so much.
She’s a national treasure.
When they first added Murder, She Wrote to Netflix I fell asleep watching it every night and just let the episodes continue to play. I worked my way through the entire series over the course of a couple of weeks. I would fall asleep and a few episodes would play and I would wake up to the notification, “Are you still watching?” I would click YES and go back to sleep. I wasn’t binge watching. I was sleeping with Angela Lansbury.
I’m sure she’d be very glad to hear that.
You decided to make this season the last one for The Meeting. Why did you decide to end it?
I’ve been living in LA now for two years. We’ve done really well and you kind of want to go out on top. I feel like I’ve done it. I want to try something new. I’m not somebody who wants to repeat himself. The show is great and we’ve had a lot of fun doing it, but what’s the next thing? It was kind of an artistic choice, but also I’ve said what I wanted to say. People know where my politics lie, so let’s move on.
So where do you go from here?
I’ve been doing a lot of plays and writing a lot for television. I’m still going to have a relationship with Joe’s Pub and do solo shows there. I’m also developing — with some friends — something called Once in a Lifetime. We’re taking the titles — only the titles — of Lifetime movies and writing an hour long show based solely off the title and then performing live for people.
You just released an album called The Gay Agenda. Is this a product of what you’ve been doing at The Meeting?
Yeah, it’s all pieced together from different nights from the show. It’s kind of a greatest hits of The Meeting. We try to post a lot from the show every month on YouTube so that people can follow along. It helps us gain a following nationally a little bit. The album came out of those recordings from the show, sifting through them and saying, “Okay, this was a really successful bit. We really liked this.”
You also have the Sparkle and Circulate podcast. I listened to an episode recently that was all about The Golden Girls. You’re a staff writer for Two Broke Girls. The Golden Girls was somewhat of a groundbreaking show that went on to influence sitcoms long after its final episode. You’ve talked before about it being an influence on you. How does The Golden Girls influence your current TV writing work?
I watched The Golden Girls when I was a little kid. It’s a silly show at times, but it’s got a lot of good jokes. As a staff writer sometimes I say things and think, “Oh, that’s Dorothy.” It’s the first show I remember watching as a kid where I was like, “Oh, this is how comedy is made.” Each of the characters had their own voice and their own type of jokes. I realized how varied it could be and also how artfully done it was. I’m continually impressed with it.
You mentioned that you celebrate gay icons in The Meeting. You’ve also found ways to do that in your personal life. You adopted the middle name Elizabeth in honor of Elizabeth Taylor. You host the annual Night of a Thousand Judys, a Judy Garland charity tribute concert for homeless LGBT youth.
This sounds kind of sappy, but when you’re a kid that feels different in some way — and it doesn’t need to be from being gay, you can feel different for a multitude of reasons — you find a way to the world through art. The people that excited me when I was a kid just happened to be gay icons. I was looking for it before I was even conscious of it. These are the people I got excited about. For straight comics it may have been George Carlin or Richard Pryor. Celebrating gay icons allows people the chance to participate in a person or a person’s body of work who invited them into the world in a way. The Elizabeth Taylor thing…I had always loved her as a kid. When she died we were sitting at a bar. I said to my friend, “What are we going to do? There’s no Elizabeth Taylor.” My friend drunkenly turned to me and said, “Well, you can be Elizabeth Taylor.” I was like, “Yeah, alright. I’ll be Elizabeth Taylor.” For me it was also about her activism and her gumption to just do whatever she wanted to do regardless. Doing the middle name thing was in honor to her, but also a reminder to me like, “Keep going. This is worth it.”
You’re doing what you love and being 100% yourself and you’ve made a career out of it. That’s the dream.
I’ll tell you, I’m still struck sometimes how hard it is. It’s like that Toni Morrison quote, “You never realize you’re different until someone takes the time to remind you.” I walk around thinking, “This is normal, right? People do the stuff that I do.” And then I’m continually shown, “No. They do not.” Not all men see a hat somewhere and say, “Oh, I should try that out with a jaunty scarf today.” Not everybody does that. In a strange way it’s made me double down. Even though you will get a lot of nos at first, people are looking for original voices. People are looking for those who can say something like nobody else. The more you try to homogenize yourself and make yourself less authentic the greater harm you do to yourself. The more you concentrate on what your point of view is and what you can bring to the table the better off you’ll be. I really believe that.