Jesse Reynolds knows Ottawa is not rich with opportunities for the average, good-looking queer performer. Rather than wait around for something to be handed to him, Reynolds has teamed up with the makers of Sexy Pucker, a teeth whitening product, and executive producer Curtis Hollister to produce Zero to Jesse, a web-based talk show that highlights our city’s innovators and Reynolds’ own biting wit.
Musician and artist Danniel Oickle, who appears on Episode 2 of the show, describes Reynolds as “Howard Stern-esque without trying to be insulting.”
“He’s a powerful presence,” Oickle says. “He guides the show all the way through, which is what a talk-show host should do. He is overpowering in a good way.”
Other notable guests include drag queens Jade London and Sapphire Champagne, sexpert Nadine Thornhill and queer country singer Drake Jensen.
While Zero to Jesse is focused on Ottawa’s queer community, Reynolds says guests from out of town are always welcome and they don’t have to identify as queer.
Early feedback challenged the 26-year-old for pigeonholing himself as a gay personality. Reynolds says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Even if it is pigeonholing me, why is that a bad thing?” he asks. “As long as society identifies with people’s sexuality so strongly, why not capitalize on it? I’m not ashamed; I’m a proud gay man, so let the world see that.”
Reynolds adds that it can be hard to find gay content in a predominantly straight world, and Zero to Jesse hopes to fill that void.
Hollister describes the show as a blend of Funny or Die and Chelsea Lately. From poring over the week’s weirdest news to posing questions that would be highly inappropriate for television, nothing is too hot or too sacred for Zero to Jesse.
In one likely-to-be-popular segment, guests are strapped into “the gay electric chair,” with shock collars snapped around their necks, as they attempt to answer a series of trivia questions. Each wrong answer earns a shock. Reynolds himself sat down in the hot seat in Episode 1, only to be so surprised by the electrical current he fell over and broke the chair.
Future episodes will feature a twist on the gay electric chair called “drag queen showdown,” in which two queens will face off while each holds her competitor’s shock button.
“The idea of the show is to have a good time, be entertaining and ruffle a few feathers. We joke on set that we want Conservatives to hate us,” Reynolds says with a laugh.
Jokes aside, the conceptualization process for the show was no laughing matter. Reynolds says selecting the title was an “arduous process,” as Hollister wanted to name the show Thrilled with Jesse or The Tickle Trunk.
Hollister says the series is still in its infancy; more changes are expected, including a shift from full episodes to shorter posted segments.
“We’re still playing around with the format,” Hollister says. “Jesse has had a hand in every aspect of the show. He is very proactive in creating the content and trying to make the show better.”
A self-described “theatre student for life,” Reynolds has been active in Ottawa’s performance scene for years. After appearing in several TotoToo productions, he branched out to hosting events and parties, something he calls an organic arc for his career.
He also takes part in an annual performance for the Elisabeth Bruyere Health Centre, exclusively for healthcare professionals, that presents real-life case studies. “It is about ethics in medicine. It is a case study through art. We put on a play telling a story. The last one was about a lesbian dying of cancer. Her partner could not call the shots, and her parents were very homophobic,” he says.
Reynolds says he’ll make the rounds for the upcoming pilot season in Toronto, but he’s generally content in his hometown.
“It’s one of those things where you have to decide if you want to be a small fish in a huge ocean or a big fish in a small pond,” he says. “Ottawa works for me, and I enjoy working here in the gay community. I try to have a yes attitude to things, and it’s worked out so far.”
“Feel the Rush,” A Zero to Jesse valentine to Rush Limbaugh.