“Most people do not go to a show to have a bad time, so I don't set myself up to combat the audience, rather invite them into the experience.”
TGL: What does your name mean?
JC: Jibz is a nickname for Jibra'ila, which means messenger of God, so you can see that I can command you to listen to me. Good thing you are reading this interview and can hear the word of the divine. You're so very welcome. Dynasty Handbag means nothing.
TGL: How did you become a performer?
JC: I was shot out of the womb like this. As my hit song "Bornt This Way" states: I was a very performative child and wanted to be an actress. I still do - do you have any roles for me? I’m age 44, but can play age 43 or age 4 through 3. I went to a performing arts summer camp, which was actually the best thing about my childhood. I also made my younger sister perform SNL skits with me and made her play Dance Fever with me, a contest show where couples competed. I was always the man, naturally. I dropped out of high school and lived on my own as a teenager - no time for drama class, I had to join the teen workforce! I ended up in art school and started performing again in the New Genres department. From there it was plays, bands, and eventually this shadow self, Dynasty Handbag, which will not leave me alone.
TGL: Which artists influenced you?
JC: To name a tiny few: Gilda Radner, Janet Jackson, Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks, Prince, John Waters, Dead Kennedys, Sonic Youth, Laurie Anderson, Lauren Bacall, Tennessee Williams, Bongwater and Ann Magnuson, Parliament/Funkadelic, Divine, Yoko Ono, Brian Eno, Tina Turner, 60's garage girl groups, CAN, Melt Banana, Nina Simone, Talking Heads, Public Enemy, Mike Kelly, Paul Reubens, Black Sabbath, Kiki and Herb, Guillermo Gómez Peña, Lily Tomlin, Coco Fusco, David Shrigley, Vaginal Davis, David Bowie, Nao Bustamante, Klaus Nomi, Dancenoise, Ethyl Eichelberger, Susan Lori-Parks, Bikini Kill, The Wooster Group, Grace Jones, Dina Martina, Werner Herzog, Nina Hagen, Linda Montano, Alex Bag, Christeene, Isabella Rossellini, Narcissister, Maria Bamford, Cole Escola, Donald Glover, Tina Fey, Ava Duvernay, Kembra Pfahler, RuPaul, Kristin Wiig, and Beth Ditto. Send me a telegram request and I will grant you a complete miles long scroll.
TGL: There is often a mix of despair and humor in your work. What is the starting point of a performance piece?
JC: Usually a mix of the urge to celebrate something and/or rage and grief and street fashion.
TGL: You have a specific way of interacting with the audience and you create a specific mood depending on the context you are in. Do you have any rituals before entering on stage?
JC: I tell myself the audience is there to enjoy themselves. Most people do not go to a show to have a bad time, so I don't set myself up to combat the audience, rather invite them into the experience. We both need to become relatively vulnerable for that, so it's good to welcome people energetically or sometimes quite literally, by saying something like, "Welcome to my womb! It’s not the warmest place on earth but you are welcome to suck on my performance placenta and also congratulations on leaving the house. A triumph!" I just came up with that now and I will use it at my next show.
TGL: How would you describe your creative process for your writing?
JC: Spontaneous and exciting on rare occasions…Usually, however, I need a forced deadline, then its drudgery - setting my timer for 15 minute increments and barfing out garbage until something sticks. Work is work after all.
TGL: How do you decide on the style for a show?
JC: It generally comes out of the writing. The writing usually has too much in it - too much stuff - and from there it’s about stripping it down to the essentials of the story. That is a hard process, because it involves believing that I am enough without too many bells and whistles. This is something I learned the hard way working with Liz LeCompte and The Wooster Group.
TGL: Your practice is collaborative. You organize a show once a month at Zebulon in Los Angeles called, “Weirdo Night.” How do you cast the people you want to work with?
JC: I take it one show at a time. Sometimes people reach out to me. Sometimes I see someone I like - if I am ever forced to attend nightlife. A lot of the people in my shows are friends, queer community members, or people I’ve been on other bills with. Anyone who excites me creatively and can deliver presence. Sometimes I get an idea for a person who I think is interesting and talented to do something they wouldn't normally do. I’m trying to get the fabulous and famous Tessa Thompson to perform a Shakespearian audition at Weirdo Night. And the mega talent Alia Shawkat to play piano and sing jazz - which is something she does but not publicly! I want to celebrate people's weird creative impulses and if they are famous for something, get them to do something else.
TGL: What makes a performance good to you?
JC: When I have fun.
TGL: What are you currently working on?
JC: I am "in development,” which means a giant vague maybe that lasts forever, with FX on a TV show called Garbage Castle with my writing partner Amanda Verwey and Starburns Industries. It's about Dynasty Handbag living in a one room apartment on top of a pile of trash. A gay dandy possum named Alfred is her roommate voiced by Cole Escola, and her landlord is an inventor hippy named Yoyo played by Maria Bamford. The set design is by Peggy Noland, it’s funny and looks fantastic. If it gets picked up that would be fabulous, but I also know that Hollywood is a monster, so all outcomes will be terrible! And wonderful.
I am also working on a live performance using "improvised animation" with my super computer genius friend Sue Costabile and Pioneer Works called Titanic Depression. It’s about class and climate change. It's based on the epic wankfest 1993 James Cameron film Titanic.
TGL: Who would you like to have lunch with that you don’t already know?
JC: Lily Tomlin
TGL: What advice would you like to give to the readers of The Genius List?
JC: Keep making work, what else is there to do? Or start a rescue farm, and rescue me and put me in the goat pen. Make money and give it away. Feelings won't kill you. The worst things can happen to you, and you will live through it. If you need therapy and can go, go. I don't believe in any kind of reincarnation, accept the one that really happens, which is that we rot and turn into a muddy mineral substance that feeds the soil. This is it! Enjoy life if you can. I spent a lot of time not enjoying it, and it was not very enjoyable. Joy feels better and what is life if not feeling?