#IanInterviews: Dear Jono of Adult Swim

by Ian Carlos Crawford

Behind the Scenes | Photo Cred: Taylor McCormick

“Jono provides answers to today’s questions” is the tagline on Adult Swim’s website for Dear Jono, a call-in show hosted by Jonothon Mitchell.

It’s currently the only queer-centric show on Adult Swim. It’s a lot like the 90s MTV show Loveline…but gayer and with some added Adult Swim-ness. So, you know, better.

Jonothon Mitchell is a web series host, writer, actor, and filmmaker. Before Dear Jono, he hosted a morning show host on the Adult Swim digital series Stupid Morning Bullshit. I got the pleasure of asking him a few questions for Matthew Shepard Foundation about his current work and his upcoming project, Pageant Material.

You can catch him live every Monday at 11 p.m. ET on Dear Jono on Adult Swim.

1. So, tell us about your Adult Swim show, Dear Jono? How did it come about?

“Dear Jono” is a live call-in advice show that streams on AdultSwim.com Monday nights at 11 p.m. ET. The show is dedicated entirely to the viewer. Like all of our streaming programs, “Dear Jono” gives viewers an opportunity to interact directly with us. People can call in for advice or share personal anecdotes about their lives and more than anything it gives our viewers a space to connect and be part of a community.

I pitched this show idea as the antithesis to that late-night radio show “Delilah” and over time it has grown to be more than that.

2. What’s it like being a queer centric show on Adult Swim?

Being a part of the queer-centric show on any network would be exhilarating, but getting to do it with Adult Swim is incredible because of the creative freedom that is encouraged here that is not offered at any other network. You actually see a clear lack of representation across our media landscape, but Adult Swim has given me such a tremendous opportunity to share my authentic voice with our viewers.

Additionally, being in this position has naturally allowed me to cultivate a large LGBTQ fanbase. I’ve spoken to many people through the coming out process and we’ve shared pretty explicit stories about same-sex sexual encounters among other things, but I try to let my viewers hear these stories as human stories first and queer stories second. I want the people to relate to the emotions tied to these anecdotes. That’s what makes the show great, we’re all on the same level.

3. What’s your favorite show on Adult Swim that isn’t yours?

Naturally, I have to say one of my favorite shows is “Rick and Morty.” It’s so well-written and so thought-provoking while also being one of the funniest things on television. I absolutely love the absurdity of “The Eric Andre Show” and when I look back at the network’s catalogue of work I have to recognize that any episode of “The Brak Show” can immediately put me in a good mood no matter what.

4. What’s one of the funniest things that’s happened with one of your callers?

In one of the early episodes of the show, two children stumbled upon the live show while using the app. They couldn’t have been older than 12, but they called in and referred to themselves as Magneto and Reggie from Memphis. Magneto happily lectured me about the dangers of playing sports and I could barely get a word in through his rambling, but it will go down as one of the best moments of the show. Even today I can think about that call and will immediately get teary-eyed from trying my best to hold back laughter. They never called back.

Jono Interviews Randy Havens (Stranger Things), August 20th, 2018 | Photo Cred: Taylor McCormick

5. What’s one of the worst things that’s happened with one of your callers?

If our viewers don’t feel comfortable calling in, they have the chance to send emails outlining their stories or questions. I got an email from this guy about another viewer who is a regular caller. The email was incredibly long so I didn’t actually read it prior to the live show. The show starts and it is a slow night for the phones so I open my email and see this guy has emailed me a second time and his second email suggests I should read the first one prior to reading the one he’s just sent.

I open this email and read the entire thing live on the air. It goes into great detail about his unrequited love for another regular caller. I share all of their business freely. I open his second email to discover he didn’t want me to read or share any details of the first email with the audience. So I panic. I don’t know what to do and then he calls in. He gets choked up, tears are shed, and he shares this really touching speech about how he loves this woman and she’s in the chat just mortified.

I have never been so uncomfortable. I found out later his plea didn’t work and they don’t speak anymore. It is one of the most emotional episodes so far.

6. Tell us about the movie you wrote and directed, Pageant Material? What was it like to direct a movie you also wrote?

You know those people who grow up in towns so small they have to lie and say they’re from a bigger town that’s actually like thirty minutes away from their hometown simply for the sake of conversation? Well, I’m one of those people.

I’m from a small town outside of Natchitoches, LA. They’re only known for their meat pies and for being the filming location of “Steel Magnolias.” However, I like to think that the early influence of Dolly Parton and film production set me on the path I’m on today.

I always knew I wanted to make movies. I started writing scripts as an overweight, flamboyantly gay child and continued to do so until I eventually became an overweight, flamboyantly gay adult. No matter my age I was always hyper aware of the clear lack of accurate representation of the LGBTQ community.

So after spending all of last year making an absurd comedic web series and several wacky short films I resolved to spend this year creating more original content with weight and purpose. I really want to tell stories that showcase positive representation of the LGBTQ community that I was sorely missing as a child. That’s how I developed “Pageant Material.”

As I began to consider different ideas, I was always drawn into telling the story of a teenage drag queen growing up in rural Alabama. It’s a story you don’t hear. Across mainstream and independent media there are very few stories of being gay in the South, let alone stories about being a drag queen in the South. So I took that idea and reworked it as an adaptation of Cinderella and the story for “Pageant Material” was truly born. It was then I was able to take inspiration from so many different aspects of my own life. It was a little bit of small-town life, a little bit of my own nostalgia for my childhood, and a lot of my obsession with “RuPaul’s Drag Race”.

7. What were some of your biggest influences growing up?

I can’t think of any one movie or person that set me down this path. I try my hardest to take a little inspiration from everything. I will say that my current source of daily inspiration is Dan Levy and everything he’s doing on “Schitts Creek”. He’s crafted one of the best comedies currently on the air and he’s done it while showcasing a gay relationship in a way that’s never been done before on television. If people can someday look at this film with the same admiration I have for Dan Levy and “Schitts Creek”, I will have truly succeeded as a filmmaker.

As for comedians I’m in love with Nicole Byers, Mike Birbiglia, Bo Burnham, Michelle Wolf, Nate Bargatze, Ali Wong. I feel like this list is limitless. I also feel like if I don’t specifically say Hannah Gadsby by name then everyone I know will murder me.

8. What’s the last good book you read?

I hate to admit that I don’t read books as much as I should. I did read “Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda” by Becky Albertalli in one sitting and it was everything I wanted it to be. I read a lot of film scripts to really help hone my craft. I read the script for “The Social Network” recently and I’m dying to get my hands on the script for “Eighth Grade.”

9. What’s the last movie you saw that you loved?

When I tell you I cried through most of Crazy Rich Asians I am NOT lying. Oh my God. I sat there misty-eyed the entire time. First off that much representation on screen was so beautiful, then I got to thinking about how I wanted to do that for the Queer community and then THAT WEDDING SCENE. I was a mess. Rightfully so. If that movie doesn’t win Best Popular Film at the Oscars there will be riots. I’m telling you now. Constance Wu forever.

10. If you could tell your younger self something, what would it be?

I think about this a lot. I think I would make sure that I knew things weren’t always going to be easy and I would stress that I shouldn’t always expect them to be. Your hard work isn’t fully paying off unless your wheels occasionally need to be greased. Challenges exist to make you strong. They exist to make you a better person and we should always remember that we are not defined by our challenges, but rather by how we respond to them.

About the author:

Ian Carlos Crawford grew up in southern New Jersey and, like most people from NJ, he graduated from Rutgers University. He then graduated from New School with an MFA in nonfiction writing. His writing has appeared on sites like Geeks Out, BuzzFeed, NewNowNext, and other random corners of the internet. He currently co-hosts a podcast about his favorite thing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, called Slayerfest 98 and is shopping around his fiction manuscript (you can view the book trailer here). Follow him on Twitter: @ianxcarlos.