Gay actor and performer Jack Tracy, the creator and star of the acclaimed web series, History, sits down to talk to About Magazine about his forthcoming freshman album, Older, and much more.
(NEW YORK CITY) – When it comes to television, there aren’t a lot of options available that are central to just the LGBTQIA community. Sure, it’s commonplace in the late 2010s to have a sassy, gay best friend who is constantly sleeping around and panders to straight audiences with flair and histrionics, or maybe even a butch lesbian that is the punchline of U-Haul jokes and poor clothing choices by way of the show’s stylist. And for chrissakes, it takes an act of Congress to get a trans person more than a few minutes of screentime. Even with shows like Transparent coming back to Amazon with a plot now centering around more of its previously-supporting trans actors, there is literally no room made at the table for trans and nonbinary artists to paint a genuine and relevant picture on a canvas for their communities. Even in the age of the aforementioned Transparent and rebooted Queer Eye or Will & Grace, there are not a lot of intermediaries that depict an accurate portrayal of LGBTQIA life on the screen. Is it because queer artists aren’t writing them? Hell no. It’s because networks and studios aren’t producing them.
Enter Jack Tracy — the gay attorney and New York City resident in his thirties who one day tired of the mundane aspects of his life. Sure, he had friends and wasn’t hurting for money. But Jack’s creative muse — and maybe even his Id, as Freud may have put it — was starved for attention. In turn, he was not living a life he felt was fulfilling; and the lack of LGBTQIA representation in the media (or maybe even more accurately, how LGBTQIA folks are portrayed in the media) was only affecting him further.
So Mr. Tracy took it upon himself to do what many studios and networks have only hesitantly and in small increments been willing to do: he began creating queer video content. Better yet, when Jack begat his content centered around gay characters, it wasn’t about living the flashy life or the perpetuation the stereotypes involving glamorous parties, sexy Grindr hook-ups, or irresponsible drug use. No, Tracy wanted to — and did — give LGBTQIA characters a depth that they often lack in the way that they’re represented. He dug past the frivolousness and superficialities to create a character named Jamie in a then-small web series entitled History. So what was so special about Tracy’s creation that made it stand apart from the others?
Absolutely everything. Jack Tracy employed a method of writing for his main character I first heard described by television writer and creator of the original Charmed series, Constance M. Burge. As Burge put it about her trio sister of witches portrayed by Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs, and Alyssa Milano (and later Rose McGowan) from 1998-2006, Charmed was created to be a show not about witches who happened to be sisters, but sisters who happened to be witches. And that was just the thing that Tracy implemented into his narrative. He wasn’t using Jamie as a soap box to shout the needs of equality or to end discriminatory behavior (or, at least, not so blatantly). No, Jack created a series not about protagonists that were gay and happen to have normal love, personal, and professional lives, but one about characters who had normal love, personal, and professional lives (albeit not without their own disparities) … who just so happen to be gay.
In doing so — and possibly without even knowing it — Jack Tracy progressed LGBTQIA normalization in a subtle way. By eliminating the preachiness often credited to the Ellen show of the ’90s, the showrunner, creator, and star of History presented gay characters in lives and with feelings not unlike straight or cisgender characters who haunt the screen of nearly every station or streaming service at any given time. Then — by tapping into the emotions that were neither queer-centric nor heteronormative — Tracy took possibly unconscious steps in the normalization of queer characters to a not entirely queer audience.
And he did so at the perfect time, all things considered. With a vice president who has openly denounced homosexuality and in the past called for conversion therapy, when trans murder rates at all-time highs in just the past 7 months, and with countless people openly discriminating against the LGBTQIA community, Tracy’s once-small, pipe dream web series — which has moved on to critical acclaim, receiving innumerable accolades, including the Los Angeles Film Award for Best Web Series — has gone on not only to entertain, delight, and bring audiences to tears, but to inspire queer people to make things happen for themselves, even if no one in the world has given them permission to do so.
And this Friday, the star of the show will be releasing his first-ever album, entitled Older, for which he is in the early stages of planning a national tour. The album’s first single, “Satisfaction”, was released late last month and can be found under the header of this article above (the official music video can also be found in the interview below).
Jack sat down with About Magazine editor-in-chief, Anthony Ramirez, for an interview on Wednesday, June 11th to talk about his life and inspirations, Older, “Satisfaction”, his forthcoming film that is currently in postproduction, and how fans can help make the third season of History come to life (hint, hint: you can click on this subtly highlighted text to donate to the cause).
Anthony Ramirez: Can you tell me about when you decided to create the album and what inspired it?
Jack Tracy: Yeah! I guess it all goes back to when I turned … I’d say like 31, I had this sort of epiphany. I was in a place in my life where I was at my day job, I had my social circle, and I kind of thought to myself, Is this it? Am I just gonna do this ’til I die? Is this the end? And I sort of just decided that any little dream, any little thing that I always wanted to do, I just had to go and do them. I mean, you only live once. So I told myself, “If you wanna do a show, go do that show. If you wanna sing a song, go write that song to sing it.” So, I sort of just made this mantra that whatever dream I had, I was just gonna do it. So, an album has always been on the list, but I didn’t have the knowledge or skills to really make it what I wanted to make it. So, I did a little cabaret show where I sang some covers and really enjoyed that. And it was through the process of making my web series, History, and since I’m a do-everything-yourself person, I had to teach myself how to make music — electronic music. I have a musical background, but I wasn’t familiar with the software. I wasn’t proficient.
So, I really taught myself how to do it so that I could make background music for all of the […] scenes [in History] without having to go out and license a bunch of pre-made music. […] I did not want to go through the nightmare of licensing; and I am an attorney, so I know how that works. So, I made these really basic, like, club beats that I thought, “These will be good for the background.” And then there were a few of them that I really fell in love with, and I thought, Well, if I can do this, why don’t I spend some time really pushing them a bit more and adding a bit more? And then taking them to a sound engineer to get that those things fixed and to get recorded? I mean, I had recorded vocals for History. But other than that it was just piano. And so I knew how to make beats, I had a relationship with a sound engineer. So, if you’re a fan of the web series, you will hear the first sort of pass at a lot of the instrumentals that are currently on Older.
Yeah, I wanted to ask about that. Because when I watched the first season of History, one of the first things I noticed — because I’m a music person, too — is that piano piece that plays in the opening scene of the pilot. And I wondered if that was an original piece of yours.
Yeah, it’s all original. The only thing that isn’t original in History would be, in the first season, anything that’s electronic that’s like background, club-y beats, party beats — that wasn’t me. That was all licensed. But in the second season, that’s when I took it over. I wrote the song “Take It All Away”, which is the motif that plays throughout season one; and I wrote the song “Together”, which plays throughout season two; and I have a new one, “You Lose”, that I’m still working on for season three. The idea with that is that each season has a song that sort of speaks to the themes of the season’s emotional arc; and then I use pieces of that instrumentation as the motif throughout the series.
Okay! Before we get too much into History, with Older — that album comes out on Friday the 20th, I believe — I noticed one thing when I was listening to your single, “Satisfaction”, that it’s sort of got an early ’90s feel to it. And especially that song is sort of a “fuck you; I don’t need you; I’m not going to give you the satisfaction” song. Is there something specific that kind of inspired that? Because I know that you’d said elsewhere that the album is meant to be listened to in order from one track to the next.
So, with “Satisfaction”, the story of the song is of course about an ex, because I believe that that’s the best way to encapsulate the feeling within the narrative of an ex. Like, who is your classic romantic villain but the ex?
But in terms of what I was trying to communicate and what I was feeling, the idea was — and for this, I really try to emphasize my LGBTQ+ eye toward these situations — that there are a lot of people in your life that want to get a reaction out of you […] We pick fights with each other in order to have a little drama. It’s just what happens and I see it happen regularly. And I could psychoanalyze why that is, but … The point is that if someone is getting on your nerves, think about what their entire is to work you up and get a reaction out of you. So, maybe don’t give them the satisfaction of that; and maybe just move along with your day. And that was sort of the kernel, and then [it] was wrapped in this “ex” sort of narrative in order to be more universal.
I think that that’s true. And a lot of the issues we’re having in the LGBTQ+ community is because of infighting, which makes it hard for us to progress when we really need to be, as long as that’s going on.
So, I appreciate you sharing that part of the song. It’s a really solid and important stance to take.
Just to get a little more into History, tell me about how this started as a show, as well as about how Necessary Outlet [Tracy’s production company] got started.
Okay, so Necessary Outlet sort of started as my “midlife crisis”. It hit when I was in my early thirties and I was in a relationship that I wasn’t very happy in; I was in social circles I wasn’t necessarily happy in; and I had a job that made me a fair amount of money, but I wasn’t really happy with. And I think the pivotal moment was at my 30th birthday party, which I walked out of alone and trudged through an apocalyptic snow storm in New York City, as we tend to get right around my birthday. Then I just sort of thought to myself, Something has to be different. I have got to do something different with my life. This cannot be it. So, in college I was — and even though now I am an attorney — I was a musical theatre major. I loved performance. I was a dancer first, singer second, and actor third. And it was just, you know, why not just use my resources to see if I can do this.
So, the idea was to launch Necessary Outlet, because I wanted a channel of LGBT content that was focused on visibility and telling our stories in a way that the center of the story, or the center of the piece — whether that be music or a series or whatever — is not “I’m gay and I’m fierce. High school sucked; college was meh; now I have money and I have lots of sex; life is amazing; it gets better.” And that’s not to say that that narrative doesn’t need to be told — but it is told. I think by everyone! I think it’s sort of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and the center of, I don’t know, how many campaigns? It’s the center of a lot of things. But what I wanted to do was to tell the stories of, “These are just four people who are dating,” or, you know I have a show called Big Law, “This is just a corporate law firm. These are just people working in a corporate law firm and [it just so happens] the protagonist is gay.” The show is not about him being gay. But the protagonist is gay. And it was just about telling our stories — and telling universal stories with an LGBTQ+ point of view.
I think that’s really important. It’s definitely a shift in the perspective of the narrative. Because at that point, you’ve taken away the soap box and made the content easier to relate to and it normalizes LGBTQ+ people. One thing that I noticed with History is that it’s simple in its relatability. In my opinion, that’s done mainly through the characterization of not only [the protagonist] Jamie, but also the supporting characters. Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind the other characters, as well?
Oh, yeah! Well, when I launched this, I did a little cabaret, and then it was History. And, in order to build everything up, I sort of had to break down and break away from everything that was not helpful to me. So, during that time and right before that time, I had just gone through this break-up and a move-out. And then I was [in this place] where I had been in New York City for ten years and I suddenly felt like I was starting again from zero, and kind of just had to rebuild everything. And through that I was taking a screenwriting course. So, I was writing the script as sort of an exercise, as a practice in [the way of], “Can I write a narrative? Can I do this? Am I good at this?” But that was also very therapeutic. And that’s sort of why the first pass of the scripts sort of just look like angry diary entries. [Laughs]
And then it sort of got me to a place where I had to set them aside for a year. I’d gotten a new job, so I wanted to focus on the new job and make sure that I was solid there. And then, after a year, I turned back to the scripts. Let’s polish these up and turn them into more of a narrative and make them something. […] Everything in History is based on something — a plot point that has happened to myself or a friend/acquaintance. You know, Will is based off of my best friend; Matthew is based off of another friend; and I found that my skills as a writer was taking real events, finding the relatable emotions and underlying story, then weaving it into a narrative. Not everything happened exactly the way it happened, and not everything happened in quite the order that it happens. But it was sort of like me vision boarding with here are all of these things I find interesting, useful, relevant, or that people could connect to emotionally. Then I had to ask, how can I crack this into a 6-episode arc that tells an overall story?
And so, that’s what I did! [Laughs] Season two happened the same way; and now going into season three.
As a content creator, it is 100% ambition and not letting the fact that you don’t know everything and aren’t particularly qualified to do everything stop you from trying. […] it’s about not letting perfect be the enemy of good; and then putting it out there and moving on to the next thing.
What’s great about History is, sort of like you said, that its foundation is in some underlying level of truth. And from the very first episode, “Void”, when Jamie is sitting in the restaurant with his friend, Bianca, the dialogue feels very authentic and genuine.
Well, thank you very much.
You’re welcome. And to that point, I kind of want to take note that television — especially in the 2010s — does not spend so much time on exposition as it used to. Even looking at shows in the early 2000s like Gilmore Girls, which really spent a lot of time on just dialogue and getting to know characters. I found that to be one of the strong points of History.
Thank you! And that’s partially because I think that’s my strength as a writer: dialogue. And maybe that comes from my legal background, because it’s very — I almost find that style of writing to be like a persuasive brief, or an oral argument.
[Laughs] Yeah, absolutely.
I mean, Gilmore Girls was great! I love that I get to be compared to something like that. Just the witty turn-of-phrase, the quick back-and-forths and quick returns. That’s what I love. And the shows that I really fell in love with growing up were […] extremely expository. For instance, I’m a huge Star Trek fan; and that show is nothing by sci-fi exposition and techno babble. And then you have things like Will & Grace, where there’s all this quick one-liners and amazing zingers back and forth. I love David E. Kelley shows like Ally McBeal, Picket Fences, The Practice, and [its spin-offs] Boston Legal and Boston Public. I like — well, and also my love for theatre probably plays into that, as well, as a theatre major. I mean, I love dialogue. And when it’s smart, it just captures you and it sucks you in. And I hope that what I’m writing, that’s what it’s going to be like.
Absolutely. And with those shows — like you mentioned Will & Grace, which just recently came back — it’s just “banter-banter-banter-banter-banter”. Even shows like Murphy Brown, which is also coming back, were similar in that regard. Those sort of shows that were built around dialogue-based story telling, we’re seeing now that it’s making a bit of a comeback — even in a bit from the LGBTQ+ perspective. And a lot of where that’s happening is actually outside of network television.
You’re a part of something that we’re seeing more of now. What that is is that we are kind of existing in this realm — and probably because everything is more accessible to us — wherein more and more people are becoming content creators themselves and tasking themselves in that way; and you’re definitely a part of that. I know from similar experience with our magazine and with my work in television that this is not an easy thing. It does not come without some level of suffering.I mean you aren’t just doing it with History and with Older, but you have your other series, Big Law, not to mention you just wrapped up production on a movie, and then your other show, Millennial Memoir. Can you give your fans a little insight into what that’s like? What is that like wearing so many hats and being in these positions while also working a 9-to-5 job as an attorney?
So, well … the 9-to-5 is what finances it.
[Laughs] Right now, I am doing my first attempt at crowdfunding. Everything else has been self-finance. I understand that [crowdfunding] is where most people start; and I’m just very fortunate that I have the resources of my own that I can tap into on my own. Other content creators don’t necessarily always have that. There are some people who don’t have those [resources] and have to do favor-trading with other [artists]. And that’s not to say that my stuff isn’t low budget. But there are some folks who have to go out and grab a $100 HandyCam, or who have to record on their iPhones — but you use what you have to get it done. You do whatever you have to do to get it done, no matter how you do it.
So, I’m doing crowdfunding for season three, because — as you noted — I have a lot of stuff going on and the dollar starts stretching. So, I guess the hardest part in content creating — and I hate that term. I understand it’s the term we’re supposed to use. But for me it’s like, [with faux-arrogance] “Oh, my brand. I’m a content creator. Synergy.”
No, I get that 100%.
But, as a content creator, it is 100% ambition and not letting the fact that you don’t know everything and aren’t particularly qualified to do everything stop you from trying. I think to be a successful content creator is to fall on your face over-and-over-and-over again; and to learn-and-learn-and-learn and keeping applying those lessons to get better-and-better. It can be demoralizing. You can … I don’t know … make this thing that you think is really great, and then the audio or something isn’t the best, but it was the best that you could do. So, it’s about not letting perfect be the enemy of good; and then just putting it out there and moving on to the next thing.
Now, the community itself is still developing. You know the different showrunners and directors, the people who head this stuff up, are very ambitious people who are focused on their successes. So the community is kind of a community in name only. We see each other certain festivals and at certain events. And there can be favor trading and some, “Oh, use this tech guy or this sound person.” But overall, everyone is very driven and focused on their own thing and trying to get noticed and seen. My take on it, as Necessary Outlet Productions, is that I am not focused on my narrative. I’m focused on LGBT narrative. I’m not focused on one form of narrative. I want movies; I want series; I want albums; I want live shows; I want a theatre production; I want a touring show; I want dance — I want everything.
I saw an interview with Tyler Perry the other day […] and I really appreciated his outlook. And that was that you make it yourself, you create it yourself, you don’t sell anything. You build-and-build-and-build. Then that equity pays off in the future by having this major portfolio and being able to say that you own all this content and can do what you want with it.
No one out there holds the permission to do what you want to do. Don’t wait […] Do everything you want to do; do it now; do it with your all; and don’t wait for someone to tell you to go.
Well, if you think about, Tyler Perry was really one of the pioneers who started this trend of self-creation — especially so for people of our generations.
Before we saw Diary of a Mad Black Woman hit movie theaters, seeing someone put out this much content from the theatre stage to the movie screen and even to television was not really something that was done. And then to be done by a person of color was even more impressive.
And to go back to something you said a minute ago, which was that [Tyler Perry] was someone who was not always necessarily the most qualified to do what he was doing, and he was often nailed to a cross by the critics, but he just kept going and never gave up.
And — did you know? — he now has the largest movie studio. Period. The largest. It’s in Atlanta, they even filmed parts of Black Panther there. It is the largest movie studio.
Oh, and his best friend is Oprah Winfrey. I mean … if Oprah thinks you’re doing a good job, you probably are.
I think that I where I am right now — and I try not to compare myself to anyone because everyone’s experiences are different — but if I were to compare my journey to his journey, I am at the stage of doing the local theatre productions to build the audiences. I am meeting the community through the album. The goal is to start traveling. I have Jersey City Pride booked, I’m hoping to get other Prides booked. I wanna go out and meet the community. Right now, Necessary Outlet is very New York City […] So, the goal is to go out and meet people, then hopefully the album and the tour that I’d love to put together will go along with that.
I think it’s so impressive, everything that you’re doing. It’s even more so impressive because of someone who not only works a 9-to-5, but who is an attorney, which is obviously not an easy job and I’m sure is extremely demanding of your time. Do you sleep? Is there ever a reprieve for you?
The problem is that I’m like my father and I don’t know how to sit still.
Oh, trust me. I get that.
Like today, I’ll go home from work; then my son — who is a six-year-old cocker spaniel — and I will sit and watch television. And, you know, I was religiously watching RuPaul […] but let me tell you, on commercial breaks, my brain is going. I’m jotting things down; I’m coming up with ideas; I’m making to-do lists; I’m ordering props for the next shoot. Which, we just had the shoot for the second video this past weekend and we have another coming up. But, for me, it’s a matter of “this is a marathon”, so I need to be moving and keeping a steady pace.
Obviously the acclaim for History has been wonderful. You won the Los Angeles Film Award for Best Web Series and soooo many other accolades. What can your audience who have been keeping up with the first two seasons expect from season three?
I will say that anything I share will only happen if we reach our funding goal. We started today [Wednesday, June 11th] and we are at 33% [currently at 41% at time of publication]. We need $7,000 to make it happen, so we’ve gotta get the money. It’s time for our fans to jump in.
The idea for season three is all about taking past circumstances, juxtaposing them with the present, and sort of showing the growth and maturity that comes with being a gay man. It also shows how you evolve, and how program out of situations, and your views on love and friendships uniquely through the lens of a gay man. So, in season one it was putting a break-up from the past up against the present rebuilding of a life. In season two, which began a year later, it was showing the evolution of friendship coupled with the flashbacks of what happened over said year that got us from Point A to Point B and what was different a year later. The flashbacks showed us how events turned, what led us here, and how things got that way. And season three is going back as far as you can go back to answer the question What is love? for Jamie, for Will, and for Matthew. And it’s a sort of answer, I think, for each. For Jamie we are going to see that through his most formative relationship that I think is at the center of every gay man and what he understands love to be. And that is his relationship … with his mother.
Ooooh, okay. So you are really delving into the introspection.
Yeah! And it’s the first time I cannot play my past self [on screen]; because as young as I may look without a beard, I can no longer pass for 18 anymore.
So, we’re going to have to actually have to cast a Young Jamie.
Oh! And before we go, give us a little info about the movie you just produced.
Omigod. I am so excited because I just finished the first cut last night. And I cried because I had finally made my first movie. I’m very excited to see it, but I still have a lot of work to do. It’s called Snowflake. It takes place in a world not unlike our own — a political landscape not unlike our own, but from LGBTQ point-of-view. [In it], a Trump-like character has become president. There is a VP who is very much like Mr. Pence. So, the plot is two interwoven stories. One is that of the VP, and one is that of a gay man in New York dealing with the changes in society and the changes in politics that come from that election, how they process their anger, and how far they’re willing to go to protect their [way of] life. It’s very much [about] how a community and society — at least during my lifespan — has socially progress, then reaching a peak where it feels like we’re about to take a dip.
Oh, and without even knowing [at the time of production] what was coming, there’s a lot of [parallel] stuff about the Supreme Court in there. So, I definitely want to get this out immediately. We talk about gun control. We talk about a lot of what’s going on right now, but from an LGBT point-of-view of someone on the ground. [It’s about] how they get past things in their daily lives, their emotional state, their friendships, their ability to concentrate and to have relationships when they are consumed by bad news.
That sounds really, really exciting. I can’t wait to get to see it. And congratulations on finishing your first movie. That is no small accomplishment.
Thank you very much.
You’re very welcome. So, my last question for you is this: I know we started off this interview saying that all of this started off as a passion project for you and you joked that it was a bit of a midlife crisis for you. So, with that in mind, if you could give younger Jack any small nugget of wisdom, what would that be?
Oh, let me give that a second of thought. [Laughs] I would say … [Pause for thought] … that there is no one out there who holds the permission to do what you want to do. No one is going to tap you and tell you, “Okay! You can do this. Go do it.” Don’t wait. There is no one out there that is going to give you the permission to do it. Just. Go. And do it. Do everything you want to do; do it now; do it with your all; and don’t wait for someone to tell you to go.
You can follow Jack Tracy online and on social media by clicking the links below:
To purchase “Satisfaction” on iTunes, click here.
To pre-order Older on iTunes, click here.
And to donate to the third season of Jack’s web series, History, click here.