Jeffrey Marx is a jack of all trades when it comes to entertainment. He has gone from stage acting and directing to stand-up, podcasting, improv, being a reality TV contestant, and now, a casting director for some of the most popular shows on television. Not without a few bumps along the way, his passion for the industry has also taken him from couch surfer to Emmy winner. Very strong in his opinions, he can chat you up about any of the hottest political or social issues but will probably end up dishing on the latest episode of this reality TV show or that. How could he know that his early obsession with reality TV would lead to being an Emmy-winning member of that same industry?
MTV’s The Real World debuted my freshman year in high school. I thought, “What a cool way to make new friends!” and “Oh, there are other gay people out there?” Not every teenager realized that in 1992. My love for the genre was easily set in stone and I became a scholar of social dynamics and what makes people tick. Getting bullied at lunchtime for being fat and effeminate honed my skills. If I could turn the tables with my words and make the audience laugh at the bullies, then the power was mine and they’d leave me alone. Be a spectacle and flip it in your favor. Maybe it was my flair for drama or my youthful obsession with playground alliances, but reality TV seemed to be in my blood.
Jeffrey’s first professional brush with reality TV came when he was cast on The Glass House, ABC’s short-lived take on Big Brother. In true Marx form, his appearance turned into a statement of gay inclusion, religion vs. sexuality, and body positivity. What did he learn most about reality TV from his time on the show?
That when you leave it up to American voters, the most deserving doesn’t win. My story arch on the show was one of two players whose truth and authenticity were inspiringly stunning, but neither of us won. The straight, white, reasonably attractive, conservative male easily wins by doing nothing but show up. I actually thought the gay guy could finally win. I didn’t. This was before our insane politics of today and I always wonder what a show like Glass House would be like now, keeping in mind all the societal issues that face us currently.
Facing societal issues is just what Jeffrey does, it’s his second nature. Raised in ultra-conservative Orange County, California, he found his safe space in the theater department at Orange Coast College and a local theatre company where he was able to perform and direct pieces from controversial writers. In a climate where money and exclusivity rule, he was telling his story, unaffected by what people might think of him. Truth was extremely important to him, especially regarding his sexuality.
My position on it was that I would never lie about who I was – and no one asked. My mom sweetly made sure to tell me through the years that whoever I wanted to be was OK with her. In my first semester of college, I took a speech class with a wonderful teacher who made us write about a secret. I wrote about being bisexual. When we had our one-on-one meetings, she was like, just make sure this is a truthful essay and I was like ok, “I’m gay.” I folded so fast. I started painting my fingernails the next day.
Part of that truth that he has always shared is his acceptance of his body and challenging the norms, even within the gay community, that did not regard “fat” people as welcome.
I never felt a struggle with my self-confidence as it related to my size. I truly have no idea why. I do wish I let my confidence carry into my sexual life earlier than it did when I moved to NYC at age 25. For a long time, I thought only fat people have sex with fat people, but as I grew into a fully realized gay human, I realized that you never know who is going to be attracted to you. And the confidence you swing around is a big part of what gets their attention. People with self-love glow a little brighter and others are drawn to that feeling because they want it too. Be OK with the fact that you aren’t going to be everyone’s type, know what’s hot about yourself, and they’ll find you.
Jeffrey has become an important part of the bear community, from his work on screen as well as behind. He has hosted events, attended a million of them, and has brought along a shy bear or two (or a hundred).
My first summer playing with the bears was a little intense. I was in my mid-20s and was immediately thrown into a polyamorous explosion where everyone slept with everyone’s boyfriends and people you thought were your friends didn’t care about boundaries. I made some lifelong friends (and enemies) in the community but ultimately I took a step back from being super involved.
When I moved to Los Angeles in my mid-30s, I quickly adapted to the chill, Californian ways. More guys, less pretentiousness, and a booming chubby chaser scene. I think for the most part today, yes, we are a diverse-minded group of progressive queer folks. Way more so than the scene twenty years ago.
When Jeffrey came into conflict with another cast member on The Glass House, haters would easily attack Marx on his weight. Nothing new to him, that was the easy joke. But his presence on television proved that bigger people have a right to be on television, and they are damn good at it. Now, as a casting director, he sees what networks are looking for and what they are discussing behind the scenes when it comes to terms of casting heavier-set people. Is body positivity really getting better, even in the LGBTQ entertainment circle?
It has in the way that people with different body types are visible and proud. Their unique attractiveness is elevated and that opens minds to seeing what can be hot about different people. My Grindr bio now says “Ever been curious about having sex with a fat guy? Hit me up. I’m great.” Way bigger response now than I ever would have imagined, especially in this post-vaccination era where the gays be wildin’! There will always be room for improvement, but I do think we have hit a stride in finding beauty in non-traditional ways. As a casting producer, I know myself and my colleagues always keep this in mind when building shows.
He has become an activist – for both queer and plus-size individuals – using any platform he can to candidly address these issues and call people on their BS. Nothing new for Jeffrey. His presence during the protests on Wall Street became a visual phenomenon on its own.
I was poor, unemployed, and mad at our government. The Occupy Wall Street movement really changed the way people talk about how money influences power in our government. We the people get screwed on a regular basis and if we all could take a breath and join forces, we could make the real changes that need to be made. Like the health care system for starters!
His entertainment career would shift from acting and comedy to casting for reality TV, and ultimately his Emmy win. He was a quick study and was soon working on TV’s top shows, learning about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the genre firsthand.
Hollywood Game Night and America’s Got Talent were my first gigs. Testing games with Jane Lynch and Sean Hayes was a warm welcome to the world of TV. Be kind, be genuine, be funny and people love you. My experience on AGT was the opposite – colleagues throwing you under the bus, lies, manipulation, artistic theft, and being pitted against each other by our superiors. It was an equally important lesson that not everyone is your friend and showing passion, drive and a good work ethic is actually threatening to mediocre professionals. The casting industry isn’t unionized, so workplace protections and regulated practices don’t exist. Yet.
His knack for casting took him farther and farther away from his stage and TV time, did he have any regret in putting that part of his talent on the back burner?
In retrospect, absolutely not. Acting and comedy were a blast and if I had the time and financial resources to keep it as the focus, I’d have kept at it. And kudos to those that do! Especially without the aid of others. Being an artist is a struggle and I admire all of us who keep at it, despite the uncertainty of it all. Many of us start as performers and become great at other entertainment-related fields – producing, marketing, design, and publicity. It’s all valuable. Casting fulfilled a creative element, and I could pay rent, so that’s the path I followed.
Even with his successes in the casting world, projects exist individually so when a gig is done, it’s done. This meant no promises of a steady paycheck, no calendar of when the next job was coming, which also meant having to move in with his family at certain points, and even couch surfing. Even with other obstacles such as a car accident, family issues, and other situations outside of his control, he was unfettered. This was his life. What kept him going through these tougher times?
Hope. We live in a world where hope can be difficult to hold on to and I’ve always had a core center of hope and truth. Sometimes hope gets lost, but if you draw on your strength, you can find it again. Being on a creative path, there will be highs and lows. It’s a marathon and if you believe in your skills, then you have to strap in for the long game.
As the boom in LGBTQ representation in the media continued, it was only a matter of time before Jeff’s queerness would come full circle and he would finally be able to work on a show that was part of this truth. He would come to work on HBO’s hit show, We’re Here, featuring Drag Race alum Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka, and Shangela traveling to small, conservative towns across the nation to celebrate queer and ally culture through drag shows and intimate explorations into small town life.
I had just finished working on MTV’s The Real World when a new production company reached out to me to help cast a pilot. They described it only as “a queer travel show.” Once hired, they explained the entire concept. Season one was built by me and the showrunner. It was the most creative power I’ve ever had on a project, like everything I had worked on in my life equipped me to put that show together. After going on the shoot in Gettysburg and working with Bob, Shangela and Eureka, it was clear we had something special. It’s knockout documentary filmmaking and that’s because everyone who works on that show is operating at the top of their craft. It was the first time I ever felt a fully supportive TV family.
Marx would have the opportunity to bring the show “home,” in a manner of speaking.
My entire family moved to Temecula, California, about 12 years ago. The conservative vibes there always made me feel out of place and like I needed to mute my identity. So, when we started looking at California towns, I knew the western wineries of Temecula would serve as a picture-perfect backdrop to explore a conservative pocket in a liberal state. All of the stories in that episode entwined so well together and inspired the local LGBTQ community to start being more visible. Now, just a year and a half after filming, Temecula has drag brunches (even if conservative city council members led protests against them) and their Temecula Valley Pride is bigger and better than ever. It makes me feel good that my tiny push in the right direction has blossomed into tons of queer presence in that town – a place where I was told to shut up at a restaurant for talking to my sister about a guy I was dating. Where I once was shy about holding hands in public, I now feel emboldened. It is fascinatingly satisfying to see change like that in real-time.
Does Jeffrey think LGBTQ representation in media is here to stay?
Simply existing as a queer person is inherently political. Unscripted television reflects the state of society as we travel through the years, so we will always be visible. I don’t think it’s forced at all; I think it’s necessary and those at the top know it. Also, follow the money. Queer dollars count and we’ve had fantastic wins in TV shows made just for us and about us. Billy Porter recently said on The View, “The reason the pushback that we’re getting from Florida … is because the change has already happened. That’s what I’m starting to talk about.” Look how many seasons of Drag Race exist on a global level. Who cares what the vocal minority has to say about queer culture? We’re not only here to stay, but we’re also here to steer entertainment.
This last Emmy nomination season, Jeffrey was at his office desk (aka his dining room) looking for any possible nominations for the latest season of We’re Here. His pleasant surprise, his name was up in lights – not for We’re Here, but for another passion project show of his, Love on the Spectrum. The show follows people on the autism spectrum as they navigate the world of dating and relationships, something Jeffrey and his mom, Candy, had some closeness to. She was his first call.
Many lifetimes ago, I worked as a paraeducator in the special education field. My mom worked from age 18 to retirement with people with disabilities and it was a natural skill she had passed down to me. The secret to working as a job coach and teacher for people on the spectrum was to just talk to them honestly and listen with care. Don’t treat them any differently than anyone else and you would build a solid rapport in the classroom. If We’re Here was the culmination of years of being an out gay man who was a reality TV encyclopedia, Love on the Spectrum U.S. was the culmination of all the training and advice my mom had instilled in me about a community that was very near and dear to our hearts.
Casting the show would be a unique experience for Jeffrey, everything he had learned during his time as a counselor was now his biggest resource. Life had come full circle yet again.
My interview process for Love on the Spectrum U.S. was all through zoom – multiple producers working separately on different components. Days would go by during quarantine and the only people I talked to were those I was interviewing for the show. We don’t get people automatically applying for a show like Love on the Spectrum, so outreach, researching, building trust, and pitching the show to the autism community were of top importance to gain momentum. It can be difficult to prove you’re a legit producer over the phone and the internet, so having an open and honest social media presence and an authentic passion for the project in my voice really helped. Connecting in an authentic way with other humans on zoom can be exhausting during an endless pandemic, but the instinctual honesty of people on the spectrum was refreshing. Truth is a cornerstone in my life and the people I was interviewing sensed and appreciated that. I leaned into my past abilities to build fast relationships in a language and style I had learned from my mom so many years ago. Every person I interviewed had charming insights and opened their hearts and we always left the conversation on a hopeful note. A much-needed energy boost during trying times.
I’ve been asked many times “What’s the best thing about working with people on the spectrum?” For me, it’s that they can effortlessly demonstrate unconditional love. Their truthful and direct communication should be admired for its simplicity. I wish every neurotypical person could drop our social masks and egos to dig deep and connect our hearts. The world would be a better place.
Jeffrey has never been dazzled by star power or affected by the grandiosity of Hollywood. If you’ve followed Jeffrey’s career, it was endearing to see Jeffrey prepare for the Emmys by looking for his tux and changing his Facebook name to “Emmy Nominated.” He has earned his place at the table, through years of literal blood, sweat, and tears. Oh, and he took his mom. Oh, and he won.
I’m still in shock, honestly. It’s never been something that I focused on or expected, but now that it’s here it feels very good. Like, I’ve accomplished something that really solidifies me as a master at the craft. I’m allowing this win to represent all the work I’ve put so much effort in through the last decade. Every show, every experience, is part of me and I will be holding them all in my heart.
With an Emmy award in hand, he is ready as ever to use his platform to once again speak up for activism, this time for his casting peers.
We have to unionize. So many sections of entertainment have unions and unscripted casting is truly a wild west shark tank extravaganza. In order to regulate pay and put workplace protections into place, we have to collectively join forces as professionals. The writer’s union in scripted TV is willing to help us shape our area of entertainment, but we must get organized to do it. Some production companies and small casting companies have good-hearted, mission-based professionals at the helm – and some simply do not. I’ve met some of the best, brightest people in the world through casting and some of the most empty-souled, viciously ego-centric, shady maniacs on earth. The only way it changes is to band together in the name of good.
Still working from home, he is engaged with another show for another major network that he can’t talk about. It’s clear he’s good at his job, it’s clear he is a modern-day trailblazer, and it’s clear he hasn’t forgotten his comedy.
If I can’t get back into real offices soon, I may just stumble around with my Emmy begging, “I graduated TV Land, can I have a steady job now?” I’d hate to leave a freelance career that I’m so well suited for, but I’d trade it in for stability as long as it still felt like I was helping change lives for the better in some way.
You can follow Jeffrey on IG: @JeffMarxtheSpot
Last modified: October 4, 2022