After Roland Emmerich’s failed telling of the Stonewall Riots in his 2015 Hollywood flick, Stonewall, we were overdue for a more accurate and representative portrayal of the historical events. In the spirit of LGBT History Month, which runs through October, everyone’s favorite informational show, Drunk History, decided to take on the story of trans pioneers Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera and the iconic Christopher Street bar.
“There’s all this controversy about casting cisgender actors in trans roles, so it’s nice that [Comedy Central] wanted to be authentic and give that role to a trans person,” says actress Alexandra Grey, who recently completed filming for Dustin Lance Black's new miniseries, When We Rise, set to air this January.
“I really wanted to challenge myself to comedy,” continues Grey, who shot a last-minute addition tape for Johnson in her hotel room, while working on the project. “I think they called the same day and said, We want her. So that was cool.”
Grey had previously acted alongside Trace Lysette (Sylvia Rivera) before reuniting on Drunk History’s Stonewall set in Los Angeles. “Alexandra worked on Transparent season 3,” says Lysette, who has starred as Shea, a trans friend of Maura’s (Jeffrey Tambour) in each season of the Amazon hit series. “She played a suicidal teen in the first episode.”
Drunk History's Stonewall Riots segment deftly blends the humor we can expect from the series, with an educational component that will reach many straight, cisgender Comedy Central viewers.
“I think getting people engaged by whatever means is the goal,” says Lysette. “So if comedy is what lures people to watch a show about the birth of the Gay Liberation Movement—if comedy is the in, the thing that cracks the door open—then so be it. For me, it’s okay. Of course, it’s a serious topic, but conversation is how you heal and how you grow and create change.”
The six-minute clip follows Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera as they rally their Village queer community to fight against a violent, discriminatory police force, and in effect launch the Gay Liberation Movement.
But Stonewall isn’t some far-removed historical location for Lysette. It holds an authentic place in her life.
“I have a deep connection with Sylvia because just over a decade ago, in my youth, I was a working girl in the Village, too, and I know that that survival and that way of life is also common for a lot of queer youth. Stonewall was the first gay club I went to in New York City. It was kind of a full circle moment for me—to speak [Sylvia's] voice now that she’s not here, to continue the legacy.”
Johnson and Rivera have become both iconic historical figures and friends. Their relationship is one that still inspires the queer community today, including Lysette, who tells us the advice she'd give to her younger self when she was around Rivera's 18 years of age during the Stonewall Riots.
“Try to remind yourself daily how special you are. Know that there is no love like self-love. If you can just start that journey, you will be so much further along, and cling to the people who show up for you.”
Watch Drunk History's Stonewall Riots clip below and catch the full epsiode tonight at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Comedy Central.