When people talk about Jordan Wieleba, they talk about courage and humor.
The 36-year-old Denver comedian had been a fixture in the scene since 2006, but it was only in 2011 that everyone met the real Jordan Wieleba — the one who makes up one-quarter of the Pussy Bros team and the one who took the stage just a few weeks ago at High Plains Comedy Festival.
That was the year she decided, at age 32, to transition. Her friends can tell you that the journey hadn’t been easy, but that she had finally become herself.
On Thursday, Wieleba died after an asthma attack put her in a coma.
Her asthma caused enough trouble to stop her from doing things like getting on a plane to Toronto for a show, but her friend and fellow Pussy Bros comedian Christie Buchele said she doesn’t think anyone realized how serious it was, Wieleba included.
They had a show on Friday night and on Saturday, Wieleba said she wasn’t feeling well. She still wasn’t feeling well on Sunday, and on Monday she posted that she had bronchitis. “She was even making jokes Monday morning online,” Buchele said. She got the call on Tuesday night that Wieleba had gone to the hospital.
“I’m really mad,” Buchele said, “because we’re supposed to be planning a reassignment surgery and not a funeral.”
Janae Burris, another friend and Pussy Bros member, echoed Buchele’s sentiment. Wieleba’s new life was just getting started. She had been raising money through GoFundMe for her surgery since February. She was $3,840 on her way to her $7,000 goal.
“Two years ago, when she did a podcast, she explained that it was sad how she never gotten to grow up and go to slumber parties and talk about boys and paint her nails, and that was a big part of her life that she missed,” Buchele said. “When we were on the road this year, we got to do that. It was an exciting time for her to finally feel included. It was just Wieleba. And it took a long time to get there.”
Becoming her true self changed her comedy. Buchele even told her she was funnier as a woman. She had to write entirely new material, but she was more honest now, and it showed.
“At High Plains she crushed,” Adam Cayton-Holland said of her performance at the Denver festival. “She just seemed really confident.”
In addition to Pussy Bros, Wieleba was running the monthly Something Fabulous comedy and variety show, performing at festivals out-of-town and working every club in town. In 2015, she released her first album, “Estrogentrification.”
“She put together a killer set for an album, she recorded it and released it for free,” said Krisin Rand, another friend and local comedian. “Many comics lack the professionalism and drive to do any single one of those things.”
She was also working a full-time job, babysitting her niece and spending time with her parents and two sisters. She was so busy and so hardworking that, Burris recently learned, her family didn’t realize just how involved she was in Denver comedy.
“She was still deeply part of the scene,” Burris said. “And she was also in the audience a lot, which is a big deal. Jordan didn’t have to watch shows to get booked, but she was one of those people who actually showed up to be supportive.”
Both Burris and Buchele recall how many people in the comedy scene distanced themselves or turned their backs on Wieleba when she came out. Some people were plain bigoted, and others didn’t think she would appeal to a broad enough audience. Her existence itself became activism, but she went further and talked about trans issues on stage.
“She was actually talking about it and also doing a lot in the LGBTQ community, actively putting herself out there,” Burris said. “She singlehandedly made an impact on a lot of people, being the awesome individual she was, representing trans women really, really well.”
Rand says that watching Wieleba’s journey taught her the freeing power of vulnerability and courage, and that she wishes she could thanks her.
“What we are all left with in the wake of losing her is profound awe for a woman who walked so courageously the path she knew she had to walk,” Rand said. “She was as true to herself as most of us could even dream to be.”
When asked about her humor, people will point you to her tweets and the notable contrast between Wieleba on stage and Wieleba off stage.
“She was shy and quiet, a tough one to crack. She would rarely ask for anything,” Rand said. “That said, she said everything on stage. She got up there and revealed the truths of her life with the utmost vulnerability and still made people laugh. She didn’t reserve her truth for some small intimate conversation. She amplified it into speakers for a crowd of strangers and then walked off stage as humble and unassuming as ever.”
Burris says her smart, goofy and self-deprecating humor would shine in their group texts — which provide some of her favorite memories — as well as online and on stage.
“We were so excited to have a strong, funny person in the group, but also a different voice,” Buchele said. “In comedy, no one was doing what she’s doing. Not in Denver, not in a lot of places.”
At El Charrito on Friday night, friends gathered to remember Wieleba. She was supposed to be performing that night. After the show, Buchele, Burris and Rachel Weeks drank and reminisced. They talked about how she’d probably be shocked by the outpouring of love and how they wish they’d expressed it all before. They talked about how you had to work to become her friend. They talked about bonding on the road — how it’s hard enough to be a woman, nevermind a trans woman. They talked about how she taught them about the transgender experience and how she was changing the perceptions of straight men in the scene. They talked about how the reality they’ve just found themselves in is “fucking dumb.”
“She was really just about to get started, and it is just too bad we don’t get to see that,” Burris said later. “And I just have no idea who is prepared to step into those shoes.”
“She was so important. We were really lucky to have her.”