As I wrote when I returned from this year’s South by Southwest festival, I got to see a ton of stand-up comedy sets during my week in Austin, Texas. But nothing I saw came close to topping the experience of watching Sam Jay.
Just six years into her career as a comedian, Jay has become one of the fastest rising stars in the comedy world. After joining Saturday Night Live as a writer in the fall of 2017, the Atlanta-born, Boston-raised comic put out her first album Donna’s Daughter and delivered a tight 15-minute banger of a set for Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup.
Now, as she tells me in this bonus episode of The Last Laugh podcast from SXSW, she’s working towards putting out her first hour special. You can expect her career to really blow up when it arrives.
I got to sit down with Jay, who brought her girlfriend along, at Rooster Teeth studios in Austin where we drank a couple of beers and talked about how she got started in comedy and what it was like to join the writing staff on SNL not long after that show came under fire for its lack of black female voices. Jay may be a lot more laid back offstage than she is on it, but nevertheless, she had a lot to say.
On getting a relatively late start in comedy
“I started comedy at 29. I think just life brought me there. I had tried a bunch of shit. I was one of those people who had a million jobs. I didn’t really like doing anything that wasn’t creative. I was kind of just flailing around in life and didn’t really have any direction. But I knew I always loved comedy and it was something I always wanted to do. So I’m hitting that 29 age and my life is just looking like shit. I’ve got these terrible office jobs and just doing shit I fucking hate. I can’t live like this another fucking second. My life has to fucking change. If it looks like this for another minute, I’m going to lose my fucking mind. So a little bit before my 30th birthday, I was like, at 35 my life has to look different. I was at my cousin’s and I was drinking and talking some shit and I had the whole living room laughing. And I was like, yo, I gotta fucking try this shit. Truly, this is what I like to do. I just gotta stop being a pussy and try it. I dedicated a year to it before I even went to a mic. I was like no matter happens, you gotta do this for a year. Just put your head down and give it everything you have for a year. And if you’re further than you were when you started, put your head down and do it again.”
Why she hates performing for ‘woke’ college students
“Every audience is difference. You go do a show around some stuffy-ass fucking college, you’re going to get a bunch of ‘I’m woke’ people, that’s the energy that you’re going to get. You go to the [Comedy] Cellar on a midnight Saturday, it’s wide open, you go crazy in there. I hate doing colleges. I mean, what comedian doesn’t? It’s fucking awful. It’s something that you do for money. There is no fucking skill to be gained there. Like, all time isn’t good time. I guess you learn how to bomb, but you don’t need to go to a college to learn how to fucking bomb. Sometimes they go great. I’ve had them go awesome. But they never go as great as I feel like they should, even when it’s great, because they’re reserved. They’re scared to laugh at shit. They’re scared for other students to see them laugh at shit. They don’t know if it’s OK to laugh, or they’re checking to see who’s laughing first.”
On audience members taping comedians
“It sucks that people record your shit and then put it out when you’re not ready for it to be put out. I don’t think a lot of times that people realize this is a creative thought process. So things have to develop and the only way that we can develop them is to say them. So sometimes we don’t even know a hundred percent if we are standing on the side that we’re standing on when we say something. We’re just like, I need to explore it from this side all the way to the end. Then I need to explore it from this side all the way to end, just to figure out which side I stand on or how I want to formulate this thought to convey whatever I’m trying to convey. And when you record and pick it up in stages like that and then put it out as if it’s my stance on things or who I am, it’s really fucking annoying. Because it’s not accurate.”
On coming to SNL following controversy over the show’s lack of black women
“I knew that it was going to be a predominantly white space but I’ve had to be in predominantly white spaces all the time so it wasn’t like a thing where I was like, yeah, I’m the only black lesbian here, but I didn’t feel one way or the other about it. The writing staff is diverse. I’m the only black lesbian, but I’m not the only gay person, I’m not the only person of color.”
On her first SNL episode with musical guest Jay-Z
“It was crazy because I really, really, really love Jay-Z. To the point where I haven’t gone to see Jay-Z in concert ever because I’m like I don’t want to see Jay-Z with all them people. Real shit, I’m like, nah, man, I ain’t trying to see Jigga with all them people. I love Jay-Z that much, that when I missed the Jay-Z Unplugged, I was devastated. I was like, I wish that I was a person of influence to know that was even happening. So for him to be the first guest and the studio’s so fucking small and I was just standing there watching Jay-Z—and I got to watch him rehearse, this is fucking wild! It was immediately like this is different. Shit is different. This is crazy.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Former Daily Show correspondent and host of Klepper on Comedy Central, Jordan Klepper.