Talking with Sam Jay About Goals, Standup, and Being the Funniest Person at the Bar
For Sam Jay, comedy is a pursuit of happiness. An unfulfilling job had her questioning what makes her happy. When she really thought about it she realized, “I’m happiest when I’m in a bar, drinking, talking shit to people. There’s a crowd of people around that I don’t even know and I’m ranting or pontificating on a topic and I’m getting people to laugh and engage. That’s where I’m happy.” Sam’s standup reflects that desire to be the most entertaining person at the bar. It’s energetic, opinionated, and fueled by the urge to make you laugh, even if you don’t agree with her perspective. It’s been a big six months since I first sat down to talk to Sam at her Comedy Central Stand-Up Presents taping. At the time, she was a diehard standup just beginning to embrace the idea of branching into other areas of comedy, like writing. A couple of weeks ago she was hired to write for SNL. It’s wins like that that make looking back on past conversations all the more enjoyable. We talked about her Comedy Central half hour (which premieres tonight at 12:30), her comedy goals, and learning as you go.
You’re taping your half hour tomorrow night. Are you excited?
I’m getting there. The more I’m in it the more excited I’m getting. When I was in LA I was like, “It’ll be cool,” but once you’re here you’re like, “Yeah!”
How long have you been running this half hour?
Probably five months. I haven’t been running it the last two weeks because I don’t want to be bored of the material. I want it to feel fresh and be excited about saying it. I was kind of getting tired of talking about this stuff. I didn’t want to be burnt on my own shit by the time I got here.
You want the audience to feel like you’re remembering it all in the moment. They pick up on mechanical delivery real quick.
Yeah, it’s not good. You want that fresh feeling to it. I’ve been doing half hours, but just working on new stuff and rounding out some of the stuff I had more. I’ve been thinking about the album and how that’s going to sound. I think it’s important to just be comfortable in the time space. The material will be there. You just need to be comfortable doing the time and working the room.
I know you’re based in LA (Note: Jay has since moved to New York), but have you been getting out on the road to work this material out?
A little bit of both. LA has been really kind to me and super supportive. As hard as it is to get stage time, there’s a lot of cool rooms and little shows going on, backyard shows and bar shows popping up. I’ve done a little out-of-town stuff, but not as much as I thought I was going to need to do.
I read an interview from a couple of years ago where you said your goal was to tour on a solid 45 minutes where you could do clubs where people know you and are just there to see you. How close do you feel you are to hitting that goal?
If I’m being honest, I feel like I’m about three years away from that. I feel like the half hour is definitely going to help. My Jimmy Kimmel set helps. But I’ve got to actually get out there, get the road dates, and work it. All these little elements will help build it. The pieces are coming together. It finally feels like a career. It finally feels like I can say, “I’m a comedian and this is what I do.”
Let’s trace it back. Are you from Atlanta?
I lived in Atlanta, but I’m from Boston. I went there for school. I did one show in Atlanta a year before I moved to Star Bar. It was right after the new year and I was like, “I’m gonna do this finally.” I had the new ear bug or whatever. I went up and it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great. It kind of felt awkward. Then all these comics were talking like, “All these losers made this their New Year’s resolution.” I was like, “Man, I’m one of those losers. I’ve gotta figure out my life and how I’m going to attack this.” A year later I moved to Boston and started getting up. I went to an open mic on a Sunday and bombed. A comic there said, “If you want to know all the other mics I’ll tell you.” He gave me a rundown of the mics and I just kept going.
Why did you want to do this?
I think I always wanted to be a comedian even before I understood that you could be a comedian. I don’t know how to make that make sense. I just always admired comics. I liked that they weren’t just talking. It was an art form. I was like, “They’re doing a thing.” When I was a kid I’d tell stories and embellish certain parts to make people laugh, or make one part more dramatic, or over-describe how someone fell off a bike so that I could get my friends and family to laugh. I always liked that type of attention. But I didn’t see the connection to making it a thing. Life took me in all kinds of directions. I ended up doing music at one point, managing artists, party promotion, all types of stuff. You get to a place where you’re not feeling fulfilled. I had to think about what makes me happiest. I was like, “I’m happiest when I’m in a bar, drinking, talking shit to people. There’s a crowd of people around that I don’t even know and I’m ranting or pontificating on a topic and I’m getting people to laugh and engage. That’s where I’m happy. That’s when I feel like I’m glowing.” And that is comedy.
Where do you see your career going from here? Do you want to act, write, stuff like that?
When I first got to LA I was like, “I just do standup.” You do these meetings where they’re like, “Do you write? Do you sing?” I was like, “No, bitch. I do comedy. That should be good enough.” The longer I was there — probably six months in — I met Artemis Pebdani from Always Sunny. She came to a show of mine and and we hung out. She said, “If you ever want to write, I’m down.” Managers had been asking me if there was anything I wanted to write and I was like, “Nah, I just want to focus on the standup thing.” I wasn’t working daytime and I was like, “Damn, I need shit to do during the day.” I think it was a fear of not knowing how to take your standup and put it in that box. So we started writing stuff together. We went through three really, really bad ideas, but she was patient. The fourth time we landed on something awesome and wrote a pilot. So yeah, I definitely want to do more of that.