So it’s kinda corny to say, but it’s true: you’ve probably never seen a comedian like Sam Jay. Especially with their own Netflix comedy special.
The fact that she’s a queer comedian is an afterthought. But Jay has a Boston-bred swag, great taste in Ralph Lauren shirts and grew up watching BET’s Comic View. A true elder millennial. She’s one of us.
In a world where comedy in many aspects feels aspirational, where the greats (Dave Chapelle, Kevin Hart and Mo’Nique) feel like a generation removed, onstage Jay feels like she speaks for us. The Saturday Night Live writer isn’t expounding on deep philosophical thoughts or talking at us about experiences to which we can no longer relate, she’s creating space to be unsure, confused, and laugh at ourselves along the way.
“I really just wanted people to understand that shit is just multifaceted and things aren’t just black or white; there’re just layers to stuff,” Jay said about her jokes; the ones that touch on the intricate balance of being a masculine-presenting queer woman who hates taking out the trash. (“That’s nasty,” Jay said.)
Filmed pre-corona in Atlanta’s The Masquerade, Jay’s debut hourlong comedy special, 3 In The Morning, is on Netflix right now. But before you binge, ESSENCE caught up with Jay, who was in the kitchen cooking burgers with her girl when we chatted, to talk about her debut, what it means to be a masculine-of-center comedian and how she hopes to create space for funny Black women.
ESSENCE: It’s interesting because out of all the people that you named you look up to [Sommore, Mo’Nique, Niecy Nash, Wanda Sykes] you’re so uniquely different just by who you are and how you present. Do you care how you’re received?
Sam Jay: It’s a tough question because I don’t not give a f-ck. If I didn’t care I wouldn’t work hard to put it together. You know what I’m saying? I’m being vulnerable, so I care. But if everybody decided they didn’t like it that way, I’m not going to go, ‘Well, maybe I need to do it another way.’ Because I have to do it how it’s authentic to me and I feel like the Wanda’s and the Gina Yashere’s and…these other lesbian comics that came before me, no matter where they fell in people’s visibility charts, I knew they were in the world and they were talking their truth and they kind of opened the door for me to talk it my way. And so I feel like it’s important to just talk about my relationship, like any other relationship, because it is like any other relationship.
That was honestly one of my next questions because watching I was like, ‘Dang, if I was her girl, I’d be so mad right now.’ Like when you get off the stage, what are those conversations like because you be putting all your business out there.
Well, my girl’s making a burger in the kitchen right now as we have this conversation. My girl comes to almost every show. When I was touring, she did the whole European tour with me. She sees stuff at its infancy when I’m first starting to think about it. She knows my stuff to the point where I’ve forgotten things on stage and she’ll be like, ‘This is what you’re trying to say.’ We are that close. I definitely run things by her but I do think she respects the fact too that I’m an artist and she’s a part of my life. And if I’m going to talk about my life subsequently, I’m talking about her.
I love when you said onstage, it’s OK to be confused. It’s OK to ask questions. I think those are just important conversations to have. And you know, we represent every type of Black woman and I do want to make more space for women who look like you. I don’t think we’ve done the best job of that in the past.
I appreciate you saying that because it’s definitely a thing that doesn’t go unnoticed with women like me. I’m like wow, there’s all these Black women in entertainment conversations or ‘We’re going to get Black writers, Black women writers.’ And I work for Saturday Night Live, but I never get these calls. But then at the same time, I’m not getting calls in a Black male space. I’m just in this middle limbo like, oh, alright.
That’s interesting. I wonder where could we bridge the divide? I know how I can do it and it’s just by having this conversation right now, making sure we are supporting you, your projects, but is there more we could do or things that we might not be seeing?
It’s an overall visibility thing, right? When we talk about relationships with Black and white people, it’s a thing that has to be in your consciousness to do. And that’s easier when those people are visible in your world. It’s a lot harder when those people are not even visible. Remind especially Black people that queer people are a part of Black people, that we’re still going through Black experiences. I think a lot of times too, Black people think, oh, just because you’re gay, your experiences are different or white people are accepting you more or some craziness that goes on in people’s heads and no, not…
You’re a writer for Saturday Night Live. How do you feel SNL prepared you for this moment?
It made me a better comic, a better writer, just more confident in my skillset. It also allowed me to think about the entire special and not just the jokes. I thought about how it was going to be shot. I really looked for a director that could shoot in a style that I wanted and [thought about] how it was going to be lit and the coloring and the editing and just every part of it, the music in the front of it and just how all the whole vibe was going to be. Working at SNL, when you write a sketch, you don’t just give it to the people and then they make it. You have to go meet with hair, make up, you have to meet with set design. You sit there while it’s blocking. You stand there with Don [Roy King,] the director. You talk about how people are going to come in and out of the sketch. So you’re doing every part of it. And having to think like that on a daily had me thinking about my special like that.
You mentioned your skillset. How would you describe yourself as a comic and as a writer?
I don’t know.
That was actually a cheat question because I’m like, huh, well, if she describes herself that way, I’ll just use that.
It would have been crazy if I was just like “Genius.”
Sam Jay: 3 In The Morning is streaming on Netflix now. This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.