For Mia Jackson the Road to a Comedy Central Half Hour is Lined With Spreadsheets and Sensible Risks

At minimum, Mia Jackson knows for a fact that one person had the time of her life, the night she taped her Comedy Central Half Hour (airing this Friday at 11:30pm ET/10:30pm CT).

“In the beginning, there was one joke – it’s a good thing – someone was laughing so hard that it also distracted me. I was like ‘GIRL. Are you good?’ And then everybody else started laughing!”

To be fair, it’s a perfectly appropriate reaction to Jackson’s comedy, which has grown in prominence since she moved to New York this past January. Between the festivals she’s performed at recently – the North Carolina Comedy Festival, High Plains Comedy Festival in Denver, or Newport, RI’s Rogue Island Comedy Festival where we met – and the sets she does around New York City, it’s no surprise that she’ll end 2019 with two televised specials under her proverbial belt.

The first, EPIX’s Unprotected Sets, aired last fall and was produced by Mark Burnett and Wanda Sykes. But now her second in just over a year – 366 days to be exact – has her taking the stage as part of the 2019 class of Comedy Central Half Hour comedians. We talked about how her preparation process for the two actually overlapped, leaving her to plan out two largely different sets with her go-to tool: spreadsheets. “ I had to go through all my stuff and be like, “well, let me get a spreadsheet; let me get a…” I had a spreadsheet, it was color coded, I was like ‘this dropdown will be what goes in the Epix thing! This’ll be the dropdown for Comedy Central!’” Then, she took those spreadsheets to the stage, running the 25 minute sets as often as she could. I appreciated the vulnerability with which she talked about the rehearsal experience, as she shared,

I tried to run it as much as i could, until I was like, “I’m sick of hearing myself talk.” And I’m like, what am I doing? Does this joke make sense? Is this joke stupid? So I’d have to step away from a joke and then come back and go “no, it makes sense. I think. I hope!” So then, when it came down to the actual taping it was like “alright, you got this one show to do it, and let’s see what you can do!”

Despite what could seem like quite a sterile process, each special still holds Jackson’s trademark matter-of-fact, yet energetic, delivery. When the time came for each, she was thoughtful about reminding herself to stay loose and present, lest each outing “sound like I’m going ‘this is joke 1 from the spreadsheet! This was topic number two!’” Her special airs alongside Tom Thakkar’s, who she mentioned she got a lot of energy from while watching his taping. “It was really cool to see him go up and be like ‘Oh, he’s killing! This is so great!’ And I was like, ‘those are the people that are gonna be out there when I’m out there!’” In general, the tapings – held last January in New Orleans – felt like a reunion of sorts:

It was really fun talking to Sara Schaefer, because I had met her at Bridgetown (Comedy Festival, the now-defunct Portland, OR festival) a couple years before. So it was cool to be like, “Ahh, we’re doing it!” And fellow Atlanta person Dulce Sloan, it was kinda cool. We were like, “we’re two Black girls who started in Atlanta, and now we’re doing half hours!” And Nore, of course, is great…I met him at a festival a few years ago, in Cleveland, I think it was.

Jackson cites the connections she’s gotten to make with these folks, and many others between her time in Atlanta, DC, and touring, that created a “soft landing” of sorts when she arrived in New York earlier this year. While fully crediting the burgeoning comedy scene in Atlanta for her work ethic and confidence (“as people got serious about it, it just kinda seemed like all these people at one time just came together. And then I was like, oh I can do two shows in one night! […] Of course nothing compares to all the stage time you can get in New York, but it was a good training ground to go, oh, if i wanna go up every night of the week I can, there’s a way to do it.”), she is thankful for her ability to move to the city and have warm connections waiting for her. “A lot of the people I’ve worked with on the road over the years are already there, so it’s been like “Oh, I forgot, I already know people that are here,” so I get to do shows with people I know.”

More surprising to her? Just how many people will go to the shows she heads to each night. Whereas there were times she’d show up to do sets for a handful of people – or worse, for people to whom a comedy show that night was a complete surprise, “there have been shows in New York where I’m like, oh, you came to see a show. You meant to come to this. This was part of your plan for the evening. You came here on purpose!”

After nearly a year in New York, she’s contemplative about the decisions that brought her there on purpose, and would recommend that same deliberation for growing comedians debating making the jump. “Whatever city you’re in, i think you should feel good and solid about what you’re doing there,” she said, adding that sometimes comedians will tie this readiness to a length of time (one year, two years) before moving, whereas Jackson thinks it makes sense to tie the move to a very specific feeling. “When you can say ‘I’ve kinda done everything I think I can do in this city,’ then go on.” And go on, she did. It’s a good thing too…because now she gets to share the confidence and comedic brilliance her career to date has given her, this Friday on Comedy Central on her biggest stage yet.

Mia’s Half Hour airs Friday, November 1st, at 11:30pm ET/10:30pm CT. Follow her online at @miacomedy on Twitter and Instagram.

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Amma Marfo

Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.
Amma Marfo
Amma Marfo
Amma Marfo is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in Boston, MA. Her writing has appeared in Femsplain, The Good Men Project, Pacific Standard, and Talking Points Memo. Chances are good that as you're reading this, she's somewhere laughing.