I aspire to the calm and cool of Sam Jay.
Ahead of a four show night at Newport’s Rogue Island Comedy Festival, the Comedy Lineup comic and Saturday Night Live writer was the picture of chill, even after being a part of the team’s latest Emmy-winning season and rising to new heights of popularity following her Netflix micro-special. The hype simply isn’t getting to her.
“I don’t feel any pressure to do anything differently or anything. I’m still on the same mission, which is be really good at standup. That’s really it,” she said. “I still want to make the best possible product I can make, and I’ve wanted to do that from the beginning. And that hasn’t changed. I just want to make the best thing I can make, for me.”
For someone so deeply steeped in the world of standup, coming up in the craft in Boston before moving to LA and then New York, a writing stint on SNL—a show best known for its sketches and employing seasoned improvisers—might seem like something of a detour. In truth, Jay likely wouldn’t disagree with you there. Writing for the show wasn’t on her radar…until it was. With unfathomable chill, she said of the call, “It was a cool thing that came along that I said ‘Okay, let’s do it’ to.” But as her second full season in the writer’s room moves into full swing, she’s glad she went for it when the opportunity presented itself:
I’m funny, and I enjoy doing standup and they found me in that world. It seemed like everything in my life was like, “Take this opportunity and don’t run from it.” So I was like, “let’s walk through this door, let’s see what happens.”
Jay is an incredibly hardworking and thoughtful comic, constantly putting in the time and energy to grow in what she shares on stage and how she crafts jokes. But she attributes something additional to the trajectory of her career…or someone. “I believe God was like, you have to make the choices. Things are laid out for you, but you gotta choose them,” she admitted. “I felt like the opportunity was put in front of me right when I needed it, but I needed to grab it. It was going to take me to whatever was supposed to come next.”
In walking through the door to SNL’s writer’s room, Jay has found a world that she openly admits is “great, and bad?” Like any job, she admits that there are days where it sucks or is stressful. But she also admits, it’s provided a challenge that she’d truly been needing. “I think I needed a little bit of a reset. I needed to feel challenged again and anxious again about being funny,” she said. “Those feelings you have when you first start…it was starting to feel too easy, too layup-y. So I said, ‘Where am I gonna be pushed?’ Because that’s how you keep growing.”
And Jay does plan to keep growing. In addition to her Comedy Lineup set, she’s also released a half-hour special with Comedy Central and an album, Donna’s Daughter (available now for purchase and on streaming services). Her next reach goal? An hourlong special. “That was always the goal coming in, and it hasn’t been achieved yet. [The shorter specials and SNL] are just things that build to that.” Each opportunity, in her estimation, builds on the ones before it to strengthen the overall skill set that makes for a long and prosperous career:
It’s like having a bunch of tools in a toolbox, or knives in a knife set. You just want all of them to be sharp. So now it’s just…[sketch] makes me a better writer, all around. A sharper writer, I can edit better, I’m more concise with things.
I can look at a joke I’m writing on my own and say “Oh, there’s a hole there,” or “that’s a lot of unnecessary words, you don’t need them” I can move through things that way quicker. I had my own projects that I’m writing and developing on my own, and I’m getting better at that and just…it makes you better all the way around.
News that Jay is writing and developing her own projects is good for the world of comedy, and the world at large- her clear, assertive, and insightful voice is one that we need on stage and in sketches with the reach that SNL provides. And while she knows she’s funny—and will say so when given the opportunity—she also acknowledges that it’s that clearly defined voice that is opening so many doors for her. “I can be competent, I know that. I can figure out how to do this and write some funny shit.” So keep an eye out for Sam in the years to come, in as many different places as comedy can be found, because she’s going for it— and doing so with her trademark cool confidence. “I don’t think there’s anything I can’t do standup wise or comedy-wise. I’ve never even thought about it that way. I’ve never quantified it as what I can and cannot, I just [want to] keep doing it and keep learning.”
Sam’s Comedy Lineup installment, and her album “Donna’s Daughter,” are each streaming now.