Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Here's a very charming episode featuring the very charming Alicia Tobin. We find out lots about her in the hour. For example, do you know that this animal lover will stomp and kill innocent wolf spiders? That she once won a Macho Man competition? That an ex-boyfriend of hers is a "jerk"? And of course we talk about standup comedy, Alicia Tobin's Come Draw With Me, and her very funny health blog Hashimotopotato.
It's all right here. Listen now (that's a suggestion, not a command), or download at iTunes, Stitcher or PodcastLand (or anywhere else you can find it).
It's all right here. Listen now (that's a suggestion, not a command), or download at iTunes, Stitcher or PodcastLand (or anywhere else you can find it).
Labels: Alicia Tobin
This is it for this batch of long-forgotten interviews. It's with the great Irish comic Tommy Tiernan. In checking to see if I'd posted this one before (I hadn't), I noticed my first interview with him was two years to the day earlier. This one is from April 5, 2013; the previous one was from April 5, 2011. Maybe that's the day he sets aside for press every year. Each time I speak with him I come away impressed at how much thought he gives to questions.
April 5, 2013
"Hey, look, I just throw the stuff out there; other people decide if it’s controversial. I certainly don’t!"
– Tommy Tiernan
Tommy Tiernan: Hello.
Guy MacPherson: Hello, Thomas.
TT: Hi, how are you?
GM: I’m okay. Our power is out so I’m on my cell phone.
TT: Oh, my.
GM: Anyway, how are you?
TT: I’m more powered up than that. I’m fine.
GM: How are the Maritimes treating you?
TT: The Maritimes are great. I’m in Moncton today.
GM: Lucky you.
TT: Really? (laughs) No, Moncton is fine. I can cope with Moncton. It’s okay.
GM: I was talking to Brendan Grace, your countryman, a few weeks ago. He said when he plays in Newfoundland, it almost feels like a part of Ireland that has sailed away. Do you get that impression?
TT: There seems to be an appetite for things Irish there. Newfoundland is about the size of Ireland anyway. Yeah, I definitely get that sense. The show that I’m doing right now is very Irish. I spend most of my year touring rural Ireland. Forty weeks of the year, I’d say, I spend going around performing shows in places that normally wouldn’t have any stand-up comedy in them.
GM: In theatres?
TT: No, it’d be hotel function rooms, which, strangely, have turned out to be more enjoyable than performing in theatres. I’ve noticed that there’s an obedience with a theatre crowd. It’s a formal event, practically. Whereas in a hotel function room, the audience have been in that room for other things. The chairs aren’t permanent fixtures; there’s usually a bar in it. So it’s much more of a community hall feeling about it. And the energy is better in those rooms. People feel more confident and they’re more boisterous. There’s just better energy in them.
GM: But not to the point of disruption, I would imagine.
TT: Oh, verging on it sometimes, yeah. Absolutely, God, yeah. I mean, it’s not quite the Blues Brothers scene in that chicken shack with bottles being thrown at the chicken fencing in front of them, but they can be wild. I prefer them, to be honest with you. The shows I’m performing here are full of stories from that kind of touring and full of stories that appeal to people in those venues. There was a real genuinely fantastic response to the show in St. John’s. In Moncton tonight where the flavour is more French than Irish, I will be curious to see how well received the stories are. I’m ready for the adventure of tonight to see what happens.
GM: You do these tours throughout Ireland doing other material, but along the way you gather material about doing the tour. It’s kind of meta.
TT: The show is very much about being Irish. There’s stuff about family in it and there’s stuff about religion and all that, but a lot of the curiosities in the show are about being Irish and what that means to be Irish. And I’m not able to change it suddenly. Like, I’m not going to walk out in front of the French Canadians in Moncton tonight and spend an hour and a half talking about their lives. I guess maybe I’m turning into a folk act. If Buffy Saint-Marie can come to small-town Ireland and sing songs on the Native American modern Canadian experience, then there’s hope for me. I guess it’s turning more into folk comedy.
GM: Here’s some good trivia for you: New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province in Canada. Most people think of Quebec.
TT: Of course. Is New Brunswick therefore more French than Quebec?
GM: No. Their government uses both French and English. In Quebec it’s only French and in the other provinces it’s only English.
TT: Oh. I’d always pigeon-holed Quebec as the French epicenter of Canada. There you go.
GM: Oh, it is. It’s just that New Brunswick is the only officially bilingual province. Anyway, is it because you came up in the clubs, which I assume you did, that you like this more raucous atmosphere than the staid theatre crowd?
TT: I think so, yeah. Those hotel venues have limitations as well. You can’t go all crazy jazz hands on them. They want it delivered to them in simplified, easy ways. They are predominantly small towns, big rural hinterlands, so there’s no meta with them. You’re there to make them laugh. You can talk about whatever you want as long as it’s funny. Whereas in the theatres, I think you’re allowed to be a little bit more theatrical. The audience are a bit more indulgent of you in the theatre.
GM: You can take your time.
TT: I think so, yeah. Physically there wouldn’t be alcohol in the room. The theatres have their plus sides and the hotel rooms have their limitations. I think the adventure for me is trying to make the hotel rooms work. It’s more of a marketplace kind of stand-up. It’s more like standing on a few fruit crates and trying to get the attention of passersby in downtown Marrakesh (laughs). And I think that’s better. I prefer that.
GM: When you do the larger towns in Ireland, it’s not still a hotel, is it?
TT: Oh no, it is, yeah. Yep, absolutely. In the larger towns you do a hotel room that might fit a thousand or 1500 people in it. And when you’re in the smaller towns, you’re probably talking about somewhere between 4- and 700. So that’s the only difference, really.
GM: Some comics of your stature might say, ‘No, I’m not gonna do that. That’s beneath me.’
TT: Oh, God, well if you can imagine a comic from St. John’s who spent his life touring Newfoundland, that’s where I’m at. My ambition is with the show really rather than with global domination. I know global domination is possible for some people and it’s financially rewarding and all that type of stuff. But I just enjoy that more. I find it demanding and challenging and lovely all at the same time. We do the show, we go for a few drinks at a local pub afterwards and then we drive the next day 20 or 30 miles to the next town. And we do that 40 weeks of the year. I just enjoy it. It means more to me. It seems more relevant to who I am and to my countrymen and –women. It’s ambitious but in a different kind of way. I’m ambitious for the material rather than for my profile, I guess.
GM: You mentioned you talk about what it means to be Irish. I know you have a whole show on that, but can you tell me in a nutshell what it means?
TT: Oh God, no, I couldn’t tell you in a nutshell. I might be able to show you a nutshell and say, ‘That’s what it means.’ (laughs) I guess one of the questions I have is I’m not sure that we’re European. There’s a huge history of pre-Celtic trade between north Africa and the west coast of Ireland. I have a theory that Irish people are part-Celt but that’s not the whole story. We’re also part anemic Algerian. So just throwing stuff like that out at an audience and seeing if it has resonance. We have stuff in common with other Catholic countries like Italy and Spain and Mexico, but we’re not really European in the sense of Belgians or French or Germans. I think the north African kind of laziness, wildness, slightly uncouth… That’s more who we are, really, than complicated, cosmopolitan Parisians, you know?
GM: You gotta be careful now. You don’t want to court more controversy, Tommy.
TT: Hey, look, I just throw the stuff out there; other people decide if it’s controversial. I certainly don’t! (laughs)
GM: “Tommy Tiernan says Africans are lazy and uncouth!”
TT: I know, but, see, that’s more misinterpretation. I meant north Africans! (laughs)
GM: And yourself, as well.
GM: And is this why you don’t seek out the trappings of superstardom? Because the Irish are more of a modest people?
TT: No, without any kind of intellectual rationalization for it; it just feels right. It just feels that this is the place I’m supposed to be, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. You can only call it in the moment. And it’s curious because I very much enjoy talking to Irish people when I’m abroad. And it’s more so in Australia than in Canada. When I tour Australia, it’s mainly Irish exiles that come to the show. I have a fierce sense of pride in talking to them. I’m glad to be a representative of Ireland for them, or something like that. So this tour in Canada, where I play mostly to Canadians, is kind of a stepping into the unknown slightly. Like I said, the show in St. John’s might have been kind of a cultural place to start because of the Irish connection there, but it’ll be really interesting going from Moncton now across to Victoria over the next two or three weeks. I suppose what will emerge, hopefully, is points of contact between Irish people and Canadian people. It’s more like I’m coming to this culture with stories of another culture and looking for places where we can shake hands, but laugh most importantly. I don’t want people leaving the show thinking that was very civil. Let’s meet in the wild places. Let’s meet laughing would be my aspiration for the show.
GM: When you were talking about your theory that Ireland isn’t really part of Europe, you were sounding serious. Is it that this is a serious thought of yours that you’re making funny, or is it a silly thought that you’re making funnier? You know what I mean?
TT: I know what you mean, yeah. No, a silly thought would be we’re the Inuits of Europe. That would be a silly thought. But maybe there’s truth in it, as well, you know? It sounds right. There’s some unchartered part of my own head and the heads of the people who come to see the show when I say it. They go, ‘Yeah. Yeah, we agree. We hadn’t thought of that.’ We know you don’t claim responsibility for thinking about it yourself, but it seems right. Like, if I had said, in terms of an Irish crowd, we are the Nigerians of Europe, they’d go, ‘No.’ There’s no resonance in that. So I don’t know if it’s a serious point made funny or a funny point told funny. I know it wouldn’t be in the show if it wasn’t making people laugh, but there seems to be more to it than that, though.
GM: Do you come up with these theories and bits when you go for drinks after the show?
TT: Sometimes, yeah. Bob Dylan had an album a few years ago called, Love and Theft. It was full of references to stuff that he’d read. He even lifted a couple of lines from a Japanese crime writer. I magpie stuff. I come across an idea somewhere in a conversation or in a book and I say wow, that resonates with something I’ve been feeling and then I try and spin it into something that’s useful on stage. The prime quality something needs on stage is that it’s funny. If it’s not funny then no matter how clever it might be, it doesn’t belong in the show. I have offices full of that kind of material (laughs), stuff that’s just not funny. The comparison of stuff that I come up with that’s funny compared to not funny, it’s even more extreme than an iceberg, where one-tenth of it is above the water. It’s huge. So I have tons of unfunny material.
GM: And you just know it or is it tested unfunny?
TT: No, I don’t know it. I come up with the idea on my own or whatever and then I go on stage that night with the ideas that I’ve collected during the day and I just know without even saying the words which of them are funny and which of them are not. I think it’s the pressure of the performance. It gives me a perspective on the material that I don’t have just walking around during the day, unless I was cornered by hoodlums with baseball bats saying, ‘Make us laugh or get pumped.’ Then that might produce a necessary perspective. But no, during the day just by collecting ideas, as many of them as I can. It’s rare that more than 10 percent of them actually work on stage.
GM: I heard Eddie Pepitone on Marc Maron’s recently.
TT: I love Eddie.
GM: He was raving about you.
GM: He thinks you’re the best he’s ever seen.
TT: Oh, my God, well he’s not in his right mind, though, either, is he? (laughs) That’s a great compliment. He’s a great comic.
GM: You might not consider yourself a celebrity, but you are, right?
TT: Uh, not really. There’s nothing in my life that would back that up.
TT: Well, not really. I travel with four grumpy men in a van around Ireland and I work three or four days a week and I’m home three or four days a week. There’s nothing in my life that would suggest that word. And Ireland is a great place, as well. I’m well-known in Ireland. But being well-known in Ireland just means being available to people if they see you in the street. I would say Irish people like Colin Farrell or the guys from U2, Liam Neeson, they’re celebrities and they work that world. I certainly don’t.
GM: You don’t live in a castle?
TT: Uh, no. (laughs) I don’t live in a castle, no! And even if I did, I would still be just down in the shops at 9 o’clock looking for carrots. (laughs) It’s something I’m very grateful for. That kind of life is the kind of life you imagine somebody like Colin Farrell might live. That’s a great adventure. Stories about that type of life and the awfulness about it as well are stories that I’d like to hear but it’s certainly not the life I’m… There are people that are well-known in Ireland and not too well known outside of Ireland. Once you become a global phenomenon, even in Ireland stuff changes for you. But I’m just well-known in Ireland and am able to work in other countries. I’m not anywhere near those guys in terms of experiences they’ve had to go through. Nor would I want to be. I’m challenged enough by my life as it is.
GM: You’re still a man of the people.
TT: Oh, I wouldn’t even qualify it like that. I’m still struggling. I’m still shuffling from day to day trying to cope with my own head. One of things about my stuff being shown on Canadian TV and people liking it is an opportunity to come and work here, which is amazing. I’m very grateful for that.
GM: How long have you been doing stand-up?
TT: Since about 1996. So what’s that? About, good God, 17 years, is it? Good Lord.
GM: Does it get easier or harder as you go along? I would imagine the easier part is you’re more experienced, know how to deliver jokes and have a good feeling about what will get a laugh. And on the other hand you might wonder if you’ve said everything you can say.
TT: Yep, yep. It’s both of those things. And that’s why I think if you keep going, in a sense you should get more adventurous because you’ve already explored one type of thing. You have to keep exploring so what will I do next? If your commitment is to the work rather than to maintaining your profile, then I think that’s easier because you’re in a better position to take chances. You can say, ‘Here are the stories I want to tell now I don’t care how many people want to come and see the show but these are the stories I want to tell.’ I absolutely would not be free from maintaining my profile desires, but the way we kind of sometimes think: the way Picasso was able to change his style, his commitment was to the work rather than, say, a boy band whose commitment seems to be for staying famous and keeping people dancing. It goes back to the hotel room thing: If I’m going to stand in front of a thousand people in the hotel room who’ve had two or three drinks on them and are moving freely around from seat to seat and there’s great energy and excitement, I’m obliged to make them laugh. That’s the deal. There’s a contradiction there, or there’s a tension there, between you don’t want to be repeating yourself, you don’t want to feel staid, you don’t want to feel as if the stuff that you’re doing has been done by other people, you want to keep taking chances with your stories, you want to keep yourself interested in your own material, keep developing. But you also have to try and make the thousand drunk people laugh.
GM: You want to stay true to yourself and not pander, so you’re walking that line.
TT: Yeah, and that kind of tension means you’re neither completely pandering nor are you completely self-indulgent. And maybe that tension is demanding but this is where you walk so you’ve no choice, really.
GM: Comedy is so popular now and there are so many comedians that of course we see some who are competent but their material doesn’t seem true to them. They’re saying only what will get a laugh.
TT: I have sympathy for them. I don’t particularly want to watch them but I have sympathy for them. (laughs) And the vast majority of stuff we see on television isn’t interesting anyway. It’s kind of generic. I guess the hope when you go to see a live show is that you get a bit more than you will on the telly. Success can be a bad thing for a comic, as well. It’s been a curse for a lot of comics. Their material just seems to get worse and worse and worse. Maybe it’s that thing where you start doing stand-up and you get good at it, then you’re rewarded and you’re hugely famous but you’ve said everything you’ve wanted to say. And then the promoter says you should really go on tour again; you’ll make $12 million on your next tour, so get a show together. Deep down you know you’ve said it all already so you say it again but in a … Randy Newman has this great line: He said, “Each album I make is like one I’ve made before, except not as good.” (laughs)
GM: I interviewed Russell Peters years ago (2007) and he said his next tour back then would be his last using racial humour. Then I spoke to him a year or so ago and asked how that went. He said he couldn’t stop! They wouldn’t let him.
TT: Yeah. Well, you know, that’s Russell’s cross (laughs). He carries it well.
GM: You have five kids?
GM: Your website says five. Is there a new one?
TT: There’s a new one, yeah, but he’s a year old so I don’t know why he hasn’t made it onto the website yet. Maybe he’s too young.
GM: What’s the age range?
TT: Nineteen down as far as one.
GM: Wow. So this is why you like to go on the road?
TT: I’ve come up with the idea of endless touring, yeah. (laughs) At the moment it’s half and half. It’s three or four days on, three or four days off.
GM: The kids are all at home with you?
TT: They’re all in the same town. The 19-year-old lives by himself and the next two live with their mother but they’re all over at our house two or three days a week, as well.
GM: Is the 19-year-old interested in show biz?
TT: No, he comes on the road with me, though, in Ireland. He’s kind of apprentice tour manager and he’s getting an education in sound engineering or sound technician or something. But he’s getting sort of an apprenticeship in both those things. I’m delighted to have him on the road with me. It’s great.
GM: Stray Sod is the title of the tour. Do you come up with the title after the show or do you develop a show around an idea of a title?
TT: The show is constantly developing so it changes all the time. So I just needed a title for this one and I like a phrase that seems symbolic of the show rather than has a literal meaning. So Stray Sod is a notion that exists in parts of Ireland that part of the Earth is enchanted, and not necessarily in a good way. You can stand on a stray sod and become confused and lost and unable to find your way home. And what you need to do in order to unwork the curse of the stray sod – ‘curse’ is probably too strong a word; unweave its power – is put your jacket on inside out and then you’ll be able to find your way home. I just liked the idea of Ireland being the stray sod of Europe, that the whole country is enchanted. And again, not necessarily in a good way. That there’s an opportunity in Ireland to perceive things differently and not just via alcohol! (laughs) I like that idea, that notion. It’s not one that’s too literal or too pin-downable. It maintains an energy so I like it.
GM: As you were describing it, I was thinking it probably was made up by a drunk Irishman to his gullible wife.
TT: Well, there you go. That may well have been where it came from or that may just be one of its other purposes.
GM: Tommy, it’s always nice talking to you. Thank you very much.
TT: My pleasure.
Labels: Tommy Tiernan
Hi there. It's me again. Got another delinquent interview for you, dating back to June 2013. Sabrina Jalees isn't a delinquent, just my posting of the talk we had. I first met her back when she was a precocious teenager of 18, I believe, in Montreal. She was doing cartwheels on the basketball court during the comics vs industry game while Alonzo Bodden and I were battling it out under the boards. Now she's a mature woman living large in New York. Well, as mature as a goofball can be.
June 24, 2013
"Before I came out, I was trying to write about anything but what I was actually going through. Would you believe that created writer’s block? But as soon as I was able to come out, not just about writing about being gay but everything came out. I think that’s the most important thing for a writer is being able to write about the things you know and the things that you think about."
– Sabrina Jalees
Guy MacPherson: Are you in New York?
Sabrina Jalees: I had a show in Ottawa last night and I’m heading to Toronto for a show this afternoon. But I live in Brooklyn now and I’ve got my American phone roving around Canada collecting charges far and wide.
GM: How long have you been in New York?
SJ: I’ve been living there for about four years.
GM: And it’s everything you dreamed it would be?
SJ: Oh, man. I mean, I can’t lie. I had total rose-coloured glasses. I was wearing flowers in my eyes when I moved over there. Because I was very lucky when I started doing comedy in Toronto. I was talking about 9/11 shortly after the tragedy as someone who was brought up Muslim and I got a lot of attention fast. So I sort of had this idea that I would move to New York and get off the plane and Lorne Michaels would roll up on the tarmac with a limousine and invite me to join the cast of Saturday Night Live. I just had this sort of glorious dream of what would happen. And really I never worked harder in my life moving there. I started doing standup at 16 but when I moved there four years ago, that’s when I really started a new chapter with standup. I’ve been doing pretty much at least a show or two a night every night that I’ve been in the city and really working hard.
GM: And maintaining your presence in Canada, too, right?
SJ: Yeah, because I never left Canada because I didn’t like it; I really left to go to New York to become a better comic.
GM: And you still had gigs here, like on CBC or wherever.
SJ: Yeah. Wherever anyone would take me, I’d still come back. That’s the great thing about New York vs LA is that I was still able to maintain my gigs and shows that I worked on out of Toronto. Flying back to Canada was easy.
GM: I met you in 2003. You were 18. I have you on video. We were at Just For Laughs and we played in the basketball game.
SJ: Oh, my God! That was like summer camp for me. Amazing.
GM: I think you did a cartwheel on the court.
SJ: Yes! And George Shapiro, the producer of Seinfeld complimented my cartwheel. I was like, ‘Well, this is it, guys! I gotta quit school because I will be the next Seinfeld based on my cartwheel skills!’
GM: When you got to New York, did you pursue Saturday Night Live or those higher profile things you had been dreaming about?
SJ: I’ve put together an audition for Saturday Night Live. I think for me what I’ve learned in trying to do standup in Canada is how many different roads you can go down: as a comedian, a writer, a performer, host. So what I really loved about my career here in Canada is that I’ve been able to host a radio show or host and produce a kids show and all these different things. For me, the dream is to continue to be able to be creative and get paid for it. And if I get bucketloads of money and famous, then that’s just a bigger dream. It means I’ve slept on the right side of the bed.
GM: You’ve always been ambitious, haven’t you?
SJ: I hope so.
GM: Not all comics are.
SJ: Another thing I’ve noticed is comedians like Russell Peters and Gerry Dee, who have this big presence not just in Canada but internationally, it’s a lot of talent and skill but in both of those cases, and in most cases, it’s also paired with this undying drive and ambition. Even the idea of standup, you go on stage and the illusion is that you’re just sort of riffing. A lot of creative people get distracted by that illusion because, yeah, you do improvise a bit but the comics who seem the most natural on stage also worked hour after hour on those jokes. So I’ve just tried to put as much effort into what I do and to be honest, going to New York was another wake-up call. Because I had some credits here in Canada, I was able to sort of at times rest on my laurels. In New York, you can’t show up to shows doing the same seven minutes. You won’t get booked again. A lot of the times, the hottest shows that I’m performing on are booked by comics, and comics are booking people that they’re inspired by, that they find funny. But definitely, maybe it’s a child of immigrant thing, but I’m selling tank tops after the show, I’m emailing everyone I can on Facebook to get on their podcast to promote this tour, whatever I can do. What can I do to get you to my show, Guy?! I don’t know, is it drive or is it desperation? I think it’s a fine blend. If I was a coffee roaster, my coffee would be called Drive and Desperation.
GM: You can do my podcast when you come to town.
SJ: Yeah, can I?
GM: Of course.
SJ: It’s amazing how things change when you produce a show vs someone booking you for a show, where you’re like, ‘I guess I’ll wake up at 8 and do radio interviews.’ Now I’m like offering people handjobs on Facebook to get on their podcast.
GM: Well, great.
SJ: Well, maybe we can change the handjob. I’ll wash their car.
GM: I’ll take it. Anyway, it’s crazy the amount of success you had at such a young age here.
SJ: I was very lucky.
GM: Lucky and talented. There are lots of young comics who would love to have that. What was it? Were you hustling or did things just fall in your lap?
SJ: I think this business is always a mix of talent and luck. Or what do they say? My brother says this to me all the time: Success is a combination of… Aw, man, I wish I knew the right words!
SJ: Preparation and timing!
GM: Something like that, yeah.
SJ: Something like that. Isn’t that tragic that we both forgot the exact recipe? So I think the timing was right for me because it was after 9/11, it was a reaction to this sort of stigma around being brown at that time. And I was young so I was different. So the timing was right for me to get these festivals and I think I did a pretty good job. I loved doing standup and threw myself in it. So I did get a lot of attention young but really what I’ve learned now, over the course of doing this for twelve years, is that whatever luck you get, you’ve got to follow it up with really delivering. And when I moved to New York expecting the moon and the stars, what I didn’t realize was there are people there that have been doing standup every night four or five times for years. And those are the next ones to get their tickets. So I’m in line. I think I’ve moved up in the line. I almost got a job writing for Jimmy Fallon. I’m getting big opportunities and auditioning for big shows. But in the meantime, being able to do this tour… And I’ve had some sold-out shows. What a great blessing. I’m not religious at all but I’ll throw that word around. It’s a blessing.
GM: You’ve never played Vancouver, have you?
SJ: I have, actually. I split headline with Debra DiGiovanni and we rented out a theatre a while ago. This was maybe five or six years ago. And it was a blast.
GM: When I met you in 2003, you gave me your card. You had a business card at 18!
GM: So I was aware of your name and watched for you. And then I started hearing and seeing you on CBC.
SJ: It was that cartwheel, Guy.
GM: You obviously have a national presence here where you can tour the country.
SJ: Yeah, and you know what? Running a tour like this is like planning a huge birthday party and the hours before the party you’re like, ‘Why did I do this? I’ve got all this cake. The streamers are up. And is anyone going to show up?’ And I can’t even tell you how amazing it’s been to see the turn-out. I feel so lucky. It’s been great. In New York, nobody knows who I am really. When I make eye contact with tweens, I’m like, ‘Are you gonna recognize me?’ And inevitably it’s like, ‘Ah, no, you have a booger at the side of your nostril.’ But people recognizing me and having some sort of relationship with me already, it’s an amazing feeling. These shows are so special because of that. Because people know a little bit about my story and so right out of the gate it’s like we’re just hanging out.
GM: Showbiz is highly sexualized and you’re a cute young woman.
SJ: Okay, let’s talk about my body, Guy. Let’s talk about it.
GM: I know it’s sexist, but did you feel any kind of backlash after you came out and then got married?
SJ: I think the cool thing is, and lucky for me, is when I started doing standup – and that was even before I knew I was gay – there was still this vibe in the air about Ellen DeGeneres coming out on her sitcom and her sitcom was cancelled so watch what you say, watch what you do. Cut to today and Ellen is the most liked person on daytime TV. So luckily there have been pioneers before me who have kind of battled through crappier times. I think we’re at a time now where, yeah, I talk about being gay on stage and I talk about gay rights and I talk about race, but the same way I talk about race, there’s a common space there and these are issues that people care about because people care about people. And for me, my standup’s always been biographical.
To answer your question directly, I felt fairly hesitant to come out when I was doing standup in Toronto before I left because of that. I had actually started doing comedy in kind of a different era. I felt like I was going to be pigeon-holed. It wasn’t until I moved to New York that I realized this wasn’t a decision; this is who I am. If I’m going to be honest on stage, this is a part of who I am. When I was holding it back, it was affecting my writing. Before I came out, I was trying to write about anything but what I was actually going through. Would you believe I was blocked? Would you believe that created writer’s block? But as soon as I was able to come out, not just about writing about being gay but everything came out. I think that’s the most important thing for a writer is being able to write about the things you know and the things that you think about.
GM: So you came out and then everything came out.
SJ: That’s right. My toilet got unclogged.
GM: And you talk about race, so obviously being Swiss is a big part of that.
SJ: Yes. You would not believe the Toblerone jokes. Every now and then I’ll touch on the Pakistani thing just to make my dad feel okay.
GM: The tour is called Brownlisted. And that refers to being shunned by your father’s family, right?
SJ: Yeah. I’d been debating with my parents for a while whether they want me to come out. I said, ‘Okay, I got married now. What’s your five-year plan with this secret to the family? Just keep on showing up to family things with my white best friend? And pretty soon we’ve got a little kid best friend?’ To me, I was not ashamed of who I was but I knew it would be a big leap for them because of where they land religiously and culturally, but I never imagined they would completely block me out, which is what ended up happening. It was a really difficult thing and I wrote this piece about it for the Huffington Post at my lowest low. Really, I hadn’t reached the point where I was ready to write jokes; I just wrote this honest piece about what I was feeling and what I was going through. And the response from that actually inspired the tour. Because I got these great, huge cyber hugs from people all over the world but especially people from Canada that remembered me from Video on Trial or had seen me live and had felt a relationship with me and felt that they needed to reach out and give me a hug. And there’s also people that felt inspired to come out and shared their stories and some of them were similar. And then there were Muslim people who said, ‘I pray to Allah that your family can learn to accept you and congratulations to you and your wife.’ So it was really hugely cathartic.
GM: Any reaction from your family about the tour?
SJ: I haven’t heard from them about the tour, no.
GM: You’re talking about your extended family, not your parents, correct?
SJ: No, my parents have been amazing. I came out to them when I was 20. That was a whole thing as well. My joke in my act about coming out to my dad was it was hard because now he expects me to get ten wives. But when you come out, parents have their expectations of what your life is going to look like and coming out always throws them for a loop. But they couldn’t be prouder of me. They’re awesome. They actually drove to Ottawa from Toronto to check out my show again last night. Really, they’re heroes. They’re standing in front of the family saying, you know, ‘So what? My kid’s gay. Your kid’s got bad breath.’
GM: For the ones that have shunned you, were you pretty close to them before?
SJ: Yeah, I lived with a lot of them because my dad is the eldest of eight brothers and sisters and they all emigrated first to Canada and mostly their first stop would be in our basement. These are cousins and aunts and uncles that were pretty much like brothers and sisters to me at one time. And of course you get older and you grow up, but you never assume that you will lose your family in that way. And honestly, since the Huffington Post piece, as time has gone by, some people have reached out to me. And at the end of the day, anyone that wants to have a relationship with me – this is where the desperation comes in: ‘Anyone that wants me, I’ll take it!’ But really, I get it. I just didn’t know that they would be willing to defriend me and block me out and stop speaking to me. But whatever. I really wouldn’t have been as vocal about what happened if it wasn’t so horrible the way it was dealt with. I mean, it made me realize why gay kids kill themselves. If I didn’t have my parents in that time, being rejected by your tribe sucks.
GM: Is your dad a religious Muslim or just a cultural one?
SJ: He married a white woman in the ‘70s and it was all downhill for him and religion from there. There’s no bacon in the house and he makes it known that there will be no ordering of any pork. It’s adorable. It’s like he wants to live in a world where he believes that none of us has ever had a slice of pepperoni.
GM: Are you close to your mother’s side of the family?
SJ: Yeah. My mother’s side of the family I am close to. One of my aunts flew in for the wedding. They’re Swiss; they’re not going to make any waves.
GM: Did you develop material for the tour on stages in New York?
SJ: Yeah, pretty much. The tour is everything I’ve been working on in New York the past four years. And also I felt that before the Huffington Post thing happened, I’d been wanting to come back. This is my first national tour. I go back for corporates or whatever and they’ll fly me in but generally speaking I haven’t had the opportunity to invite fans or anyone – fans or anyone; that’s my demographic! – to come see me perform. I’ve been really fucking happy about the turnout and the shows. I feel like I’ve been working so hard and a lot of times when people refer to my comedy, it’s a little bit older jokes and it’s a different era. So I’m excited to show Canada the Sabrina Jalees of 2013.
GM: Married life is good?
SJ: Married life is good, yeah! I’m married to a stylist so that means I’m a trendy type of person.
GM: She leaves your clothes out for you in the morning?
SJ: Oh, yes, for sure. It’s adorable: She took pictures of all the outfits I’m wearing. For each city she’s planned out an outfit. And I have to say Vancouver’s is just delightful.
GM: Where is she from?
SJ: She grew up near DC but she’s from a military family. She was born in Guam and I found her in San Francisco. Very American family I married into. It’s amazing to see their growth through this whole thing, too. They go to church every Sunday and they’re a military family and Republican. Can you imagine what they must have thought was coming to their house the first day I showed up to meet them? Just a lesbian kicking down the door: ‘I’ve stolen your daughter’s heart. And I’ve built a deck out front.’
GM: Are both families in the act?
SJ: Yes. Well, I married into a wealth of material.
GM: That’s why you did it. I get it now.
SJ: Exactly! You gotta pick very wisely.
GM: Your Wikipedia entry says you’re also a dancer. I didn’t know this about you.
SJ: You know what? That’s maybe where you’re not want to write your college papers from. I’m not a dancer! You know what it was? On Video On Trial, under your name they would put some random job and I always got them to put ‘Interpretive Dancer’. I actually got some booking requests (laughs) in the beginning based on that. You know what the best part of the Wikipedia page is? At the bottom, and very dramatically, it says, ‘Jalees is out as a lesbian.’ (laughs) She’s broken out of jail and she will not let go of this lesbian stuff! Like I’m on the prowl.
GM: So lock your daughters inside!
SJ: Hide your plaid shirts!
Labels: Sabrina Jalees