Jessi Klein knows how to deliver a joke both in writing and on stage. The comedy writer and stand-up comedian will showcase her material tonight on Comedy Central during John Oliver’s “New York Stand-Up Show.” She’s written material for SNL, Jimmy Kimmel, and Amy Schumer. Klein recently took time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions via email. The result? Insightful and hilarious!
Q – You’ve written for “Saturday Night Live,” “Samantha Who?” starring Christina Applegate, “Inside Amy Schumer,” “The Jimmy Kimmel Show,” and “The Showbiz Show with David Spade,” to name a few. How different is writing for other comedians like Schumer, Kimmel and Spade versus guest actors on SNL and Applegate who may have comedy on their resumes but don’t necessarily deliver the material as effectively as comedians do?
A - First of all, congrats on finding my IMDb page. I’m personally too scared to look at it. I have to say I kind of disagree with the premise of the question in general. There are some great actors and actresses who happen to be hilarious and can really bring jokes to life in a way that you never would have expected. I remember Jude Law absolutely saved a sketch I’d written on SNL by finding funny tics for a character that I hadn’t thought about at all. I would say that my hope now whenever I write anything is that the actor will bring something totally unexpected to it. Rose Byrne was hilarious in ‘Bridesmaids’ but I don’t think anyone thought of her before that movie as a comedic actress.
Q - Are there different approaches used?
A - Hmm…not really. In any case, you’re either playing to an actor’s known strengths or trying to get her to play against what people are used to seeing her do, which can be even funnier. Do you like the way I’m using ‘her’ as the pronoun here? It’s a pretty brave choice.
Q – To follow that up, how different is writing for yourself versus writing for others?
A - I write for myself almost primarily for stand-up, in which case I’m a little looser. I’ve found a kind of middle ground when I’m developing stand-up, where I try to write as much as I can and then trust that I’ll fill in the blanks when I’m up on stage.
(Photo by Stephen Lovekin for Getty Images)
Q – Has anyone you’ve written for completely butchered the joke? If so, care to go into detail without (or with) mentioning names?
A - Pretty sure I’m butchering this email interview right now.
Q – You’re also a stand-up comedian and have had your own Comedy Central Presents special and will be featured on John Oliver’s “New York Stand-Up Show” this Friday, August 9th. How did you get involved with this project?
A - They asked me and I said yes. If you have the opportunity to be within 200 feet of John Oliver at any given moment, you should take it, no questions asked. That makes it sound a little bit like John Oliver has a restraining order against me. Whatever. Fuck that guy.
Q – Of writing, acting and stand-up, which do you enjoy more and why?
A - I like ‘em all. Being in a writers room is incredibly fun because if you’ve got a good group, it’s like you’re hanging out with the funniest, smartest people you know for seven hours (or usually more) at a time and getting paid for it.
Q – Are there people you’re still hoping to write for or work with? If so, who and why?
A - I have a longstanding crush on Dustin Hoffman.
Q – That’s all I had. Anything you wanted to add?
A - This has been the most gratifying experience of my life.
Jason Tanamor is the Editor of Zoiks! Online. He also is the author of the novels, The Extraordinary Life of Shady Gray, Hello Lesbian! and Anonymous. Visit him online at www.tanamor.com. Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org.