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Three years after releasing her first comedy special on Netflix, the critically-acclaimed 3 In The Morning, Sam Jay delivers her second hour of stand-up for HBO, where she had her own late-night variety/sketch series, PAUSE with Sam Jay. Will this hour give you pause? Or will she leave you laughing too much to catch your breath?
The Gist: The former Saturday Night Live writer has made her face known to viewers no matter what platform they’re streaming, from Netflix (for her debut comedy special) to Peacock (where she not only co-created and co-starred in Bust Down, but also appeared as the announcer for NBC’s 2022 Emmy Awards telecast hosted by Kenan Thompson), to Paramount+ with Showtime (for a recurring role on Flatbush Misdemeanors) and even Hulu (Shrill, as Fran’s friend). What, nothing on Disney+?!?
Her two-season run hosting her own show on HBO featured lively party debates filmed in her Brooklyn apartment, then following Jay out into the city and the world for brutally honest interviews and brutally funny comedy sketches. For her stand-up, she remains ever willing to get into the weeds of thorny issues, this time using her recent engagement as pretext for her to wonder what it means to be “the man” in a relationship, as well as why we’re quick to police people on language while letting their behaviors slide.
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: I’m not the only one to compare her to the late Patrice O’Neal. And this hour probably won’t do anything to deter those comparisons, even if you’d never hear O’Neal utter the word Charizard.
Memorable Jokes: Getting engaged as a lesbian has caused Jay to re-examine gender roles, as she sees herself as the man in her relationship. “I do believe in masculine and feminine energy. I don’t believe it’s attached to your genitalia. But I do believe it f—ing exists,” she says, noting in retrospect that she found it easier to please a man than it has been now to please her woman.
Jay makes the case for men, or rather, for the idea that one-half of the relationship shouldn’t be quite so burdened by providing money and security for the other. Even taking out the garbage gets an empathetic spin from her now. Which is her broader message.
Because she feels the nation is divided much like couples are, by one side lacking empathy for the other. And Jay believes part of the problem rests in how we’re cutting off our ability to communicate. “There’s words we need that we don’t have access to,” she says, “like retarded.” Her philosophy is that we ruined it because “we were calling the wrong people retarded.” Autistics or people with Down syndrome? They’re cool in Jay’s book. But not Herschel Walker.
So it’s no surprise Jay also wants to talk about midgets, wondering not only how that became a slur, but also why nobody is advocating for little people in the same way they do others. Similarly, Jay doesn’t care so much about hearing the n-word, but only because we’ve progressed enough as a society that “it’s never a white person on the rise” who says it publicly now.
And with Halloween around the corner, Jay isn’t so worried about seeing a Blackface costume (“paint your ugly dumb face”), instead suggesting Black Americans start dressing in Whiteface to make fun of the nonsense, complete with her own costume guide.
Our Take: We love hearing American traditions mocked from outsiders. It’s worked wonders for the careers of John Oliver, Trevor Noah and Ronny Chieng in recent years. Jay pulls it off in this hour by spending the first half of it offering her fresh perspective to heteronormative relationships, making it personal through her eyes as a “junior man” kind of lesbian.
Once she’s established that feat, she can then take the premise of empathy into other realms. And perhaps most importantly, she doesn’t present herself as an expert on empathy or bridge-building. “How do the rest of us get here? I don’t know…I’m not going to pretend that I have the answers,” she says instead. “I feel like we’re tying to put a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”
And with so many comedians caught up on language and free speech debates as straw men arguments, Jay wisely points out that the issue isn’t so much what we say, but how we act, that really matters: “So we’re doing things like we’re policing words, but we’re not policing behavior.” Much like Roy Wood Jr.’s opening joke in Father Figure defending the Confederate flag as a way to identify the dangerous people among us, Jay says she’d rather hear your slurs, because at least then she’d know who you truly are, instead of allowing bad people to hide behind safe language.
And she’s smart enough to know this issue isn’t as simple as black or white, so to speak. “We’re all terrible and trash. White people don’t have an exclusivity on this.”
Our Call: STREAM IT. Jay might not always hit, but at least she’s taking more thoughtful shots than most in the game today. Even her closing bit, which starts with a premise you may have heard before comparing the cleanliness of men’s and women’s bathrooms, veers into more surprising heartfelt observations thanks to Jay’s point of view.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat. He also podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.