The Dallas-Born Actress, Stand-Up Comic And Writer Talks About Her Role On HBO’s Crashing And Her Plans For A New Sex And The City Podcast.
Jamie Lee admits that she may have bitten off a bit more than she could chew when she started in comedy in New York City. But her ever-expanding list of accomplishments suggests that she’s had little trouble navigating the comedy scene.
The Dallas-born Lee — yet another product of the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts — has enjoyed success writing for networks like Comedy Central and HBO and has performed on an assortment of late-night and panel shows. She’s even written a book, Weddiculous, a comedic exploration of her wedding experience.
And now at the start of 2018, she’s adding to her already impressive career with an acting role on the current season of HBO’s Crashing, which she had worked on as a writer in its first season. She also just released her first full length stand-up album, I Mean…, and now she’s preparing to release a new Sex And The City-themed podcast.
When you watch her perform, it’s easy to see why Lee’s been so successful.
Onstage, Lee’s able to slide gracefully between casual conversation and animated, sharply realized act-outs. Her material can deliver big laughs with sharp, punchy jokes and deeper bits that tease out the absurdity of whatever subject winds up in her crosshairs. That versatility has made her valuable as a writer and guest on zeitgeist-focused works like Girl Code, as well as on more esoteric projects like The Pete Holmes Show.
Somehow, even with all this going on, Lee was able to sneak in some time to speak to us about her new on-screen role on Crashing, the release of her new album and why she’s glad more cities have been able to nurture viable comedy scenes, even if she’s still glad she started in New York City.
Spoiler Alert: Before moving on and reading the below Q&A, you’re probably wondering if there are spoilers for the new season of Crashing in this interview? There is, but just one of them, and it’s for the first episode of season two. I promise it won’t ruin your capacity to enjoy the show. Probably.
So you just had an album, I Mean…, come out.
Yeah! My first album.
You’ve had stand-up available before on Comedy Central, but this is your first full release. How’s it feel to have it out there?
It’s good. It’s a little… yeah, I mean, there’s a piece of you that’s like, “Oh, I could’ve maybe told that joke slightly differently.” But I think the whole point is just to capture the live experience and make sure that translates, and I feel like it accomplishes that.
Definitely. You talked about those little things — so do you go back and listen to it once it’s out there?
No, I do not.
I totally understand.
Yeah, put it out and let it go!
Now that it’s out there, are you going back to like a “start from scratch” thing, or…
I think that’s true. I’m doing stand-up on James Corden’s show soon, and I think there might be some jokes that are on the album, maybe not.
I guess now you’re working on it while you’ve got other commitments. You have Crashing, you have your podcast…
I’m actually not doing that podcast anymore — but I am gonna start a new one! I’m gonna start doing a Sex and the City podcast. My friend and I are gonna start from the first episode, and go through the whole box set and movies, so we’re gonna be starting that pretty soon.
Are you revisiting the show or is this your first time?
First time watching?!?!?!?! No, no, no, we’re both, like, huge, huge fans and we feel like, with the current social climate and with Time’s Up and #MeToo, it’s kind of an interesting time to look back at Sex and the City and see what would’ve, y’know… what was OK to have on the television then. Different aspects of it.
So kind of reevaluating the show in a modern context.
Yeah. And it’s actually the 20th anniversary of the show. It came out in 1998 and we just thought it was a really good time to go back and delve in. And hopefully we’ll get some guests, some people who were involved in the show. There were a lot of comedians who were on the show, just doing guest roles, and we’re gonna see if we can lock some of them in.
Do you have a tentative date for when it’s coming out?
I don’t yet, but yeah, definitely soon and in the new year. This current new year. [Laughs.]
As far as stand-up goes, does it change your routine to have more things going on, as far as writing and developing?
I think that the main thing is I’ve been doing a lot of writing lately. I have a show I sold to ABC Signature, which is like the cable studio behind ABC, and I have to work on a draft of that, and then I’m writing a movie, so I have to work on the third draft of that coming up. I think it’s really just… writing is kind of all-consuming, and I think that writing stand-up is a very different muscle. And you have less of an immediate deadline with stand-up, and I think my challenge is finding time to write both — to write for projects but also write for myself.
You’ve written for both seasons of Crashing, but this second season you’re playing a role. You’re not playing yourself, but you’re playing a stand-up comic, and one who’s just starting out. Can you talk about what it’s like to perform on the show?
It’s been a dream. Especially since I moved to LA, I’ve become a lot more comfortable with admitting to myself that I’m interested in acting. I’ve been auditioning a lot, and having success with it in terms of the auditioning world — like, I was getting callbacks, and I tested for a pilot last year, so I was like, “OK, I feel like there’s traction here! There’s enough traction for me to keep believing in myself on the acting front!” [Laughs.] But it did hit a point where I was like, “Oh, I’m so close, but I haven’t landed the thing.” So then when this came along, it felt like a dream come true. I just couldn’t believe it. You wait so long and you get so close so many times, so when it actually happens, it’s a really exciting feeling.
I should say, even though they knew you and you’d been writing for the show, you still had to audition for it, correct?
Yeah, I did have to audition. I actually was told early on that they didn’t think I was the right fit for it, which I totally understood, and I kind of just moved on from thinking I would be on the show from there. I was thinking there would maybe be a small part that would come up, but I kind of had it out of my mind that I was gonna be on the show, so when I was given the opportunity to audition — and I actually booked it — I was like, “Oh, this is crazy.”
What’s it like revisiting the mind of someone who’s new to comedy?
It’s exciting and it’s traumatizing. I think, when I was starting out, I didn’t have anything to compare it to. But now that I’m past that part of my career, or really grinding it out and doing all these unpaid shows and doing stand-up every night of the week, multiple times in a night, I think now that I’m over that I’m able to look back at it and say, “Oh, that actually was pretty hard.” It was really fun, don’t get me wrong, but it also was challenging. So being able to act it out on TV, it’s a little surreal, because it wasn’t that long ago. It’s not like this is a period piece where I’m acting out some World War II drama, where I’m really gonna have to do my research. It’s like, no, it was only like five years ago that I was that person. It’s a little surreal in that way.
It is funny to watch and see some comics like you and Pete [Holmes] are starting over and then some comics are at the level they’re at now, so it’s interesting to see who’s starting over versus who’s still there.
There’s definitely a truth-bending in the show in terms of where people actually stand in their careers on their own, and where they stand in their careers on the show. And I think that it can be confusing. But I think, y’know, ultimately we’re making a TV show. We’re going to make those choices based on what we need to do to facilitate the narrative.
And it probably helps get away from the biographical quality, so it doesn’t feel like it has to be total retelling.
Totally. It gives you so much more freedom when you don’t have to 100 percent worry about questions like, “Is this accurate to my story?”
You mentioned the Time’s Up movement and #MeToo earlier when talking about the Sex and the City podcast, and I did want to bring up something from the first episode of this season of Crashing. When you and Pete get together, he asks to be clear that it’s a consensual encounter.
I was curious about that, because part of the show is about Pete’s lack of worldliness — but in that moment he’s doing the right thing.
Yeah, that was actually based on something that happened to Pete in real life. I’m not sure who the person was, but I know that he drew that from his own experience, and I think it brought new meaning when the Time’s Up movement and #MeToo happened, because that was after — shortly after but still after — we wrote the episode. It ended up having so much more weight behind it than we had even ever intended. And I think now, we’re really thrilled about that. Because it was a happy accident.
I was wondering how the timing lined up, if it was before or after in the writing process, but that is really fortuitous, timing-wise.
OK, so changing directions: You grew up in Dallas!
But you didn’t start comedy here, correct?
I didn’t, I started in New York.
Did you move there for the comedy? What brought you out there?
Well, I got a job at Comedy Central after I graduated college, so I was working out there in comedy, and then it kind of dawned on me that I actually wanted to be pursuing it. But when I was growing up in Dallas… I went and saw Margaret Cho a couple times when she came through Dallas, and I was a really big fan of hers, but I didn’t really understand how people got into stand-up until I moved to New York and saw people doing it for a living.
That’s interesting, because I feel like comedy scenes in smaller cities, or relatively smaller cities, are blowing up and getting more prominent. What do you think a city gets from having a stronger, more visible comedy scene?
I think it’s really important, and I think it’s really exciting. I also think these scenes, they are so strong. Like the Austin comedy scene is known for being really strong. That scene fosters such great talent, and they do — a lot of them, not all of them, but a lot of them — leave to go to LA, go to New York. I think they’re stronger for it because they’re able to perform in a city without a lot of industry, so it’s a little safer to… I want to say safer to fail, but that’s not what I mean. [You can] find yourself as a performer. I think when you’re doing that in bigger cities, you can be seen pretty early, when you’re just kind of figuring it out. You think that’s what you want. You’re like, “Oh cool, a manager saw me!” But then it’s like… the manager might not want to take you on at this stage.
If you were starting today, would you still want to start in a smaller city, or would you still want to start in New York?
I think I’d still want to start in New York, I’m a very cart-before-the-horse type of person. And also, I just loved living in New York — that was very special to me. But if I did choose a smaller scene to start in, I think I’d have chosen Austin.
Cover image courtesy of HBO.