Jamie Lee has been all over the place – from placing as a semi-finalist on Last Comic Standing to being a regular on Girl Code to standup sets on Conan, John Oliver’s New York Standup Show, and The Pete Holmes Show. Now, the comedian is set to host her own show on TruTV called Ten Things. I talked to her about the BuzzFeedy new show, her upcoming book about weddings, and the issues female comedians face in the entertainment industry.
I know you’re from Texas. When did you move to LA? And was it specifically for comedy?
I left Texas after college, I went to UT in Austin and then from there I moved to New York and I lived there for eight years. It’s where I started comedy. When I moved to LA I actually moved from New York. I’ve been here now for about two years.
So, first thing’s first tell us about Ten Things which is premiering soon.
Yes! So, Ten Things, I like to describe it as if BuzzFeed were a TV show. Every week it’s a different themed list and it’s sort of like we’re educating you, but we’re also making you laugh. Some examples would be, “Ten things you didn’t learn in sex ed” or “Ten things you didn’t know about theme parks,” so it really pretty broad in terms of what we cover.
Did you create the show? How did it come about?
I did not. I did a pilot with the same production company for Lifetime and that did not move forward, but I really enjoyed making the pilot. I thought it came out really funny and good. I just had a really good relationship with the production company so then when this opportunity came up, they called me in and were like, “Does this sound like something you’d be interested in?” and I said, “Absolutely” because I like shows that are kind of… I don’t want to say loose in structure, but I like shows where it’s like we have an outline of what we’re going for and then you just fill it in with jokes. That’s how this was presented to me, “You know, it’s a show where there’s a list and just make it funny.” I was like, “Great! That’s my forte.” It’s not too different than the kind of pilot we shot. I called it “Lady Tosh.” It was basically if there was Tosh.O but more geared towards women and housewives. You know, Lifetime fan base. This is sort of a similar thing. It’s a combination of green screen and field pieces and interviews and yeah, it has a really fun fast pacing to it.
Do you watch Lifetime movies? Are you into those types of shows?
I’m currently obsessed with Lifetime. I’ve never been big into the movies, but I just like that channel. Even just the branding and the colors they use for their logos. And they’re kind of into weird sensational reality, like Little Women LA, but then they also have Project Runway and so they’re kind of into the fashion world. I don’t know, everything about it appeals to me.
It’s like they perfectly found their demographic with you. That’s who it’s supposed to be for.
Yeah, they really figured it out. Then they did the Grumpy Cat and I love cats. It’s just a good vibe over there.
Are you still going to do Girl Code as well?
Yes. Yeah, if Girl Code keeps going, I will be on it.
Talk about what doing Girl Code is like. Do you feel like this new show is kind of similar, as far as the process and what you love doing?
The thing that I love about Girl Code is that it’s kind of like doing standup about specific topics. I feel like that was a really good muscle for me to flex. I feel like a lot of shows that call for a comedian host, so it’s very valuable to have that as a skill set. Being able to carry a green screen performance and make it interesting and to engage the audience almost like it’s a standup show, but it’s not. We don’t have a laugh track. I don’t know, I think Girl Code really helped with learning how to do that, so this show has some elements of that. Kind of like The Soup where you’re telling jokes about graphics. Girl Code wasn’t telling jokes about graphics, but it was asserting my opinion about different topics and I think that translates to this show.
What kind of issues have you come up against being a female comic? I kind of always hate that questions, but at the same time…
Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s kind of a love/hate.
Exactly. We should be talking about it, but it sucks to talk about it and at some point we should just stop talking about it, so it’s no big deal. But obviously a lot of what you’re doing is geared more towards women. So, what kind of issues have you come across with that?
Well, as far as appealing to women in my standup, I’m all about that. I love, hopefully, being a voice for girls and also connecting and making them feel heard and saying things that resonate with them. That’s very important to me and there’s no part of me that feels shame or like I’m somehow denying the other sex by speaking as a women, to women. Because I think the more specific you can be about your experience, just as a human being, the more it appeals to everybody of both genders. I just try to be as honest as possible and if that sometimes means talking about girl stuff, which I hate referring to it as that, I’m definitely going to do it, because I don’t think holding back is the way to appeal more broadly. Broadly – ha.
The other thing is that the main obstacle I’ve felt as a woman in entertainment only comes from behind the scenes. Like let’s say there’s an issue where I don’t feel comfortable saying a specific thing that was written for me. Anything like that, I get nervous because I go, “Oh my god, if I express myself or express discomfort, it’s going to make me seem difficult.” There’s a constant fear of feeling difficult, but then also trying to stick up for yourself and what you believe in. It’s a constant thing of worrying how you’re coming across. I feel like that to me is a very female experience and it’s a constant worry, but also then I get mad at myself for worrying. I’m like, “A man wouldn’t be worrying about it.” It’s just this ongoing battle in my head about how to handle business stuff.
I completely agree and I think a lot of it comes from early on. I think it’s so important to teach younger girls, and young women to assert themselves different. What kind of advice would you give to girls, even if they’re not in entertainment, on assertiveness?
I guess the biggest thing is just pick your battles, and it’s the way you communicate. I think if you approach things from a positive experience of, “We’re all working towards the same goal” you can communicate your frustration and distaste without seeming like you’re complaining. I think that’s all anybody wants. They just want to be communicated with directly and in a way that isn’t accusatory or puts someone else on the defensive. I think that’s probably the best advice I’d give. Don’t be afraid to communicate, because that’s also a bad position to put yourself in. It’s so weird it’s such a catch-22. It’s like, “Try to take the emotion out of it,” and then you’re like, “Oh I can’t be emotional?”
Right. You still want to be able to be yourself. We shouldn’t encourage other to not be themselves, but sometimes you have to remember that it’s a business thing.
I think just being direct. Oh, my other big advice would be to go to the source of the problem, I think a lot of time it’s scary, but it’s also effective. So, not “Oh if I’m upset about something I’ll tell my manager and my manager will handle it.” Okay, or you could also just be a human and contact this other human who you’re having your manager contact for you. There’s this weird barrier where we have a fear of actually saying how you say to the person you actually feel it about and I sometimes think maybe taking that barrier away and dealing with them as two human beings can be much more effective.
I’ve noticed that people aren’t used to being confronted. That doesn’t have to be a bad forceful or angry thing, but most people don’t speak their mind, so it’s pretty powerful tool too. It makes people step back and they’re a little more open to you, because they respect you.
Yeah, yeah. I think true. I think the biggest answer to that question… it’s just so tricky. Also I think there’s this constant fear, I guess for women, of coming across difficult. There’s almost a dichotomy. It’s coming across difficult or not empowering yourself. I think it’s maybe something you learn with age. I also think if you’re a nice person at your core, there’s really not much you can do to cause a riff or disturb the peace. People know you’re a nice person who has a problem, versus an asshole.
So, you were a writer’s assistant for Jerry Seinfeld and Tom Papa and a bunch of cool comedians. Tell us what that was like.
I was a writer’s assistant for them on The Marriage Ref. It meant I was in a small office with Jeff Cesario, Chuck Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, and Tom Papa and it was a very intimidating situation where I learned a lot. I was in constant awe. I also didn’t really know what a writer’s assistant did. I knew we typed things up and kept track of notes, and I did all of that, but then I also had this urge to speak up and be like, “Oh that’s really funny.” And then I quickly learned, “No, no no. They don’t want you to do that.” They don’t want you to tell them they’re being funny. They know they’re funny. That’s why they’re where they are in their careers. It was a very good learning experience as far as understanding the job of writer’s assistant and the value of a writer’s assistant. Because now I’ve been a staff writer before and having a writer’s assistant is so important. It’s such a great job and it’s also a job where eventually once you’ve got it down where you’re helping the writers, then we often times do end up wanting them to pitch jokes and assert themselves more. It’s a really great entry into the world of a writer’s room.
What kind of tips do you have for getting a writer’s assistant job?
Well, I think most of those jobs come up, because… it’s kind of like any job in entertainment. It is unfortunately a lot of who you know. I guess one writer’s assistant I knew, he was recommended because one of the writers knew his dad. His dad was a rabbi at their temple. So that’s how he at least got the interview. Then he was so amazing in the interview we were like, “Oh yeah, of course. No question.” He pitched some of the funniest jokes and he was so on top of his shit. It just worked out that way. Also, I think just telling people. Because, I think we get into this mindset when we’re starting out like, “Oh I don’t want to come across pushy or too networky or desperate, so I have to play it cool all the time.” But it’s like so effective when someone is like, “Hey I’m looking for work right now.” Then, work is constantly coming up, especially in LA, so you’ll just think of that person. I think there’s a lot of value in just saying what you need and what you want, especially if you have what it takes to back it up.
Is there anything else you’re excited that you’re doing besides the new show?
I’m writing a funny book about wedding planning and weddings in general. I’m writing it with Jacqueline Novak, who is an amazing standup. She was just on James Corden. We’re writing it together.
Where did that idea come from?
Well, Jacqueline and I have wanted to work together for a while and then when I got engaged she texted me and was like, “That’s the book.” And I was like, “What?!” She’s like, “That’s it. We’re going to write about your journey through this process and it’s going to be really funny and it’ll be different because it’ll be your perspective and I’m going to weigh in with my perspective and we’re going to kind of form a super group and make it the best book possible.” It’s also because there’s a hole in the market for… this is the main thing, there’s a real lack of funny, but practical books about weddings. All the material out there is like The Knot and the other wedding magazines. It’s so funny that it’s even called Modern Bride. It’s the least modern approach to wedding planning, because it’s coming at it from a very fear based thing. “If you don’t have appetizers that say something about you and fiancé, nobody’s going to remember your wedding.” It’s all this pressure to “Make it your own! Make it your own!” And it’s all kind of silly at the end of the day. It’s supposed to be fun and you don’t really need to have a wedding, you want to have a wedding. I just think there’s a lot of jokes to be made about wedding culture, while celebrating it. Because I am having a wedding and I do want a wedding, so I’m not coming at it from a place of shitting on the idea. I’m coming at it from a place of like, “Okay, I want to do this, but why do I want to do this? Why am I putting myself through this and spending all this money?” I think it will hopefully be a guide book to a degree, but also a collection of essays and antidotes.
When we got married, my husband and I would remind ourselves, “Yeah, it’s an important day, but it’s not the only day.” Then we were able to pick our battles and figure out where to spend money. I think it’s all super interesting, but also a crazy world.
It is interesting, but also we’re at a place where the divorce rates are higher than ever. I’m not saying I’m going to get a divorce, but it’s just such a funny thing that we’re sort of in denial about the fact that relationships and marriage have evolved so much. I know several people who are polyamorous and I just think the wedding market seems to want to deny the way things are right now and in the past a little. Their only idea of “modern” weddings is where you have it or making it really rustic. It’s all aesthetic, it’s never about the fact that we’re celebrating something that’s kind of a dying institution, and a lot of people have chosen not to embrace it and I don’t blame them, you know? It’s kind of a weird thing where I’m terrified of marriage. I love my fiancé, I want to get married, but I definitely have my doubts about all of it, because how can you not?
Oh yeah, there’s no guarantee. As much as you might be like, “Of course it’ll work out!” Not necessarily. There’s so much work behind it.
No! It’s such a different time.
And having a pretty dress, or the “best” invitations isn’t going to make a difference with that, so you might as well figure out what’s important and then have fun along the way.
I don’t want to rip on The Knot too hard, because I also love The Knot and I want to be in it. I am a celebrator of all things wedding, so I really am coming at it from “I love it, but why do I love it?” I think that being honest and open about it is probably going to be comforting to people, because I don’t really feel like anyone is doing that.
So, the show is called Ten Things. What are ten things about you that we don’t know?
Ooh, I love this question!
1. I have a chocolate Labradoodle named Dennis. Bundles of brown hair. He looks like a 70s bush with eyes.
2. I’m obsessed with Bar Method. It’s the only exercise I actually enjoy. That, and walking while cry-eating a gyro.
3. I hate getting my nails done. I never take chances with designs, I always get some dull nude shade. I do it routinely, and I do it begrudgingly.
4. I love cooking for people. It’s actually quite selfish. I do it for the compliments.
5. My parents used to be rock concert promoters. I went to tons of concerts as a kid. I even went to see Gwar. Somehow my parents didn’t care that I would get sprayed with fake blood and other bodily fluids.
6. I have a girl crush on Rashida Jones.
7. I have a boy crush on Josh Duggar. JK! Jim-Bob tho…
8. When I was a kid I thought “weed” was a catch-all term to describe every drug. I thought people snorted weed, shot up weed, you name it!
9. I love 80s new wave music. Very into New Order.
10. I’m self-conscious about how little I read. And when I do read, I’m self-conscious about what I read. Like I will always choose brain candy chick-lit over the biography of Ghandi. I wish I had more intellectual curiosity. Instead I’m just bopping around like, “I love clothes and gelato and emotions!”
10 Things premieres Tuesday, January 5, at 10:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on truTV.