Jay Jurden Uses His Southernness As a Buffer

Jay Jurden. Photo: Corey Rives

Jay Jurden (@JayJurden) is a comedian, writer, and actor based in New York City and originally from Mississippi. His self-described comedic style is “young, black, southern, and queer,” and so is he.

This week, Jay and I talked alternative milks, double code switching, and being very, very young (for casting purposes).

Yeah this tweet only has 17 likes and I’m salty about it. But not nearly as salty as the waves of comedians that I see doing tepid takes on “the milks.” Why are old people (and unoriginal people) upset about almond milk, oat milk, hemp milk, and pea milk? Almond milk is terrible for the environment/pretty good, and oat milk is a new cutie that I have been getting to know for a few weeks now. Things change. There is also usually an implicitly misogynistic, homophobic, femme-bashing tinge to these lispy impressions of people ordering coffee without cow milk. Lactose intolerance is real. So just stop being an asshole to people for trying to protect theirs.

How did you get into comedy?
I got into comedy in NYC after graduate school, MFA in acting, at the University of Alabama. For one of my final projects, I did a 15-minute set that wasn’t nearly as tight as my stuff now, but it was a good indication that comedy would be my focus. Moved here, (signed with a theatrical agency that I am no longer with) and eventually started doing mics and my friends’ bar shows. Growing up I loved stand-up and sketch, so doing it in New York, THE BEST PLACE TO DO IT, is pretty awesome. The timeline is intentionally ambiguous because for casting purposes, I’m very young.

Has Twitter been a helpful platform for your comedy? Do you ever work out jokes online before you try them IRL?
I think that the mark of a good comic and a good Twitter personality is knowing your audience. There is some crossover, but for the most part I think that tweets can be the start of a good joke, but are rarely the polished product worth presenting. The nihilistic meme-riddled doggo landscape that is Twitter has VERY specific tastes and conventions. Stand-up audiences have a different set of expectations. That challenge is fun for me because as a bisexual I am more than capable of pleasing both of them. Some of my tweets can make it into my set after they’ve been vetted, but they have to wait outside the club first. Other tweets just exist so that the Twitter babies know I am just as gross as them.

I’m from Mississippi. More often than not, I’m the only person from Mississippi in a room doing comedy in NYC. I feel a very special connection to the triple identity that is being black, queer, and southern. That connection, however, doesn’t blind me from calling out less than progressive or downright dangerous policies in my home state. Being raised in the South was some of the best comedic training my queer black ass could have ever asked for. You know what’s harder than code switching? Double code switching. I talk about Mississippi in most of my sets to pay homage, but also to say, “Ma’am, do better.”

Did your Southern upbringing prepare you for the realities of the big city in any way?
Being from the South, Mississippi specifically, prepared me for New York because I often use my southernness as a buffer. New York energy is frenetic and very “deadass,” but I’m much more calm and, “Baby, is it that serious?” Affable and agreeable are sort of my go-to states onstage, which help disguise any misdirections or punch lines but also are just nice.

I think that bi erasure is very real. I identify as bi or queer (cue the laughter from Gay Twitter), and one way to combat that is coming up with new stereotypes about bisexuality: the NBA of sexualities (in terms of current popularity and being fun to watch). If you are a bisexual that can’t sing or doesn’t have a nose ring, I’m sorry you don’t feel represented in this tweet, but maybe it’s because you haven’t tried either.

Do your marginalized identities play a big role in the material you perform? Have you found any type of community or niche among comics who share your identities?
The idea of being a “double other” to mainstream audiences is exciting to me: “Hello straight white couple from the Midwest. Strap in, we’re about to have fun.” All of my comedy is filtered through a queer and black lens. It’s not every setup and it’s not every punch line, but it does inform everything I choose to write about. My specific intersectionality of being black and queer is super present in the current comedy landscape. Wanda Sykes is our queen — go watch Not Normal. In New York currently I can think of six or seven black queer comics that I love to see on lineups. I am a bit of a loner in the sense that I didn’t come up through one specific scene, but I love performing with my queer skinfolks. To see people who look and love like me on The Daily Show and in writers rooms is inspiring. So let’s keep the good work up.

Wait, so what’s your final verdict on alternative milks? Is there a clear winner to you?
The alt-milk scene is so important. Currently I live in an almond-milk and oat-milk household. I want to give pea-plant milk another try, but currently oat milk is bodying the competition. As an experiment I recently added oat milk to my oatmeal and accidentally created a singularity. All the Udder Tuggers (which is also a Minor League Baseball team) sipping on bovine booby juice need not worry though — I’m only a recent convert to the alt-milk scene and I’m not trying to change who you are or what you love. It is Pride Month after all.

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Jay Jurden Uses His Southernness As a Buffer