Jazmyn W: A Rising Comedic Force
Leaving a six-figure corporate job for the world of standup comedy is brave. But, if your name is Jazmyn W, that gambit has already paid off. Originally from Texas, now based in Los Angeles, Jazmyn rose to prominence with her viral “White House HR” skits, where she plays a fictional secretary processing (and booting out) the last holdouts from the Trump White House (including the former president, himself). She’s also created a boisterous, ongoing commentary on the reality TV shows The Bachelor and Married At First Sight. She channels her comedic skill, brimming with observational wit and unbridled honesty, into every conceivable social media platform: TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and her own podcast, Colored Couch Conversations.
FRONTRUNNER presents a conversation with Jazmyn W, as a rising force not only as a standup comedian, but a fearless, black woman tirelessly producing groundbreaking content.
Tell me about your beginnings. How did you get started?
I studied communications. My goal was to be an entertainment newscaster; I wanted to be on E-News. My boyfriend at the time, when I graduated college, we both moved to Northern California, the Bay Area. I was like, I guess I’m not gonna move to Louisiana and be a newscaster in a city that nobody’s ever heard of, because that’s what you do. I decided to just jump as a corporate American: I got a corporate job at a startup in San Fransisco. I got signed to a commercial agency. So, for a couple of years I was just leaving work and being gone for two hours at a time on auditions. I was like, “Okay yeah, this is fun if I get a commercial, but honestly who cares? What can I do at night?” Then I started doing comedy, ‘cause my dad had done comedy a few times, and I said, “You know, I know I’m funnier than him, so let me just try.” I did that. I went down to this laundromat, which is famous in San Fransisco for open mics, and I started doing comedy there and I just fell in love with it.
What was the time frame here? How many years has it been, since?
I’ve been doing comedy about six years. 2015, or something like that, ‘cause I think we moved to San Fransisco in 2012 or the beginning of 2013.
When I saw your “White House HR” series on Instagram, it felt so natural in that medium. It was digestible, and you could subtitle and add text to it. What’s your general feeling about using Instagram or TikTok as a platform? Do you feel that these platforms are a new frontier in comedy?
I don’t know if it’s a new frontier, you know? When I first started doing standup, I was like, “I’m not gonna do online comedy ‘cause I’m not an online comedian.” That’a s different type of comedy. Then, when quarantine happened, I was like, “I guess I’m an online comedian now, because nobody’s a live comic.” I don’t know if I would say it’s a new frontier, though. Watching content on YouTube or Netflix, sure, people can call that a new frontier. I guess it’s just the way that you adapt to how we consume content, now. If you took Lucille Ball or The Carol Burnett Show and bitesized it, that’s exactly what we’re doing right now. MAD TV, and then SNL. Now, it’s this, because our attention span is so small. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a frontier of comedy, but I would say it’s the evolution of how we digest content.
So it’s more a reflection of the audience, rather than the comedian.
Yeah! Because – in my opinion – if you’re a good comic, you’re a good comic on in all forms, right? You don’t have to master all forms, that’s hard. But if you‘re good at stand-up, you’re probably good at punch-up (punching somebody else’s comedy), you’re probably good at skits, you’re probably good on camera, in a television show. It’s just transferring your talent to different platforms.
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How did the “White House HR” series get started? Was it a result of consuming what you were seeing in the news?
Well, it’s actually kinda funny, because I do consider myself a observational comic, where it’s based on my experience. I was live on TikTok (which I go live a lot of the time, ‘cause people actually pay attention. On Instagram, nobody cares.) Anyway, I was live on TikTok and I’m always talking crazy, literally. I’m always just saying whatever, and these jokes come from that. People were asking me about Trump, and I was like, “Oh yeah, I would fire Trump.” It was before his last day. I was like, “This is how I would fire him,” and I was just acting it out. I do that a lot because I think it’s hilarious, and said, “Wow that’s really funny. I have to get offline and do that video, ’cause that’s just so good.” Then I jumped off and just recorded it right then. I put it up that same day, and that’s about it.
Have your feelings changed at all about the series since the Capitol riots?
The thing about the riots at Capitol, they’re tragic and anyone who ever had a part in that, to me, is a terrorist. But, at the same time, it’s our world; should black women be surprised by that? I don’t think we were, because this is what happens when you allow people to feel involved in the country and other people. Racism or prejudice, anything like that: this is what happens when you give people the feeling that they’re doing are right, or how they feel is right, or that they’re entitled to something. So yeah, that was after the fact, so I’m not feeling any type of change about the skit, at all.
Basically, rolling out the red carpet for white supremacists and it’s on full display.
Exactly. Which is not surprising to me.
I feel like comedy had been threatened during the Trump administration, because it’s almost as if he’s so clownish and comical in a negative way that’s very, very hard to make light of it. Would you say that?
I can’t say that it’s hard to make light of it, no. I don’t think it’s very hard to make light of it because art imitates reality. The family that I come from, we’ve had tragic things happen and we find a way to make light of it. That’s how we move through it. There’s always something ridiculous about Trump and the things he says. Half the time it’s not even true. It makes it easy when you’re dealing with things that aren’t factual, you know? But the White House skits are really not about what happened at the Capitol: it’s more abut moving through and processing people as they come and go in our lives. It just happens to be government and politicians, you know what I mean? So, it’s about finding, about shading them, and laughing.
As a young black woman in performative comedy, who were some role models for you?
I would say the number one influence was Martin Lawrence, just because of how loose he was. I quote him in my daily life. Of course Dave Chappelle, because of his truth-telling capabilities and the way he can be serious and be funny at the same time. I love Wanda Sykes: just everything about her attitude, it’s like she hits you with the truth and I relate to her so much. She has this voice that’s very recognizable, she’s so sweet. So, when she hits you with the truth, you can’t do anything but laugh and smile. It might be a gut punch, but what can you say to Wanda Sykes? She’s like your auntie, you know?
In terms of sketches or routines that you build, is there an element of improvisation or is it strictly rehearsed?
I don’t write any of my skits, they’re completely improvised. Of course, I do them multiple times – probably each one five or six times before. Because you might get on camera and say this, and then you might think of something else to say, then it’s like, “Okay, how can I fit that in?” It’s adding and taking out, and making sure I look natural, too. I accidentally posted a blooper on my Tik-Tok, where I choked on a grape. Spit came out. Things like that happen. I said, “I might delete this,” and everybody’s like, “No, don’t delete it, this hilarious!” It’s a two-second clip of grape juice coming out of my mouth and landing on my shirt. You almost like kill yourself trying to do a funny joke because you’re eating. But yeah, all of it’s improvised.
Are there other types of performance that you’re interested in, or have you found your niche with comedy?
No, I’m totally open to all types of things. I’ve taken acting classes – it wasn’t comedy, it was drama. As comedians, we’re so used to expressing ourselves in happiness. Expressing yourself in pain is another thing – not saying that I’ve had the most tragic childhood growing up or anything like that, because I really don’t think that I did – but we all have experienced some sort of pain. I write, I’m open to standup, I’m open to television (whether it’s comedy or dramedy or drama), I would love all of that. Somebody asked me about a stage play the other day; I don’t know if I wanna do any Tyler Perry plays on stage. I can’t sing and I need multiple takes to get things right!
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What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young comics as they go forward from the pandemic?
Ah, the biggest challenge. You know what? There’s a lot, but the one thing I would probably say is originality. Any time you do anything, I think people are comparing it to somebody else. When you consume all of this content, you can’t help but be influenced by it. If people are like, “What are you watching right now?” I don’t watch a lot of TV. I don’t really like to be influenced. I have people DM-ing me, “You should do this! You should do this! You should fire such-and-such next!” I’m like, “Well now actually, I don’t wanna do any of your ideas because they’re not yours. Or because they’re yours.” Originality is difficult. Especially with platforms like TikTok, they encourage you to duet, to replicate. So, sometimes the original creator is lost on that platform, because so many more popular people are recreating something that someone else did. I think that’s probably the toughest hurdle: to continue to find ways to be original. It gets tougher.