In the eight years Just For Laughs has been putting up content on YouTube, the vast majority of their videos are stand-up sets recorded at their festival events. However, recently they have quietly released a few high production web shows on their account. Just For Laughs is behind a couple of digital shows including How Many Questions, Text or Shot, and Definitely Happened. In those series, each episode features different comedians as guests. However, one of their shows is truly a one-woman experience. Jessie Jolles hosts the show It’s A Date! In each episode, Jolles sits on a couch and gives dating advice. There are no guests, no challenge-based tasks, just Jolles and her thoughts on modern dating.
A comedian talking about dating might not seem very revolutionary, but Jolles is not afraid to get real, talk about feminist things, or piss off commentators. Laughspin’s Rosa Escandon talked with Jolles about dating, mental health, and why digital series work.
Jessie Jolles interview
Laughspin: How did you come up with the series?
Jessie Jolles: The great part is, it came from my own dating life. I was going to therapy—love therapy, love my therapist Doctor Pamela. I kept coming to her and saying, I feel like dating is a waste of my time. And she said, well what if it wasn’t? And I said, what if it wasn’t? So dating just became a big part of my comedy because I used it as a way, if a date didn’t go well, at least I could get material from it. And then, JFL saw something that I had done and then we sort of started coming up with this series, which is essentially tips and advice from someone who’s been dating forever and therefore is probably not who you should be listening to but has very strong opinions.
A lot of comics talk about dating in general in their sets. For you, what makes you stand out?
I think I have taken out “the woe is me.” A lot of my dating humor comes from situations where something is my fault. Truly, a lot of it is my fault. The reason that it hasn’t worked out in the past is there are a lot of hurdles that I have noticed I have to overcome. So there’s a lot of self-deprecating humor in the series, which is just a very big part of me. I think part of dating is making you realize a lot of times the problem lies within you. Then some of the series episodes come from realizations that I’ve made or crossroads I’ve been at. I always joke that whenever I’m in a sexual setting, I want to be taken. But also I’m a feminist and very much think if you don’t get consent, I’ll rip your head off. So that can be confusing to people, including me. The period episode that just came out came directly from somebody who I was dating. Through dating him, I realized the amount of shame that comes from society that we’ve been taught and I didn’t even realize I had felt that shame.
This series does have a very feminist angle. Have you gotten any backlash from that?
Yes. If you read the comments you’ll see a bunch of backlash. Which is okay because I do consider backlash something that means I’m hitting a spot that is sensitive for people and that I am saying things that people haven’t heard before, which is what I want to be doing. I think that it’s scary to say some of the things that I’m trying to say. I was able to say it in a comedic sense before I was able to say it in my real life. For example, to look a person in the eyes and say, “Actually, that doesn’t fly.” I had to work out that stuff on stage and in this series before I could say everything I’m saying and now I’m going to put it to the test.
That’s an interesting process: having it come out on stage before it comes out in real life. Is that something that you think other comedians share?
I know that for myself, I am most comfortable on stage with a microphone. That is where I feel most at peace, most myself, most in tune with myself. When I do stand-up or storytelling, a lot of times, it’s just whatever comes to mind or whatever I want to share. I like to be vulnerable and just say whatever I’m thinking about. I’ve surprised myself with the revelations I’ve had or the things I’ve said that then I have to walk away with and think about. I realize those things came from a very honest, true place. Sometimes the easiest times to say something is when you’re joking. My therapist and I should pretty much just watch my sets and go from there. But you know, I think that a lot of comedians find their happy on stage or when they’re writing and they’re able to be a little removed from themselves. But then when they bring themselves back to it and look at what they’ve done, they can see what is missing in their life or what changes they want to make.
Back to the show itself! What was production like?
Just for Laughs had seen a proof of concept I shot and then I went out there to Los Angeles and shot it with them. My brother directed it. My parents are truly thrilled. JFL helped me make it come to life and obviously gave me this great platform to put it on.
I haven’t seen a ton of digital content from JFL in this way. Comedians already make a lot of digital content, but do you see this as something that is going to get even bigger?
I think what’s so great about digital is the amount of people you are able to reach. As much as I love doing live shows, if you weren’t there, it disappears. I love it as especially as someone who’s been really depressed and can’t get out of bed. It’s nice to know that there’s a link I could click where maybe something can really resonate with me and make me laugh. Those are people obviously I love to reach. The opportunity to reach across the world is amazing. I do think comedy is going in that direction. I mean with all the streaming platforms, everyone’s able to reach so many more eyes.
Are you seeing people from places you would never go to watching this or does it have more of an American audience?
Our Instagram is able to reach a little more worldwide. What I love about online content is it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Even if the episode came out last week and has maybe 10,000 views, it still has a huge life ahead of it. One click or one share, one write up in a different country and that video can become something completely different, which is really cool.
Do you have a plan for the series or what is next?
I believe there’s nine more that are going to come out and they’re all different. I love them all differently like my children. I’m hoping that this will lead to a second season. I could see this as something that could develop into a TV show or even just have different segments digitally so that we could try out different things. I think that the genre is obviously very fun and very infinite. There’s just a lot of opportunity and I’ve gotten a lot of emails and messages from women, especially about the period one, just saying how they are really thankful and also it made them laugh, but also it brought back memories of harder times where they weren’t laughing as much. But it’s nice that they can look back now and laugh and sort of realized if that’s something that they want to stand for too.
Would you say the series is made for women or is it just who ends up really liking it?
I think that I normally write comedy for my younger self. My 20-year-old in-the-middle-of-an-eating-disorder train wreck of a self. A lot of my comedy is for her. I honestly think the series can resonate with men as well, although some of the episodes might not necessarily be for them or they might feel like it’s against them. But the series is for anybody who has ever dated. Obviously, when dating, you date all losers until there’s one winner. That’s the name of the game. But yeah, I like to make content and comedy for the younger me. So wherever she is, it’s pretty much for her.
At the risk of being cheesy, If you could say one thing to women in their 20s right now about dating, what would it be?
I think what I would want to tell them is to value yourself. Have the confidence to realize you’re a badass bitch and you deserve to be treated like a human. If that’s not happening, all the games or all that weird stuff, it’s just a waste of your time and your mental energy. You could be using that energy to take over the world and get promotions and ask for more money and fuck society telling you that [a relationship, even a bad one] is something that you need in your life in order to be happy because you can be happy just being yourself.