A person’s identity is a peculiar thing. To some, Sam Jay is an Emmy-nominated writer from “Saturday Night Live” (2017–present). To others, she is a noteworthy stand-up comedian. For many, she is an icon because of her triple-threat status as an openly gay black woman.
Jay’s identity is strewn throughout her shows. She covers topics like syncing up periods with her wife, wanting to adopt the best Asian baby, and how advancements in technology create new ways to feel broke. She also talks about her recent divorce and the idea that marriage was designed for straight people. The punchline: Marriage is just an excuse to have sex without protection.
Though she’s found success talking about her life onstage, the same self-deprecating traits she makes fun of often make life most difficult. “I mean, I’ve always been black and a woman,” she says, “so, I don’t have another metric to say, ‘My life could’ve been this way or that way and because of this my life is difficult.’ My life has been my life. I’ve always been these things. I think I noticed when I came out that sometimes people act different to you. Sometimes I’ve been called a ‘dyke,’ but I don’t know if it’s a thing where I wake up every day feeling like my life is harder.”
Jay does not look at her attributes based on how harshly the world judges her. Rather, she looks at how much these traits benefit her identity.
“My identity constantly influences my comedy,” she reveals. “So I feel like life experience is a huge part of comedy and these things happen to be a part of my life experience—so, yeah, they influence it, but I don’t see any ‘negative’ in it.”
Today, she headlines more high-profile gigs than she did seven years ago when she began her career in Boston. 2018 was a good year for Jay; she made an appearance on the first season of Netflix’s “The Comedy Lineup” and released “Donna’s Daughter.” The album is cut with interviews from Jay. During one clip, she vents about how hard it is to move forward in life when people from her past won’t let her. She points to her friend Marcus, who, from the front row, not even a full half-hour into her set, was heckling and throwing her off of her game. Though Jay seems heated when talking about the incident, two years removed she makes it clear she harbors no ill will toward her rowdy friends.
“My friends are always going to be my friends, man,” Jay says. “I’ve known Marcus since I was about 15 years old. He’s one of my closest friends, and my friends are always just going to see me as Samaria [not a well-known standup comedian]—you know what I mean? I like that. It doesn’t bother me at all.”
Despite growing up in Boston, Jay lived in the South for eight years and performed in the Laugh Your Asheville Off comedy festival in 2013. Since then, she has traveled nationwide, taking her stand-up to well-known clubs like the Comedy Cellar in NYC, and in 2017 she was in the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal. However, her content is relative, no matter geographic location.
“When you’re on the road and you’re a traveling comic, it’s like you’re just used to doing comedy wherever,” Jay says. “It doesn’t feel like doing it in the South; it’s just like doing it in the North.”
With almost a decade in the biz, Jay has developed a knack for rolling with the punches. She switches gears from writing jokes for routines to jokes for SNL; it’s an exercise in creativity and time management.
“I would say there was definitely a learning curve,” she describes. “It was hard because it’s easy to write my voice for me, but then it’s hard to figure out how to write my ideas for another person. It took some time to pick up, for sure.”
As a writer for SNL, she has gained skills and experiences that make her stronger in multiple areas of her profession. Still, she doesn’t believe it makes her any more legitimate than before.
“I think I’ve become a better stand-up because today I’m a better writer, so it makes me a better writer in both parts: writing scripts and also just my own material,” Jay says. “I think it’s made me sharper. I don’t think it’s made me more credible or non-credible, though.”