Many comedians don't get a chance to get work right out of college let alone continue their education past high school. It takes time -- sometimes too much -- and effort just to land in a room where the discussion is happening. But then there are a handful of lucky ducks who manage to land a sweet gig that doubles as a big step towards a career in entertainment.
Jenny Jaffe is one of those ducks. She's managed to swing luck further into her direction with her latest effort: a show on IFC's digital platform, Comedy Crib. The show, Neurotica, is crude on the surface but heartfelt in the middle. It turns out Jaffe is the exact same way. Her rough (though obsessive) dominatrix character doesn't begin to capture how pleasant she is.
I recently had a conversation with her about the show and how her past work influence her current writing.
[Mid-conversation about Hurricane Irma] It’s just really cold and rainy and nobody can drive in the rain here in the South.
Jenny Jaffe: Oh yeah. I’m in Southern California and if it even drizzles, people freak out.
I think it should rain once a month so people understand and get used to it. For everybody in the world. Everybody should know how to drive in the rain.
Jaffe: Yeah. I didn’t realize it was such a problem. Even growing up in Northern California, I was comfortable with it. People here freak out. Also, it toughens you up – bad weather. Except for the hurricanes. The hurricanes sound awful and I feel very sorry it’s happening! I was in New York for Hurricane Sandy. I was displaced for a while. That was pretty intense.
What’d you do?
Jaffe: I lived on 14th street. There was a power plant down the street that exploded. It’s insane. There’s a video of it online. I think that’s what happens when these big power places go underwater. All the power in the city was off below 39th Street. My sister lived all the way up in Morning Side Heights, which is on 110th street. My boyfriend at the time and our friends trekked all the way uptown -- in this big mass migration -- uptown from everybody in lower Manhattan. It was intense. We didn’t have water or power for a week and a half.
Holy shit! How long did the walk take?
Jaffe: It was a full day. [laughs] But the thing about New York is that Sandy wasn’t as bad as Irma is. New York is so ill-equipped to deal with that kind of thing. Just because of the amount of…the density of the population and the amount of reliance they have on the subways. All the subways flooded. I didn’t go back to work for two weeks after I got home because my office was on the waterfront. And there was no power.
After that, you decided “I’m going to go to Southern California!”
Jaffe: [laughs] Actually, I stayed in New York for four more years. I was like “I’ll just finish out the Obama administration and then head West.” No, I got hired for Disney and moved out overnight almost a year ago.
You’ve been working on Big Hero 6 since then?
How do you like California over New York?
Jaffe: [They’re] completely different places. I grew up in the Bay area. It’s really nice to be close to my family. My sister is getting her Masters [at a college in town] so it’s nice to be close to her. There’s a lot I love about it. It’s a completely different experience. New York still feels a lot like home to me in a lot of ways but LA is objectively an easier place to live. Plus there’s more work and no winters.
New York was really good to you because you got to work at CollegeHumor as a senior in college and then you went on to MTV. New York was good to you in terms of job stuff.
Jaffe: [laughs] New York was great to me! I got really lucky in terms of job stuff. I ended up creating my own jobs through Project UROK. There’s so much amazing stuff that happened in New York. I was so lucky I came out to LA with a job. I feel ridiculously lucky; that’s unheard of. I miss it. I was there for eight years. All of my favorite people were there. Not all of them, but a good amount. I got to go back to film Neurotica in December. I’ve been back a couple times since then. Neurotica was a good excuse to get all the people I care about in one room.
How did writing for CollegeHumor prepare you for writing Neurotica? For a bigger platform?
Jaffe: It’s funny because I feel like there are a bunch of steps between who I was in college and who I am now and they all have to do with getting battered against the rocks of rejection. Being a senior in college and getting handed this amazing opportunity and not having a full sense of who I was or what I wanted my comedic voice to be…it was great to have this opportunity to hone my writing skills and learn what it was to work as a writer and learn what the industry was like and get my foot in the door in such a really awesome way.
For something like Neurotica, which was written…five years after CollegeHumor, I have spent a lot of time learning about myself and working for lots of different places and developing this work ethic. It all made a better understanding of what it is I want to do and what my comedic voice is. My favorite thing about Neurotica is that it feels so much like me. It feels so much like who I am and what my sensibility is. More so than anything else I’ve done, which is very nice.
Between Neurotica and CollegeHumor was writing for late night with Nikki and Sara Live and working with a nonprofit and working in the mental health world and writing for Big Hero 6. All those had components of it too. I’m just a better writer than I was then. I really hope that every time I work on something I can say that. If you’re not improving on the last thing you did, then you’re not taking full advantage of your experiences.
I think it’s so special so somebody who wrote a show about domination to come out and say this profound thing.
Jaffe: Thank you so much! I would be surprised if most people who have interest in that wouldn’t have some sort of insight into themselves.
You had six episodes of this show. You had to go back to New York to shoot it. What was the behind the scenes process for creating the show? Did you write everything at once and then you guys went out and did it all? Or was it piecemeal and you took it step by step?
Jaffe: I ran a couple of rounds of outlines through IFC. They were very supportive and on board with [everything]. We changed the direction of the show pretty early on. It used to have a more sketch like feel. I think episode two has the most remnants of the early version of the show. It became this narrative arc, more than a series of vignettes. We found what was really funny about this world an these characters.
I wrote them all in this one chunk and then sat Skyped with [my friends] who are two of my favorite collaborators and are in the show as well. We went through and punched up wherever we could. We found weirder, smaller runners for the world. Then we set a date to film and shot it all over the course of four days. It was a pretty quick production.
You were doing that while you were doing Big Hero 6 right?
Jaffe: Luckily, we worked it out in my contract that I’d be able to work on Neurotica when I came out because I had an existing contract with IFC. I did take a week off of work to go back to New York and shoot it. I’m really lucky that Disney allowed me to do that.
I always wonder – for a writer like you – who writes for kids shows and then they go off and do their own thing and the thing happens to be this R-rated themed show. Then they come back to the kids show. Does that affect you at all?
Jaffe: Not really. I think as much as every adult that works on a kid’s show goes out and lives their adult life at night. You just have to compartmentalize and understand what you’re writing for at any given time in the parameters of the world you’re working in. Also Neurotica’s got this very sweet core. It’s PG-13 if anything.
I think it’s pretty sweet at its center, which I don’t think is too far off from anything else I’m writing. But obviously very, very different content!
Can you ever see yourself returning to the world of Neurotica? Comedy Crib is going to go on for seemingly a long time. Perhaps IFC will definitely want to bring the show back.
Jaffe: There’s definitely conversations happening of what that’d look like in a couple of different capacities. Obviously, I’d like to do more. I think there’s more to explore in this world. I think that particular story arc and that particular set of events that happen over the course of the season – whether it’s the first season or the only season – kind of seem like they had a nice little cap on them. It’ll be something totally unexpected next. I think these are definitely the types of stories I’m excited to tell more of – however that ends up taking shape.