Part late night current events show, part sketch show part interview show, Pause with Sam Jay puts a thoughtful, unapologetic lens on relevant issues that often spark spirited debates. And of course, it’s hella funny.
Titular comedian Sam Jay serves as the host and executive producer of Pause, bringing her own perspective and humor to topics like privilege, queer identity, distribution of wealth and studs (for those who don’t know, that’s queer speak for masculine lesbians) who live their lives unashamedly with their titties out. Jay definitely digs deep into these heavy topics but always injects her own humor into the mix to make for a mindful show that not only informs, but makes the viewer inspired to live their lives as authentically as possible while being open-minded to other opinions.
If you’ve seen Jay’s Netflix standup special Sam Jay: 3 In The Morning or her Emmy-nominated work in Saturday Night Live (she co-wrote “Black Jeopardy”), you definitely know what Jay’s brand of humor is: unabashedly honest with a smile.
In an interview with Diaspora, Jay said that she didn’t really find her funny until she was older. She’s part of a huge family that was filled with funny and she had to be strategic about jockeying for a lead position. “There’s a lot of personalities. There’s a lot of funny people — and you always trying to find your spot,” she said.
Her family was filled with roasters and that’s not Jay’s bag. “I never was that quick,” she admits. “When they would roast… I’d be really patient and observe it. I would save what I wanted to say with [jokes] that I concocted and it would get the biggest laugh and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s how I’m funny. I’m the more of an observer and commentator.”
Jay takes these observations and commentary and folds them into Pause, which is also executive produced by Insecure‘s Prentice Penny. Each week, Sam hosts a party at her apartment, where she and her guests explore current topics. As Pause airs its sixth and final episode of its freshman season, we are immersed in these conversations, interviews, and sketches that inform us and push us to ask questions to those with different perspectives.
Jay sat down with Diaspora to talk about her own identity has informed her work and shared her feelings on cancel culture. Above all, she talked about how she just lives her best life by being her authentic self.
DIASPORA: How has your own identity inform your voice and your Hollywood journey?
SAM JAY: I mean, I don’t think that there would have been any Hollywood journey if I didn’t find my voice and figure out who I was. I had to figure out who I was as far as my identity and my social identity and the person I wanted to be and project to people beyond TV or entertainment. If I hadn’t established that, then it wouldn’t have translated into any profession honestly.
DIASPORA: How did you navigate that space with code switching? How did you know when you could be your authentic self outside of work, and even inside of work?
SJ: You know, honestly being on the entertainment side of it, and being a standup, I never felt like I had to [code switch]. It was also something I wasn’t willing to compromise. Stand up was for me before it was for anybody else. It’s a very selfish thing that I got into and I was doing it to be my most authentic self. It was the thing that felt the most honest to me. So in no way was I willing to compromise that.
DIASPORA: Speaking to the comedy, it is a very different landscape these days with holding oneself accountable — AKA “cancel culture”. You discuss this in depth on Pause, but as that becomes more in the spotlight are you measuring your words more and thinking about jokes and what you talk about in your work?
SJ: Well for me, I’m always speaking with intention. I just try to be true to me and the things I believe in and try to add to the dialogue what I feel needs to be added, you know what I mean? That’s the point of having several different types of artists and art in one genre. You’re going to get a bunch of different perspectives — and this just happens to be my approach. I say “Go with God” and like, “Hey, my heart and my soul and my spirit are all in the right place and I know that. And so if someone tries to tell me that that’s not the case, I can’t really consider that too heavily.”
DIASPORA: You’ve definitely made a name for yourself as a comedian and a voice of the LGBTQ and Black community. That said, people tend to look to you when it comes to being a voice for these communities. How have you balanced that and carrying that “burden” of being “the only” in a space that’s generally white male cisgender and hetero?
SJ: I mean, I just I wake up and I’m just me every day.
DIASPORA: I would think it’s stressful.
SJ: Again, it’s like my one voice can’t be the voice of a whole community. It’s just not possible. So I just can’t carry that. You know what I mean? But what I can do is I can wake up and I can be me every day and I can present the way I present, because it’s truly who I am and I can speak for the things that I feel need to be spoken for and that’s really the only thing I have control over. The rest of it is way beyond my pay grade (laughs)
DIASPORA: And this is definitely reflected in your show Pause. It’s a talk show format that is part current events, part sketch show and part casual conversation with friends. How many different iterations of the show format did you kind of work through before landing on the one that we see right now?
SJ: Probably like three. There was one where I was going to do like a make fun of the show within the show thing, because I didn’t want to do a desk show. So it was like, well, maybe we could do a desk show that’s making fun of desk shows. That didn’t seem correct. Then there was a version where the apartment was going to be like a car. It was with one of my good friends who I used to always just whirl around my neighborhood with driving. I would kind of like do the monologue things to him. That still felt a little forced and contrived in a way that I wasn’t jamming on. Then we thought about a town hall type of vibe, like an intimate town hall thing which felt closer to the right and then we landed on the three.
DIASPORA: You definitely cover a wide range of relevant topics from privilege to the impact and negative effects of tribalism to topless studs to queerness to wealth to pro-Black conservatives. All of this kicks off at a conversation at a house party and then you go into these great interviews with very specific guests.
SJ: At every party, we actually hang out and yell at each other a lot, especially comedians. It’s one of our favorite things to do is hang out and scream at one another. So when I was just putting together, I just picked people I knew like talk and had interesting points of view, honestly.
DIASPORA: How did you find some of these very interesting guests?
SJ: You know, it’s honestly the casting director Kia [Stone]. She was just amazing. I really have to give her all the credit for the pool we got to interview. It was all her magic. I told her when we finally wrapped: “If you can do this job, you can do anything” because we’re wild! We sit in the room and we go, “We need to talk to studs with their titties out.” And then I’ll call Kia and I’ll go, “I need three studs with their titties out.” And she’s like, “On it.” And then she just goes and finds these people.
DIASPORA: That is wild.
SJ: She’s really fucking good at her job! She’s really dope.
DIASPORA: Then there was the Black conservative that came out as gay during your interview. I was taken aback and you were too. What happened after that? Because it’s a huge deal for someone in the queer community to come out on a huge platform.
SJ: I mean, honestly, I was hella shocked at first. I was just like, “Holy shit.”. But I’m 39 years old and she’s like a young lady and I could see all over that she was just scared. She was nervous and so then I said “I should embrace her and make her feel okay.”
And then after the interview, I let her know, “We absolutely don’t have to air that. That is for you to decide if you want to do that.” She said, “No, I want to do it.” Then I checked in with her before the episode aired. I told her, “At any moment you change your mind about, that’s fine. Don’t feel like you can’t.”
I was shocked when she came out. I was completely like, “Whoa.”
DIASPORA: I think that moment, for me at least, the precedent of this show and these different perspectives that you were trying to get. When you first premiered, how has the response been?
SJ: Honestly, it’s been everything. There’s been people reaching out and saying, “Thank you for this show. This is like exactly what the community needed.” Black people reaching out saying like, “This is exactly what we needed to see. Thank you for the work you’re doing.” There’s people who reached out and told me they absolutely hate me and then there’s people who reach out and are just like, “I don’t really get it.” It runs the gambit, you know what I mean?
DIASPORA: Since the show debuted a lot has happened. From Chrissy Tiegen apologizing for bullying via social media to Lin-Manuel Miranda and John M. Chu being called out for not having enough Afro-Latinos in In The Heights. All of this kind of aligns with what Pause would discuss. When it comes to criticizing work by marginalized people or underrepresented communities, are you more cognizant of your words or are you an equal opportunity critic when it comes to material that is so close to you?
SJ: You know, I try not to be critical in any public space of anybody’s art because I’m an artist and I know how that feels. But in my personal space, I’m an equal opportunist. I do think I’m probably more sensitive to things that are supposed to be representing me, but I’ve also tried to grow from that and realize like these things aren’t supposed to be representing me. They’re supposed to be representing the artists that made them. A part of the problem is that we just don’t let enough people of color and queer people and marginalized people create. It’s not that the person creating is supposed to know my fucking life and do it justice. It’s really not their responsibility. They just make the thing they believe in.
DIASPORA: I applaud you for not getting involved in all of this fuckery. It’s totally OK to like something and also criticize where it fell short. At the same time, I’m maybe to hyper-cognizant when it comes to criticizing material that is close to me because that’s when people will drag me.
SJ: So there’s this thing where I’m like, we can’t be bullied by the mob. There’s a point when we have to start pushing back and being like, “Yo man. I don’t need friends to have Black friends. There’s white people that don’t have Black friends.” It’s really true. I don’t know if these are all the fights. I feel like I’m willing to die on these hills for when I think if the bigger problem is solved, then you don’t even have to be concerned with that.
DIASPORA: I once was dragged because I didn’t tweet or post anything on Instagram about Palestine and Israel. I just didn’t because I didn’t feel informed enough. Then I posted something on my stories and that same exact person was mad because I didn’t post what they wanted about the issue.
SJ: People ask me stuff like that all the time. They’re like, “Why haven’t you mentioned this?” Because I don’t have an opinion on it or at least that I care to share.
DIASPORA: So here’s a broad question: Do you think film and TV will be inclusive in our lifetime?
SJ: I don’t know if I’m be very, just blunt. I’m just so over white systems of power that I’m just so tired of thinking about when are they going to act right? I don’t know when they’re going to act right on any level, but I feel like it will be a trickle down effect of some sort. It’s like when they start acting right somewhere, maybe they’ll act right everywhere.
DIASPORA: Hypothetically, if you were put in charge of a legacy studio or a network, what would your first order of business be?
SJ: The first thing I do is take all the racist movies that they locked in the vault and take them out because that’s stupid. It doesn’t fix racism if we act like it didn’t happen or exist. And then I would probably go to these HBCUs and underserved places and start scoping out the real talent, just change the guard — just really change it.