“That’s why representation matters, man…I didn’t realize you could be black and gay and, like, fly and shit,” Sam Jay says in her new Netflix special ‘3 In The Morning,’ which is available today. Jay grew up not seeing herself in the world (“I’m from Boston, bro. We didn’t have Black dykes”) which is one of the reasons this is a breakout moment for her—“I played a lot of Drake dancing in my apartment” the day she signed the Netflix deal, she says. Another is that she’s been pounding the New York comedy scene pavement for over eight years, but has remained mostly behind the scenes, as a staff writer for SNL since 2017 and a contributing writer for the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, the BET Awards, among others.
Throughout that time, Jay worked on the material that wound up in ‘3 In The Morning’—she’s on the “eighth or ninth iteration” of some of the jokes. The special was shot in Atlanta, where she went to school (“I didn’t really go to school, I just went down there and I partied a bunch”) and where she came out, because she “definitely wanted a good Black Juju vibe in the audience.” Jay’s jokes are gloriously raunchy (on her past, straight life: “Suckin’ whole dicks…nutty!”) and decidedly non-PC (on Greta Thunberg: “I don’t hate the girl ’cause she’s autistic. I’m not a fuckin’ savage. I hate her ’cause she’s annoying”) but she says she thinks about what might be offensive, and tries to write material that’s “balanced.”
GQ caught up with Jay on the phone from her apartment in New York City to talk about three jokes that define her comedy.
1. “No Wonder White Men Love Mad Men,” Comedy Central Stand-up, 2017
“The first joke that really was a formidable joke for me was my Mad Men joke [in which Jay realizes what white men have lost after watching Don Draper at work]. I had the idea before I had the joke, and I knew it was gonna be hard to sell the idea. The approach and the finesse of this is going to be everything, because you’re kinda walking in dangerous waters for sure. I had to work a lot to figure out how to get it to the place that it ended up in when it was finally really working and killing. It was the first time I had that sense of accomplishment with a joke. Like ‘oh shit, you really pulled this one out.’”
2. “The Cast Away Joke,” Netflix special, 2020
“I love this joke [in which Jay can’t understand why Tom Hanks’ character in Cast Away doesn’t just give up and die] because it’s a true walk through a progression of thought that I actually had. I really was convinced I was scared of death and then once I said it out loud and it sat on me, I was like, that’s not what you’re afraid of. And then I realized—oh you’ve always thought about being the only person to live through something. Because ‘Cast Away’ truly does make me angry, and I never really understood why [laughs]. So bringing the audience on that same journey was super fun for me. And also something I hadn’t done before, gotten to that deep intricacies of my thought process. I love to hate-watch that movie. I watch Cast Away probably once every three months.”
3. “Sam Jay Understands Museums Better After Shrooms,” Netflix special, 2020
“This joke was just truly how I felt in the moment [Jay visits a museum with a friend after taking mushrooms, and realizes how many of the artifacts are stolen from other cultures]. With everything going on, you start to think about how ingrained this racism is in our society. I think that joke is poking at that for sure. When I was crafting my hour for the special, I wondered is it too, just making a bunch of points? It didn’t have any silly in it and I wanted some of that too. When I’m just goofin’ and being free, I’m able to find all those notes—the silliness, the seriousness, and the poignant-ness, all those things together. This was one of the first jokes that I felt, we’re getting into the silly.”