Funnywoman Jenn Harris Goes From Off-Broadway to Indie Film with 'Gayby'

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Photo Source: Allison Michael Orenstein

Forget whatever preconceived notions you may have regarding actors when talking about Jenn Harris. The two suits with her in line at the coffee shop? They’re not press reps; they’re strangers who punched her on the shoulder so one of them could ask how deeply he should unbutton his shirt. (Her answer? “Close it up.”) She may have earned rave reviews as Agent Clarice Starling in smash Off-Broadway show "Silence! The Musical," but she not only lacks ego, she's able to subvert actor stereotypes, pleading “Don’t make me sound smart” during our conversation about her starring role in indie comedy “Gayby” (in theaters now) opposite her real-life best friend Matthew Wilkas.

Over the last year you starred in “Silence! The Musical” and “Gayby,” but you’ve also done a lot of hilarious guest turns in Our Hit Parade at Joe’s Pub.
Jenn Harris: I’ve been doing that show for years, and that show has been like my most joyful, creative thing that’s always there. Thank God these brilliant artists let me do it. And now I have all these videos on YouTube, and some of them are great, and some of them I’m like, Girrrrl... But it’s such a breeding ground of just failing. Sometimes it’s like, I nailed it! And sometimes it’s like, I’ll get it next time.

Our Hit Parade feels like such a cool kids’ club, with you, Bridget Everett, Kenny Mellman, Molly Pope, Erin Markey…
Harris: I love that! I wanna be one of the cool kids who invites the uncool kids to be cool. That’s the best. I would come home and cry in grade school and high school and be like, “Mom they’re not inviting the nerds and it’s so unfair!”

Do you ever stop crying?
Harris: No. [Laughs] I have a very positive attitude with a lot of crying. I’m still crying. I had to fix my makeup before coming over here. But how do you see the funny if you’re not crying? I get really tired of people who are like, “I have to drown myself in whiskey every night so I can be a true artist.” I’m like, “You’re just dirtying up a bar. And wasting money. Go to the gym.”

What was it like doing “Silence!” and “Gayby” simultaneously last year?
Harris: We had a 10:30 p.m. [performance of “Silence”] and we’d get out at 1:15 a.m. And I was shooting “Gayby” during the day. I think I just put myself on block and when I was done I just fell to the ground and cried. Nothing better than falling to the ground and crying. It’s so good! And then the period of talking to yourself over and over again, “Get it together! Get it together!”

Do you have a really mean voice in your head?
Harris: Sure! We got rid of her. She was old, she was so no fun. She had to go. Who replaced her was her like disgruntled Goth niece, who’s like, “I don’t care.” So now I have Aleksandra, and she’s like, “Whatever, I don’t care. I’m fine. It’s fine. It’s a $5 coffee? Fine, whatever, I can’t. Just hurry up.”

But now “Gayby” is generating tons of buzz and great reviews!
Harris: It’s getting great buzz because it’s a good movie, but also because Jonathan Lisecki is whoring the shit out of it. God bless him. I’m really proud of what Jonny’s done with it. The past year and change has been great. I’m never the lead. I’m always the funny person who comes, farts on stage, and jump ropes off left. And I have no problems with that, so it’s been really nice. And the most genuine, humbling learning experience was doing “Silence!” and then doing "Gayby" and learning what all that is and what you’re responsible for. It’s really intense but it’s great. I was on set all day every day and I loved it. Locked in a room with tens of people and a craft service table that was the result of some lighting person doing a Trader Joe’s run. And it’s hot and it’s August and there’s no air and everyone’s hot and pissed and everyone’s dying. And I have to go to the show tonight and we’re shooting 26 pages today?! I loved it.

You had a lot of sex scenes to shoot in that sweaty apartment.
Harris: Those poor men who had to be near me! And you didn’t get to see the cunnilingus scene I had with Adam Driver! No air conditioning, in a bed. The scene starts with a shot of my face and it looks like I’m pregnant and then you see him come up. That was my awkward day. That was my second day of shooting. And then my scene with Louis Cancelmi. I’m not even going to complain about that! That was the greatest day. Jonathan gave me a gift with that day. I just got to make-out with him all day.

I love that you were into it, and not telling me, “Ugh, it’s just work. It’s not sexy.”
Harris: It was absolutely sexy and a total turnon. It was not hard, it was easy as fuck! And I’ll say it to his face. I got to make out with Dulé Hill. That was hot! I love me a good day of making out with a hot man.

What’s coming up next?
Harris: I did a film in May called “Better Living Through Chemistry” with Sam Rockwell, and I got to have an improv scene with Jane Fonda. She was buying a douche from me in the pharmacy. It was just the greatest experience. I had no responsibilities but hang out at the Sheraton in Maryland and go to the mall. And Jane Fonda was not kidding. She was full tilt. We were in the makeup trailer at 7 a.m., she walked in done, done, done. She was done. She was done when she went to bed.

I have a performance as one of the pirates in “Peter Pan” this Halloween with my family and my nieces. My nieces pick a theme and cast the entire family. And I’ve been cast as Izzy the Pirate. Kinda obscure, not a big role. I feel fine about that. It’s the people you work with. I’ll probably go to Los Angeles for pilot season. And I have my company, Qwan. It’s me and Matthew Wilkas, Randy Harrison, Jack Ferver, Christian Coulson, and Matthew Taratula and we do dramatic stage readings of films. We’re thinking about doing a Halloween show, maybe “The Hand that Rocks the Single White Female.” So I’m going to get back in that and back in Hit Parade.