‘You People’ Actor Sam Jay on the Comedy Show that Changed Her Career

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Photo Source: Andrew Cooper/Netflix

The following essay was told to Backstage by comedian, actor, and writer Sam Jay. Currently, she’s starring in Netflix’s “You People.” This piece has been edited for clarity and length.

I was two years into doing standup and getting a little bit of a buzz around Boston. I could get up at most shows in the city, which is what you want as a comic: to be able to walk into a comedy club and have people know the show is better when you’re around.

But I was getting restless. To some degree, I had outgrown Boston. I wasn’t feeling as challenged; I wasn’t as excited to perform at local clubs. 

I needed to start traveling to other cities to see how my act worked there. I started going to places like Vermont, Rhode Island, and Connecticut; but I stayed away from New York, which is the big stage for standup. It’s where all the greats are—where the best go. I really wanted to feel like I was ready for the city. 

RELATED: How to Become a Standup Comedian 

Around the middle of year three, I was like: It’s time. I’m ready to go to New York. I started to take buses back and forth so I could go out and watch shows. People thought I was insane, but I wanted to be in another comedy environment, to see comics I hadn’t seen—something to light a new fire under me. 

I really wanted to do Hannibal Buress’ show at the Knitting Factory. It was a huge deal; all the well-known comics had done it. I knew I needed to get in that room and kill that room. My homie Dame Fk told me, “Yo, if you want, I could intro you to Hannibal…. Come down on Sunday and I’ll introduce y’all.”

So I came to New York—not even to do a show, just to get this introduction. I’m calling Dame, and he’s not answering. What’s ringing in my head is everybody who called me stupid. But I knew that I needed to get in this man’s face and just show him that I’m motivated, that I really want this. So I said, “Fuck it; let me go to the show anyway.” 

Eddie Murphy, Jonah Hill, and Sam Jay in You PeopleCourtesy Netflix 

Then I’m at the Knitting Factory, and everybody’s there. Lil Rel Howery is there. We had only spoken on Twitter, but I’m standing backstage, hoping I can catch Hannibal coming out, when Lil Rel comes up and speaks to me. “Yo, what are you doing here?” I’m trying to be cool: “Just chilling—you know, checking the show out.” He’s like, “Don’t you live in Boston? You came all the way here just to watch this show?” I’m like, “Oh, you know, I have something else to do in the city.” Just lying. Just lying!

Then he said, “What are you really doing here?” I was like, “Man, I was trying to meet Hannibal. My homie was supposed to introduce us because I want to do the show, but my homie flaked!” Lil Rel was like, “Yo, I’ll introduce you. I got you!” 

He said to Hannibal, “Hey, this is Sam. She’s very funny. She wants to do the show.” And he was like, “Cool. Can you come back next Sunday?” “Uh, yeah!” 

The next week, I did the show. I had a really good set. It was my introduction to New York City. It changed the trajectory of my career.

With any dream, you have to chase it relentlessly. You can’t chase money; you can’t chase fame. You have to chase the dream itself—wanting to be better at the thing that you’re passionate about. Everything else will follow. I know that sounds very cheesy and clichéd, but I’ve seen this actually move through my life. I’ve witnessed it. When you put your dream at the center of what you’re doing, the other things fall into place.

This story originally appeared in the Feb. 16 issue of Backstage Magazine.