Some of the biggest names in comedy are heading to Toronto for JFL42, Toronto’s comedy festival created by Just For Laughs. Among the performers will be the festival’s largest ever selection of LGBT comics, including Toronto’s own Sabrina Jalees.
A Toronto transplant now based in LA, Jalees is a widely recognized face in Canadian media.
In addition to stand-up and writing gigs Jalees has held recurring roles on The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore, Video on Trial, Adam Devine’s House Party, and more recently had a role in the film Portrait of a Serial Monogamist.
Daily Xtra caught up with Jalees over the phone from her LA home ahead of her three shows at JFL42, Sept 23–25.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Xtra: Thanks for making time for this! How’s your day going?
Sabrina Jalees: Good, I just won a game of poker! Actually, my friend came over this morning and I’ve been playing poker all day, I’m pretty happy about it.
Is that what life in LA is like? What’s the best part?
Aha pretty much. Everything is just a drive away! I can hop in my car and Palm Springs is right there with a bunch of gays drinking and pissing by the pool.
Aside from all of the poker and beaches, what’s the vibe down there like with the upcoming election?
It’s kind of terrifying. The whole RNC, and Donald Trump is steering the ship . . . It’s like Donald Trump is a Somali pirate and America is Tom Hanks on a ship that we thought was pirate-proof. I remember watching America re-elect George W Bush in 2004 and even then it was like “what is going on?”
So will coming back to Toronto for JFL42 be a nice vacation from that?
Definitely. You always keep your roots and the memories you make. Toronto was the first city I lived in, before Brooklyn and now LA. I like to think of Toronto as that first journal you keep, that’s all covered in glitter and decorated with stickers.
Is Toronto cool now in 2016?
Yes! I actually wear a lot of Toronto hats, Drake and OVO.
And the Raptors?
Yes I have a Raptors hat!
Has your comedy changed much since your Video on Trial days?
Oh god. One day if I’m rich I want to hire an editor to go and change all that. I was part of Video on Trial for 10 years and I wasn’t out back then. I experimented a lot with gender and with different outfits, I wore a bit of everything. There were hoop earrings! I think I slowly evolved to hopefully who I am today, which is that my gender is just Drake. I mean, Rihanna makes out with you if Drake is your gender. But to answer the question I definitely think my comedy is changing and comedians in general are getting closer to their true selves on stage.
You’re joined by a handful of other LGBT comedians at JFL42. Are you going to get a chance to see any of them?
Yeah! Like Tig Notaro and Margaret Cho. I’m not sure how the scheduling will work out with my shows but when I’m not performing I’ll be running around a lot. I think Toronto is the best place in Canada to perform comedy. It’s such a diverse place, you have no choice but to have an open mind because you have your Muslim neighbour on one side and a trans woman on the other. You just get used to it. Living in Toronto you inherently become a good comedy audience. It’s great that Just For Laughs, the biggest comedy festival, has an imprint there now.
On the topic of diversity, and how the entertainment business is evolving, have technology and social media finally democratized comedy or are there still barriers?
As an entertainer being able to have videos online is huge. You’re able to reach a new audience from anywhere in the world that can’t see you in person, and a view that comes from anywhere still translates into dollar signs right here in America.
But hearing about struggles with the CRTC, it feels like Canada is kind of in limbo right now. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve, a lot of entertainers feel like they need to come to America in order to succeed, but that can be really expensive. You still have to fill out all the same paperwork and apply for the work permits as anyone else. For some comedians the move could cost an entire year’s salary.
Is it fair to say that for you sexuality plays a big role in your act?
Definitely. I definitely talk about sexuality, my wife, LGBT rights and women’s rights. But I also find that those movements sometimes exclude people. People get so caught up in them that they completely block out others, so I try to be fair and poke fun at both sides.
I hate when people aren’t passionate about what they’re talking about. When I was first starting out I think comedy was more about just landing a punchline. You still see people, a lot of actors looking for exposure, performing out here just talking about how Facebook and Tinder are ridiculous. Like that’s not really what you care about, is that really what you talk to people about? You’re asking a lot from people to have them sit there and listen to you talk about something you don’t care about.
So what are things you’re passionate about? What can we expect in your set?
Donald Trump, Melania Trump. I wish I could, but I can’t stop talking about them. I mean her stealing that speech from Michelle right after everything Donald Trump has said about Barack? That’s like if Donald Trump came out and started calling Martin Luther King Jr a big loser and then immediately after Melania said “I had a dream.”
And definitely marriage, life with my wife, probably some sex. Wait, this interview is for like, a children’s magazine, right?
Umm . . . Daily Xtra? Not quite . . .
I’m kidding! Definitely some sex.
Do you have any exciting projects coming up?
Yes! I’m writing for a new NBC show called Powerless. It’s a sitcom set in a world with superheroes. Vanessa Hudgens, Danny Pudi from Community, Ron Funches and a bunch of other great people. It’s with DC so we have access to the whole DC universe. I get to write for Batman and other heroes. It’s a lot different than the sitcom I was writing on before.
I’m also writing a movie with my friend Liza Treyger. It’s about a lot of firsts, what happens in your early teens and before you come out. The first slumber parties when you start to realize you have feelings for your friend, everything leading up to that first gay kiss.
I have a special message to all of the gays in Toronto. Lot’s of hot people come to my shows. Guaranteed if you come you’ll meet the love of your life, or you’ll at least fall in love with me!