Do you have JZ’s New Album yet? If not, you’re missing out! Every track has an original and hilarious take on life. Yes, I did say hilarious. No, not that Jay Z! I’m talking about the newer, fresher artist JZ, the one who is badass without being married to Beyonce.
This “JZ” is Jenny Zigrino. Her new album, JZ’s New Album, debuted this spring on the Stand Up! Records label (helmed by Grammy Award-winning producer Dan Schlissel).
I became a fan of Jenny’s years ago when she appeared on Fox’s comedy showcase Laughs. I immediately googled her wanting to hear more.
At the time, she was a fast-rising star in Boston. Her comedy stood out for the insightful way she tackles societal and personal issues with a positive and welcoming vibe.
Since Laughs, she has become a popular headliner at clubs, colleges and festivals around the country. In 2014, she moved to L.A. after reaching the finals in TBS’s Funniest Wins contest hosted by Marlon Wayans. Movie roles followed in Bad Santa 2 and in Wayans’ Fifty Shades of Black. She has also appeared on Conan, @midnight and Adam DeVine’s House Party. This fall, she’ll star in her own Comedy Central special, one of only fourteen comedians chosen nationwide.
JZ’s New Album answers some of life’s most interesting questions. What is it like growing up the daughter of a Soviet Jewish immigrant mom with a mischievous sense of humor? She wouldn’t mess with you when you ask how to compliment the chef in Russian … would she? Is there a hidden message about racism in that box of crayons? And as women, once we’re in our twenties we’re past the age where society can crush our self-esteem. Or is it more complicated? And hey, we know lots of politicians’ diaries end up published, but listen to how they’d sound if they were really honest.
While she’s reading between the lines, Jenny also makes on-point observations about song lyrics, Waffle Houses, and the douche-iest denizens of dating, always fearlessly incorporating intimate personal stories. Speaking of reading between the lines, take a close look at the name of each album track. They contain a hidden message to the other Jay Z.
Jenny kindly took time out during a family vacation to speak with me by phone about her life in comedy, her new album and how to stay positive in a crazy world.
Teme: You started doing comedy at sixteen and then took a break for two years. What made you stop and what inspired you to go back?
Jenny: I stopped because I was young and it was hard to get good stage time. No one wanted to listen to a 16-year-old talk about gross 16-year-old stuff. Then I got into film and wanted to be a filmmaker. While I was studying in London for my film degree, I rediscovered comedy when I heard Russell Brand. I came back to the U.S., did stand-up once and immediately felt, “Oh, this is forever now.” I was twenty-one when I picked it up again and I just never stopped.
Teme: What about comedy resonated?
Jenny: I’d wanted to do comedy my whole life. It felt natural. I’ve always been a performer. I’ve always loved the stage and acting and theater. So it was what I wanted. It just happened.
Teme: How did you develop the ability to see things through a funny and positive lens? One of the things I love about your comedy is that you tackle hard topics, but always in a positive way.
Jenny: That was the persona that developed. I very strongly believe in being positive and in the power of positivity, but I’ve got my darkness. You fake it ’til you make it.
Teme: I do understand that. My inner dialogue can be pretty dark, but outside I’m a lot more positive. I’d love to sync the inner and outer a bit more. Is there a way to do that? Like what does your inner dialogue sound like?
Jenny: My inner dialogue is a taskmaster. Much darker. Much more mean to myself than I seem in real life. My inner voice is dark and it’s always mean and nagging. So you just put your head down and shut it up because it’s wrong all the time.
There’s this constant cycle of proving that voice wrong, but in a good way because then you do great things … and still never give yourself credit for it! Who I am on stage is definitely more who I want to be in my real life.
Teme: I take strength from your comedy because it’s so positive even when it’s about the hard things. Your crowd work is really fun and upbeat, too. What are your guidelines for successful crowd work?
Jenny: I just really like talking to people. I’ve become much more comfortable with it. I hosted burlesque shows for three years which were all about talking with the crowd and messing with them. After I stopped doing burlesque, I moved that interaction into my regular set. So the crowd work is who I am mixed with “Liz Fang,” a rowdy British rock star character I used to do in Boston. She had no filter and said what she wanted. So I bring that into my set a little bit. I feel very natural talking to people on stage … at a party, way different!
Teme: Oh yeah, do you find parties more difficult?
Jenny: Definitely. I love going to parties, but if there are people there that I don’t know, I immediately am like “I want to go home. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to try to make new friends.” But then after shows, I’ve hung out with audience members. I’ve gone to bars with them. I’ve done karaoke with them. So it’s weird. When you’re in show mode, it’s different versus, “Okay, I have to go be Jenny now at a party.” With a show, I’ve already won them over, hopefully, in my set. I don’t have to start from scratch.
Teme: I can really understand that. If I’m at a party, I’m trying to find ways to spend time in the bathroom because I don’t know what to do.
Jenny: I’m like, “What can distract me from having to talk to people?”
Teme: Exactly! What has been your most memorable interaction with a fan?
Jenny: Recently I met and now am friends with Anthony Atamanuik [Comedy Central’s The President Show). I was so excited to meet him at my Bad Santa movie premiere. I’m starting to meet my heroes and that’s been one of the cool parts of this work. I love performing and traveling, but when I get to meet someone where it’s like, “Oh my god, when I was a teenager, all I did was watch your specials,” I like those moments, too. I’m getting to the level where I’m starting to meet influencers in my own comedy which is very exciting.
Teme: Do you have a favorite track from your new album?
Jenny: I hate listening to it.
Teme: It’s such a great album. How come?
Jenny: I just don’t like listening to myself because I analyze everything. I know it’s a good album, but if I have to listen to it, I’m just like, “Jesus!”
I really love the bit about the crayons [Track 2], but unfortunately, I can’t do it as much anymore, especially on college campuses because people get too sensitive. They’re not patient enough to listen to the whole joke. When they do, they realize, “Oh, it’s not what I thought!” But that’s usually just college kids. In clubs, people have lived much more and they’re open to listening.
Teme: What material are you working on now?
Jenny: I’ve been exploring more body stuff and I’m also exploring our addiction to social media. I know a lot of comics touch on it, but I think it’s important. Social media is a blessing and a curse. As artists, we’re not beholden to a patron anymore. They no longer hold the keys to access. We’re our own lighthouse and can say, “Check out my stuff.” But at the same time, social media is horribly addicting and separating. There is no conversation anymore. There’s just looking into your phone.
Teme: What do you do to break that cycle?
Jenny: I don’t. It’s hard. We’re given all this distraction. There’s some really bad stuff going on in the world. We get excited for a minute because it pops up in our feed, but once it’s out of our feed, it’s out of our minds. Like the Women’s March was exciting. It was all over my newsfeed, but now I don’t see anything. Then I didn’t see anything about Russia and Trump in my newsfeed anymore. Then it was all about United Airlines.
Remember what we’re really angry about? I think companies and governments can use social media to manipulate us.
Teme: You’re so right. That sounds like great material. How are your parents with being part of your comedy?
Jenny: They like it. There are some sets I ask them about first. I have very conservative parents and it’s such a divisive political climate, so sometimes I’ll ask, “Do you want people to know your views?” Or I hide names to protect the innocent.
I’ve been going more inward. I tell a lot of personal stories. I’ve been thinking about how much I want people to know and how much do I want other people to know about someone else who maybe doesn’t have a say? Like if I’m telling a weird story of sleeping with somebody on the road, is it fair to that person to speak about it publicly? But I do it anyway!
I recently did a podcast and had a panic attack thinking, “Oh my god, what did I say? Did I say too much?” So I’m trying to try to be more conscious and careful.
Teme: As a comedian, how do you figure that out?
Jenny: I ask whether it’s what I would want said about me. Would I want sex stories about me coming out? Probably no. However, if it’s so funny and so crazy that I have to speak about it, then I’ll do it. On the album, you heard the one about the underwear [Track 8]? That was so crazy. I have to talk about that. And that guy sucks!
Teme: Has anyone ever been upset about being included?
Jenny: No, I don’t think so. I did ask my dad, “Do you want me to talk about your political stuff?” And he was very much like, “Yeah! I don’t care.” His wife said, “No.”
Teme: How did your parents impact your sense of humor?
Jenny: My dad is very funny. My mom is also very funny and a great storyteller. She also loves dirty jokes and humor that’s sarcastic and funny.
Teme: You also talk about how society tends to kill girls’ self-esteem early on. How can we fight back?
Jenny: It’s got to start with other women. As girls growing up, we learn from our mothers and our sisters what we should be feeling and how we should exist as women. I hear negative things we say to young girls coming from women, things we’ve been trained to say. As much as we support each other, women can sometimes bring other women down because we’re taught that there isn’t enough. But there is enough.
Teme: I think you’re so right. That’s it. The idea that there isn’t enough to go around.
Jenny: I’ve never felt from my dad that I couldn’t do anything. I said to my dad, “I don’t know if I want to have kids.” And he said, “That’s your choice. I think you’d make a great mom, but it’s your choice.” I told my sister I don’t want to have kids and she said, “You’re wrong. You’re so wrong.” My dad is more understanding than my own sister!
Teme: It’s like we impose standards on each other that are made up in the first place.
Jenny: I don’t know why we do it. It’s all in these games we play in society about women’s place and what women can do and can’t do.
I hear men say, “I like assertive women.” But if I ask I a guy out, he gets freaked out. It’s like I questioned his masculinity by being assertive. I run into a lot of guys liking my independence, my job, that I’m funny and say what I want, but then say, “You’re not giving me enough attention. You are too aggressive or too assertive, and it makes me not feel like a man.”
I’m ranting off on such a tangent, but if you’re really comfortable with your masculinity nothing will make you question it. Same with being a woman. If you’re comfortable with your femininity, whatever that means to you, nothing will make you question it.
In some of my new material I do talk about feminism, but I also talk to guys saying here are some problems I see with women. Let’s talk about why some women wear a matching bra and panties. You can’t break glass ceilings if you’re spending eight hours at Victoria’s Secret! It will be sport bras and granny panties after the revolution! But at the end of the day if a women is like, “I happen to like wearing a matching bra and panties,” then fine. Do what you want. But in the back of my mind, I’m thinking [whispering], “You’re just doing it for a man!” But really, in our culture we need to be more compassionate, yet leave people the hell alone. Love them for them doing their own thing, but let them do their own thing.
Teme: I love that you bring those issues out, but make it all really funny, too. So what is a typical day like for you?
Jenny: I wake up at 8:00 a.m., go to the gym then struggle to get work done and write. Every day is a struggle. And two hours later I’m doing something that’s not writing.
Teme: I understand that! Is there anything you always do before or after a show?
Jenny: I like to do power stances before shows. I also like to dance before shows, so I bring a speaker with me and I dance in the green room. I don’t drink before shows because it makes me mean. I may drink the last night in the last show. But mostly, I’m not into drinking on the road. And I always take a bath in the hotel room. Even if it’s the most disgusting bath I’m just like, “I have to do this.”
Teme: What’s your favorite song to dance to?
Jenny: It changes. It’s usually Prince or Beyonce. Right now it’s Father John Misty. I’m really loving his new album. I’m going to go see him tonight actually.
Teme: I’d love to hear about your Comedy Central special this fall, too!
Jenny: Yes, I’m shooting it next week.
Teme: What does getting ready entail?
Jenny: I’ve been practicing and doing the sets. I’m also figuring out what I’m going to wear. I’ve got a stylist who specifically dresses plus size bodies. And trying to relax and just be cool, bro. You’re going to hear a lot of new stuff, too.
Teme: I’m really looking forward to it! Anything else we should add?
Jenny: Stay positive! I just had a big philosophical conversation with my dad about God. My dad is a smart guy and one of the things we do is talk about philosophy.
Teme: What did you conclude, especially with everything going on in the world right now?
Jenny: My conclusion has always been that we just don’t know. Every day what we think we know gets disproven in some way. Our scope, our understanding of the universe is tiny and so small. To think we have it all figured out is ludicrous and insane. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t live a good life and try to be a good person. You don’t know what’s going to happen, so why not just enjoy the human experience and fill it with love and great, good feelings?
Visit Jenny’s website at www.jennyzigrino.com.
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