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Talking Toronto, Tolerance, and Skorts with Sabrina Jalees

Sabrina Jalees wears many hats. (Like, symbolically, we don’t know her well enough to know how she feels about fedoras.) She’s a columnist, stand up comedian, TV host, writer, and actor. Wikipedia says she’s also a dancer, I’m tired just reading about her. The New Yorker-by-way-of-Toronto was in town recently to present a talk at TEDxToronto, and we caught up with her to talk about what she misses about the Six, the best career advice she’s ever been given, and that goddamn women in comedy “issue.”

So how long have you been in New York? Do you love it?
I’v been here for about 5 years and it’s the best. I’m still deeply in love with Toronto—that’s the thing—I think it’s impossible not to love NY if you love Toronto (and vice versa). That being said, I just used the term “vice versa” so what do I know.

Is there one thing you particularly miss about Toronto?
My fave people and areas in Toronto are super unique. The relationships I have there date back to the early 1920’s (or feel like it at least). There’s a beauty in having friendships that date back to the times I wore dangly eating, a skort and mushroom cut. I have a place with my brother at Queen and Ossington and I love walking up and down Ossington on my visits acting like I’m responsible for every new shop. I’d like to end this answer with two simple amazing words: Kensington Market.

Something I get warned about a lot (mostly by well-intentioned family members) is not to “share too much” with the Internet. As someone who mines their personal life for comedy and broadcasts a lot of that online, do you ever worry about the amount of yourself you share with the world at large?
I meannnnnn—that’s a tricky one. Is the government collecting information and photos of every joint-insinuating moment only to one day throw us all on Centre Island, Australia-style? I think it is important to be wary of what you post and understand that we are all kind of building visible brands. At the same time, as a comic i kind of pride myself on being stream-of-consciousness and honest. I guess the silent rule for me is I avoid posting super negative stuff. I think some people use their Facebook statuses for some sort of open ended therapy and I think they’re almost always being perceived as the opposite of what they’re trying to convey.

What makes you laugh the most?
Right now Im obsessed with this web series my friend Liza Treyger and I shot in a drunken 24 hour period in Montreal. It’s called How Many Questions and it’s the best/worst thing on the internet. We got asked to do a live version for the NY Comedy Festival on Nov. 6th 10pm and Union Hall. Look out for those Porter sales and make the trip. It’ll be worth it (read: celebs!!!)

Who are your favourite comics right now?
Reluctantly I’ll say Liza Treyger is one of them. She’s the biggest mess/funniest Russian/drunkest baby i know. I love Abbi and Ilana (Broad City), Nikki Glaser, Amy Schumer, Chelsea Peretti, John Early and my best bestie Mae Martin. Also Wanda Sykes and Ellen Degeneres, duh.

Your work spans a lot of jobs—acting, hosting, writing, stand up, etc. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given?
In the first season on In Real Life i talked to this epic stunt performer who was clearly a bad ass boss bitch. At lunch she told me she owned an avocado ranch, a bunch of property and an agency for stunt performers in addition to working on camera herself. The lesson was to diversify and invest. I think a lot of people land tv gigs and see the income as a lifetime raise when in actuality it’s more of a one time bonus. Not that it’ll only come once but it’s important to see these bonuses as opportunities to invest your money rather than put on a Chamillionaire show for 6 impressive, fleeting months. So yeah, work hard, be open minded about avenues of income and when you get that good, good coin: invest in real estate.

Your TED talk is about humour and tolerance. Your Huffington Post piece about some of your family’s reaction to your wedding was incredibly touching. How do you stay funny in the face of intolerance like that? How do you find the humour in something so painful?
Figuring out how to make something out of a shitty situation is extremely therapeutic. When bad things happen in life the only thing that makes them worthwhile is channeling the experience into something good. When I wrote that piece for HuffPo I was devastated. Sharing my story and having the support of so many turned the situation around completely for me. I went from feeling deeply abandoned to feeling like i had the support of the world. In most situations there are silver linings if you look hard enough. Despite the fact that i wouldn’t ever choose for my family to reject me the way they did, I’m grateful to have the ability and freedom to speak up about it. Starting conversations about these kinds of things is the root of positive change. Did I answer your question or just blow myself for a paragraph? The short/factual answer is tragedy + time = comedy.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how bored are you of being asked about being a “woman in comedy”?
It goes back to the conversation thing- if we’re constantly framing the conversation as “HOW DO THEY DO IT? HOW DO THESE BOOB-HAVING, PERIOD GETTING DOCILE CREATURES MUSTER THE GUSTO TO DELIVER PUNCHLINES?!” then we’re not really in touch with what’s happening today. What’s happening today is a good chunk of the most prolific, important, respected comedians are women. I’m sure the same is true for most industries. We’re a pretty bad ass gender.

Is there one thing you’re working on at the moment that you’re especially excited about?
I have a show in development with Comedy Central that’s being led by Dan Powell (Inside Amy Schumer, The Colbert Report). Liza and I are also working towards creating a TV series around How Many Questions with our manager Sam Saifer (Broad City). My episode of Adam Devine’s Houseparty airs this month- we shot it in New Orleans this summer and it was super fun so i’m stoked to see it. ABOVE ALL THOUGH: My brother Sam and uncle Aziz just opened a lifestyle/retail store called Good Neighbour in Leslieville. Check it out and drop my name for a guaranteed punch in the face.

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