Photo-Illustration: Selman Hoşgör; Photo Courtesy of Subject
This week, we’re highlighting 22 talented writers and performers for Vulture’s annual list “Comedians You Should and Will Know.” Our goal is to introduce a wider audience to the talent that has the comedy community and industry buzzing. (You can read more about our methodology at the link above.) We asked the comedians on the list to answer a series of questions about their work, comedy during the pandemic, and more. Next up is Jes Tom.
When did you feel that you were funny enough to make a legitimate go at comedy?
I feel like such an asshole when I tell this story, but you’ve forced it out of me. I did my first open mic in 2011 in San Francisco at BrainWash Café, which was this café-slash-bar-slash-laundromat. After my set, the first time I’d ever attempted stand-up, the host rushed up to me and asked, “What’s your name? And will you come back?” And I was like, Welp … clearly this is my origin story, and I’ve had a horrible swelled head ever since.
Describe your comedy in five words.
This is my only skill.
What of your work do you think you’re best known for, and what of your work are you most proud of?
Regrettably I’m best known for my Twitter, where I have unintentionally cultivated a brand as a public-facing pervert. Now every time someone says they “follow me on Twitter” I’m like Great, that means you know all my thoughts on ****ing, ****, and ***.
I’m most proud of some stuff I can’t talk about yet. I love how the way this business works — a lot of the most significant work is done behind the scenes, so nobody knows I’m doing that and just sees me on Twitter slobbering over *** ***** ******.
If there were a ’90s-style sitcom built around you and your material, in which you had to have a different job than comedian, what would be the title and logline?
I would be an alien with my alien cohort pretending to be a normal suburban family. Why were there so many ’90s family sitcoms about aliens?
What have you done for comedy during COVID that you thought you would never do?
Ummm … stopped doing it! I abstained from live shows entirely from March 2020 to May 2021 because I was, as the kids say, “afraid to die.” I dove deep into Zoom shows, and that’s how I learned I love stand-up comedy so much, I will enjoy it even if it’s just me talking out loud alone in my room.
Who are some of your favorite comedians right now? Who is putting out work that excites and inspires you?
I hope you know this question brings us all back to high-school yearbook “most popular” vibes. Off the top of my head, some of my faves right now are Nori Reed, Robby Hoffman, Becca O’Neal, Sophia Cleary, Brittany Carney, Brian Bahe … Arti Gollapudi just did a heart-wrenching multimedia comedy show about surviving suicidal ideation. Tessa Skara is a literal rock star and always makes me shriek. We have a podcast together, and people who listen to podcasts say it’s really good.
What is the best comedy advice, and then the worst comedy advice, you’ve ever received, either when you were starting out or more recently?
The worst comedy advice I’ve ever received was from a comic who was maybe ten years my senior, a queer woman of color. We were on a show together and I asked her, naïvely, what her advice was for a young queer POC pursuing comedy. She was like, “Don’t.” Now I get that she was responding from her bad experiences, and also probably joking, but it was discouraging to hear from someone I admired. Anyway, she’s not in comedy anymore, and I think she’s happy, so I’m glad she took her own advice and I didn’t.
The best advice was from my mentor D’Lo, who told me, “If you have an idea just do it, because none of this shit is important.”
Tell us one story from your childhood that is a good representation of your life.
When I was really little, my mom and I saw a homeless person outside the grocery store. She gave me some money for him, and then was like, “I hope that never happens to you.” I turned to her gravely and said, “Well, Mommy, you never know what can happen in life.”
What’s an embarrassingly earnest goal you have?
I want to do a project with my sister, Karissa, like a travel show or a Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, but with weird Asian siblings instead of Guy Fieri. She’s a union organizer, but she’s somehow hysterically funny and has great on-camera presence, much better than me. She’s also an incredible makeup artist. All I want is for us to do a fun show together, and then she can be the comedian in the family and finally I will rest.
If you had the power to remove anything from the comedy world right now, from trends with material to how the industry operates, what would it be?
No more conflating entertainment with politics!!!!!! There’s no reason a streaming service should act like we’re comrades in some sort of revolution. We’re not. I’m paying you $20 a month so I can zone out from the capitalist hell we live in. If you want to be an ally so bad, give me a comedy special.