How did you spend your pandemic? Here’s how Sam Jay got through these past two years: Her Netflix special “Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning” debuted in July 2020. While continuing to work as a writer on “Saturday Night Live,” she also wrote on HBO Max’s “That Damn Michael Che,” served as a consulting producer on NBC’s “Kenan,” and then launched her own talk show, HBO’s “Pause With Sam Jay.”
Still not enough? In March, Peacock debuted the comedy series “Bust Down,” which Jay co-created and stars in alongside Chris Redd, Langston Kerman and Jak Knight. With so many gigs all at once, at this year’s WGA Awards, Jay pulled off a triple nomination in the comedy/variety sketch series category for her work on “SNL,” “Michael Che” and “Pause.”
But here’s the thing: This all happened mostly during an age of lockdowns, social distancing, quarantines and masks. So it’s only now that Jay is finally starting to experience the effects of this success.
“Weirdly, when the [Netflix] special came out, we were in the pandemic,” she says. “So it wasn’t like one of those things where I got to go outside, and people were like, ‘Oh, I saw your special!’ I made it in this bubble where I didn’t really know who saw it, or what it was actually doing in the world. I couldn’t tour immediately after to get a sense of whether more people were coming out to shows. Because there were no shows. So it took maybe a whole year before I would go out to the Cellar and be on stage, and notice that people would clap louder than they did before.”
There will be plenty of stories in the years to come of projects delayed or even canceled due to the pandemic and the work stoppage — followed by the emergence of a world consuming content in different ways. But then there are also the positive stories of talent whose star power coincidentally rose during that same time frame.
And that is clearly Jay, who grew up in Boston and worked in other fields before trying her hand in stand-up comedy in her late 20s. She was already at “SNL” when her programming output started to explode in 2020.
“I haven’t made a show outside of a pandemic, so I don’t know the difference there,” Jay says. “Outside of ‘SNL,’ I guess, but that’s like its own little world.”
In “Bust Down,” Jay plays Sam, the level-headed member of a group of friends working dead-end jobs in the Midwest. Then there’s “Pause With Sam Jay,” which she produces with Prentice Penny. The hybrid series features Jay and guests talking about various topics, which then lead to sketches, interviews and more.
For “Pause” Season 2, which returned at the end of May, Jay was able to expand the show’s scope thanks to relaxed COVID protocols. She also describes this season as “more personal.”
“We’re really starting to get to the specifics of my journey and things that I’ve been through and the things that are directly affecting me and attacking them in a lot more of a personal way,” she says.
As for the accolades that have come, “It just made me feel like, ‘Oh, this is resonating.’ The goal is just to be able to make things for as long as I can, and have creative outlets for as long as I can.”