Money & Career

Comedian Sabrina Jalees on whether she can pay the bills

The Toronto-bred funny girl can dish out a one-liner that will leave you simultaneously shocked and in stitches. Here’s her take on race, sexuality and making people laugh.
By Portia Chan
Sabrina Jalees Sabrina Jalees. Photo, Tim Leyes.

Age: 29

Lives: Brooklyn

Education: BA in radio and television arts, Ryerson University

What attracted you to comedy? I always wanted attention. If I could make my whole class laugh with one comment, it was a good day.

What was your first gig? I started going to comedy clubs when I was 15, and one night I was handed a flyer for amateur night at Yuk Yuk’s [a]. Bombing at assembly in front of the cool girls at school would be horrifying, but this was just a bunch of drunk investment bankers on a Monday night. The stakes were low.

Do you remember what jokes you told? A lot of what I did back then was a reaction to the post-9/11 time, when brown people were terrorists and Pakistan was the breeding ground for Osama bin Laden. (I’m half Pakistani and half Swiss.) I was embarrassed about my race, and I had to do something with that discomfort. Joking about it made this embarrassing thing an empowering thing.


When did you realize this would be your career? The very first time I did it. It’s like a drug. I remember coming home and going straight to my parents’ room and jumping on their bed, being like, “I found this thing!” I mean, what a horrifying thing to tell your parents. It was almost like the time I came out of the closet. They were like, “Are you sure? Maybe it’s just a phase!”

How did coming out affect your work? It was excruciatingly difficult to come out. All I saw was this mountain of things I would lose: corporate bookings, TV shows. But I realized the strongest part of my act comes from things I’ve struggled with. So I did it, and good opportunities followed.

Does comedy really pay the bills? Yes! But you have to see comedy as a broader thing. As a comic, you’re a writer, you’re a performer, you’re a thinker. So I’ve written for TV shows, I host a radio show, I just did a talk on gender and sexuality for the Ontario Teachers’ Federation.

What makes you laugh? My parents trying to figure out how to use Skype on their tablet.


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