Saturday 14 December 2019

Occupational hazards: with comedian Jennifer Hartnett

"Every time I'm not booked for a job I end up crying on the phone to my Mam"

Jennifer Hartnett
Jennifer Hartnett

Maura McBride

I moved to LA in 2008 and discovered stand-up comedy the following year. Initially I was working in PR and was taking improvisation classes at night.

I didn't consider stand-up as a career until I went to a comedy club in Hollywood. I love how comics can take an otherwise sad or mundane situation, flip it and have an entire audience roaring laughing. Why cry or be mortified about something when you can just tell a friend and have a laugh?

That first night at the comedy club I asked the manager if I could have stage time but he shot me down and said the club worked strictly with professionals. I waited a few days and called him pretending to be my own manager and managed to book myself on the show. I had my first stand-up gig the following week. I was terrified – I was wearing a grey T-shirt and before I went on stage it was saturated with sweat.

It's odd to want to be on stage so badly but you're so nervous you can't even breathe. When I hit the stage and heard the laughs from the crowd, my nerves disappeared and I got going. That night, the club booked me back again and I met a manager and she has been booking gigs for me ever since.

Being Irish in LA has helped me as a comic. Ireland is highly regarded in the arts and being Irish is almost like having a stamp of credibility for artists abroad. Irish people are also very good at laughing at themselves which is enjoyable and fun to be around.

My job isn't all laughs – especially when it comes to handling rejection. What's funny to one person isn't always funny to another. I think that's my favourite part of comedy – that moment when you're in your principal or boss's office and you think of something hilarious and inappropriate but you know once you say it, you're either dead-meat or they're going to explode laughing. I love going for the joke.

It's tough when you really want something and only have five minutes in a room with a casting director to prove yourself. What I've learned is that it's all about showing-up and enjoying yourself. The more casting directors that see me show up with good work, the more they trust my professionalism and the more inclined they are to book me. When I feel good about myself and put my best work forward I usually get the gig. And for those tough days, I turn to Ben & Jerry.

I never had notions that as soon as I stepped foot in Hollywood I would be discovered. Although every time I'm not booked for a job I end up crying on the phone to my Mam. Her reply is always, "I bloody told you to straighten your hair!". The entertainment industry is massive here and I don't know many people who were simply banking on an agent or manager coming across them. People make it happen themselves by working hard, producing their own work and promoting themselves.

One of the toughest and most memorable experiences I've had as a comic was at FOX Theatre in front of 13,000 people. It was one of my first gigs and I was blown away when I walked on-stage and saw so many people. My mind went blank and I forgot what I was opening with. Silence wasn't an option so I started singing 'Happy Birthday'. Luckily it was a random girl's birthday in the audience and everyone started singing along.

LA is the best place in the world if you work in the entertainment industry. As a woman, I don't think there has ever been a better time to be a comic. Movies like 'Bridesmaids' have highlighted how many female comics, producers and writers there are and I know there's more to come. Women are just as funny as men – if not funnier – and I'm happy to see this industry become less male dominated.

I love my career. I get off work every day and tear across town to auditions and perform most nights of the week. It's all about being with people, finding what's funny and keeping the energy up. I'm grateful my career is going well but I'm desperately homesick and I've always felt unsettled here. My Mam is in Limerick and wherever she is, is home for me.

In conversation with Maura McBride

Jennifer Hartnett made her TV debut as a comic this year and has two national commercials currently running in the US. She is performing at the Irish Comedy Festival this August in the US, alongside Irish comics Joe Rooney from 'Father Ted' and Andrew Stanley from 'Republic of Telly'. For details of her upcoming gigs in Ireland and the US, visit jenniferhartnett.com

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