MEET JIL CHRISSIE
by James Gold
Recently, I met with Jil Chrissie at the Appaloosa Grill in downtown Denver, to talk about the all-female show coming to Boulder’s Dairy Center for the Performing Arts this Saturday, July 13th.
It was a fierce, choking-hot afternoon but Jil came in with an infectious smile on her face, ready to get down to biz.
First up, a tall rum and coke.
Then, the Q & A:
Me: How is that you became a performer, Jil?
Jil: I’ve been performing since I was a kid. My mom was a musician who worked with Al Green, so music and performance was just a part of our lives. My brothers and sisters, we grew up singing gospel music together and even used to tour around doing performances. I really started performing everywhere when I was about eight. Even now, when my family gets together, we’ll still sing.
Me: What led you to standup comedy?
Jil: Well, it started with spoken word poetry. I got into that when I was about ten years old. Didn’t really get any good at it, though, until I was about sixteen. And even then, it took a couple of more years before I knew what the hell I was doing. My poetry is funny, so it was a natural transition. It’s gratifying to me to make people laugh, and I feel like I need to do that.
Me: Where was the first place you tried stand up?
Jil: I don’t even remember the name of the place now. It was some place on Colfax where they would usually have spoken word performances. I bombed horribly, which was hard. I was used to doing poetry and used to people liking me, but this experience was different. When I bombed, I could feel the people thinking “yeah, we are NOT fucking with you.”
Me: Do you or have you done the open mic thing?
Jil: Oh yeah, of course. The thing about the open mics here though, is they start late as shit.
Me: Do you find the Denver comedy scene to be welcoming?
Jil: The comedy scene here is dope. And so is the poetry scene.
Me: There are only a couple of black female comics on the scene here. Do you find that people have certain expectations of you? You know, stereotypical or pigeon-holing expectations?
Jil: No, I don’t feel pigeon-holed at all. That’s one of the reasons I’m happy to be here. Denver has a way of letting you be yourself. I don’t feel like people expect me to be a stereotype. They look at me like an individual.
It was about this time that the bartender checked in. The drinks were gone and the vibes were good.
Jil knew the woman—they’d worked together at a restaurant before. “Would you like another drink,” the bartender asked.
Jil considered it for a moment, then said “yeah. Another rum and coke. And girl, just make it strong as hell. Like a double or something.”
It was probably in this moment that it was most apparent how Jil’s charisma is off the charts. Her degree of politeness, the cheerful pitch of her voice, and her degree of attentiveness to what you’re saying—it is simply impossible to do anything but adore her.
We talked about working shitty jobs. Mostly the “customer is always right” types of jobs.
We discussed how wrong that sentiment is. How frustrating. And how it gives certain types of people a sense of entitlement when it comes to being incredibly awful to the low paid workers.
Jil: When you have a job like that, you realize how much you hate people. But only because you really love people, you know what I mean?
Me: Yeah. You have certain expectations of people to just be decent human beings towards others.
Me: So speaking of jobs and careers, are you gonna take this comedy thing all the way?
Jil: Oh yeah. To the end. Imma kill the fucking game. I’m constantly trying to find a new way to deliver comedy and a new way to write my comedy.
Me: So, how would you describe your comedy?
Jil: Well, some of it is self-deprecating, which is really cathartic. I would also say that it’s rhythmic. There’s a rhythm to it that helps me set my jokes up for the punchlines in a way that I think is unique to me. And I really like that about myself at this point. There are a whole lot of things I don’t like about myself, but that’s one thing I’m really proud of.
Me: What would “making it” mean to you?
Jil: Well, I want to make it in the sense that I want to be able to take care of my parents. Either you’re a starving artist or you’re an artist who is producing things and making money off of what you are producing. And for me, I just want to be able to take care of my parents.
Again, the bartender steps up to see if we’re cool on the drinks.
We are, and she walks away.
Jil laughs at me and says “you’re checking out her ass!”
I laugh, but don’t deny it.
And the conversation leans towards men and women and relationships for a while—many things which cannot be printed here—but we eventually return to comedy.
I shoot straight to the obligatory heckling question that so many people like to ask.
Me: Have you ever been heckled?
Jil: Yeah, when I was doing stand up in Los Angeles. I was just starting out, and I got heckled by other comics! And I was like ‘fuck you, dude. I don’t need your help in getting thick skin.’ I don’t view that as helping.
Me: So who are some of your influences?
Jil: A lot of the New York comics—Steven Wright, Mitch Hedberg, Dave Chappelle… Chris Rock. I love Chris Rock. I watched his specials growing up.
Me: So about the show at the Dairy that’s coming up… have you worked with any of the girls that are on the lineup?
Jil: Oh yeah. And you’ve got a killer lineup. You know that right? The thing that I love about these girls is that they don’t just joke about things like their periods. That’s a huge pet peeve of mine.
Me: When you think of Boulder, what do you think of?
And she laughs.
In fact, we both laugh here. The good ol’ Boulder stereotype that is a stereotype for a reason.
And the conversation veers once more away from comedy, to music.
She talks more about Al Green and how she grew up with him just sort of being around, working with her mother.
We talked Sly and the Family Stone, the Red Hots, and Coldplay.
“I know a lot of black people that like Coldplay,” she says, “there’s something about the rhythms in their music.”
We talk about her college days and her work in broadcasting and how she wrote commercials for a while.
And eventually, it’s time to go.
We hug and bid farewell until the 13th and I promise to send her links to some of the music we talked about.
As I’m riding the bus out of Denver towards Boulder, I’m silently thanking the comic who recommended Jil to me to book as the emcee for this show.
It’s going to be phenomenal.