Sam Jay: Salute Me or Shoot Me. Courtesy of HBO.

Interview: Sam Jay Talks “Salute Me or Shoot Me”

Sam Jay: Salute Me or Shoot Me.
Sam Jay: Salute Me or Shoot Me. Courtesy of HBO.

A lot has happened since Sam Jay released her Netflix special in 2020. That special, 3 in the Morning, was well received by fans and critics alike. Jay has also starred in two series since then, Bust Down on Peacock and her talk show Pause on HBO.

Onstage in her new special, Salute Me or Shoot Me, Jay spends time talking about another big change in her life: She recently got engaged. But perhaps the biggest, overall arc of the special is empathy. Jay takes this opportunity to dissect our culture, and how we can all be more empathetic. There’s nothing more rewarding from an audience perspective than to have a comedian take you on a journey in their special. Jay pulls that off here with amazing - and hilarious - results.

We recently spoke to Jay about the special, taping it in Brooklyn, writing while onstage, some of her favorite jokes from the special, and more.

Have you been seeing a lot of great feedback as people have been watching it?

Um, I guess. (Laughs). The ones where people tag me and stuff. It seems that people are enjoying it. I’m sure there’s some people who haven’t. But I haven’t been seeing a lot of that.

Well that’s good. And prior to the special premiering, where is your headspace at? Are you really nervous for people to see it? Or once it’s done, are you able to disconnect from it?

50/50. Partially once it’s done, it’s done and I know I can’t really take it back. So it’s kind of like “Alright, it is what it is.” And there is a little bit of anxiousness where you still hope people like it, or at least get what you were trying to make.

And now in the age of social media, you can find out immediately what someone thought of it. So tell me about the process of writing and working on this special. It’s been a couple of years since your last one. What were some of the new challenges versus the two?

I think one is, with the first one, there’s a lot of pressure but there’s also this whole I’ve never really done it before, so there’s no real idea of what it should be. But once you’re at the second one, you put the first one out. And if people liked it - and my first special did well for me - it’s like “Okay. It has to be at least as good as that. At the very least.” But of course, you want it to be better.

So there was just that pressure, of making sure that the product felt like growth and I was showing my growth in it. I feel like I toured this one a lot more than I toured the first one. I was in a different place in my life. I am engaged and I have different responsibilities. So it was just balancing on that.

And you talked a lot about those responsibilities that come with being engaged. You perfected that overall theme in the special so well. Did it take you a long time to get to the overall arc and the empathy aspect of the special?

I just had to keep touring it. It was just a lot of moving stuff around. There’s so many bits that didn’t make the cut. Once I started to see the theme sort of reveal itself, which was just through the process of doing it a bunch and being out on the road. I was out there doing about an hour to an hour and a half every night I was out there touring. So you just start to expound upon certain topics and you’re talking more in this direction than another direction. And it just kind of starts to show itself to you what it’s going to be.

And it was just through that and everything I was kind of harping on and the jokes I really loving to tell. And the big jokes. That felt like “Oh these are big chunks that really help to carry this thing.” It felt like empathy was what just kept showing up in all these different spaces. And so I just tried to focus on the bits that were kind of charging the conversation that way.

It’s just a great way to tie everything together. Especially with your line that we’re policing words but not policing behavior. That’s really powerful right there. I loved where the special took off after that.

Yeah. It was a lot of writing onstage. There was a lot of really tedious tooling of it to kind of figure out how I was going to start and how I was going to build to this higher, more heavier conversation that I wanted to have. I tried to ground it in me and my relationship and where I see this lack of empathy or seeing the other side, how I’ve experienced it. And little things within my relationship, like the trash. And how I can take that and keeping blowing it up, blowing it up, and then we’re up and we’re really talking about race and classism and all of these different things.

Are you typically someone who writes onstage?

Yes. Absolutely.

I’m assuming that must be way easier than trying to write things down, particular with a special like this.

I think it depends on how your brain works. I’m not a studious person. I don’t like structure. If I try to write like that. If I go “I’m going to sit in front of my computer and write for an hour today,” it’s just not going to happen. So I just had to figure out for me where the work is. And for me, it’s touring. Touring, touring, touring. Even though I don’t like it and it’s tedious and rough on you physically, that is how I’m studious. I’m like a taskmaster with that.

Jumping around a bit. You mentioned that getting engaged was a big change within this new special. When do you start finding material within that new life experience?

Honestly, it was just being at home for a few days, getting into an argument about something, and then going right back on the road. And this stuff would just be fresh in my brain. Something I just went through when I was home for a couple of days.

And I know you taped the special in Brooklyn. How much thought do you put into where you’re going to tape the special?

I wanted to do it in New York. Because New York has kind of become my home city. It’s where I live. It’s where I do the most stand-up. It’s a great comedy city. But also, I feel like it’s where a lot of my fans are. I kind of wanted to take it out and then bring it back to New York as a gift. So I think Brooklyn has the vibes I wanted. It’s a good mix. I felt like with Manhattan, you get Manhattan people. And Brooklyn, you kind of get a mix of all types. So that’s why I chose Brooklyn. But that was really it. There wasn’t a whole lot more thought besides that. I just knew I wanted to do it at home. I kind of wanted to tape the special and go back to my house. I didn’t want to have to like go back to a hotel. It was nice to just go home.

But the venue and the set-up and the way the room looked, that stuff was a little bit more the nuts and the bolts. But choosing a location, I knew very early that I wanted to do it in Brooklyn.

You can definitely tell it was a good crowd and everything was connecting well the way it should.

Yeah it was cool. It was nice because I didn’t want to do a papering of the room, have like an audience filler and fill it with whoever. So I was like “No, we’re going to do it like a real show. Sell tickets and have people just come to a show.” And so my fans really showed up. And that was nice.

That’s probably another big difference between the specials as well. Since 2020, you’ve definitely built up your fanbase more thanks to everything you’ve been doing.

Yeah. And that was nice. It felt like a step up in my career. Like “Oh, this is cool for sure.”

Are you already back on the road thinking about the next hour?

I’m gonna be back on the road mid-October. I’m going to start touring again. But I am getting up a lot in New York. I don’t know that I’m necessarily thinking about the next hour. But I’m back doing stand-up and back writing jokes and having fun.

I get that. It’ll be ready when it’s ready.

That’s how I feel. I just feel like you get up, you’re just working the road, you’re just doing it. And then over some time, the hour starts to like poke its head out and go “Maybe I’m this.” And you’re like “Oh, maybe it is that.” So I’m up for the process of it. I’m not in a rush.

Are there any specific jokes that you wish you could’ve found room for in the special? Or after taping it, are there jokes that you wish you could’ve tagged differently?

I feel like you always run into that. Like after it’s done, you’re like “Oh, I should’ve said this.” Or “I left out that thing that I do. Why didn’t I put that thing in there?” There’s always something. I don’t know that there’s any real big stuff. I feel like I really got the stuff I wanted in there. I really got it in there.

And going off of that, what took the longest to come together? Is there a joke that took the longest to find?

I would say, honestly, the midget stuff. It took the longest. It took the most work to pull off the execution of it, and to make sure that the point of it was clear. It wasn’t getting lost in saying a trigger road. And also figuring out how it worked in the special. How it was going to work in the hour. Because it was one of the earlier jokes that I wrote.

I probably wrote that joke - at least the bones of that joke - I had been playing with for two years. But I hadn’t figured out the finesse of it. And people were like “We don’t know if this is okay.” And I wasn’t quite sure if it was either, yet. So I would say that took the most toiling over.

Are you nervous to do a bit like that the first time? When you are working with those trigger words?

I wouldn’t say nervous, but I am aware and very conscious of what I’m doing.

That it could go badly.


But that’s part of the fun of stand-up. The risk of it going badly. I’m sure it’s exciting.

For sure. And I think that’s the work of it, too. “How do I get this across and pull this off where even as the audience, you’re going to start off afraid. Afraid for me, afraid for yourselves.” There’s that tension, and then as you keep pulling at the thread, they’re like “Oh, this is where we’re arriving with this. That’s actually cool and fun.”

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