There are very few things in entertainment that Jamie Lee hasn’t done. She’s a stand-up comedian who initially made a splash as a semi-finalist on NBC’s Last Comic Standing. She’s a writer and actress on the HBO series Crashing, which begins its third season on Jan. 20. She’s appeared on a multitude of other shows as a panelist, including @midnight and Girl Code. She was recently named one of the “Top 18 Women You Should Be Following on Twitter” by The Huffington Post. She’s the author of a pseudo-wedding-guidebook called Weddiculous: The Unfiltered Guide to Being a Bride. And she just so happens to be headlining the Charleston Comedy Festival this year.
So she’s got a lot going on. But when Lee walks onstage at the College of Charleston’s Sottile Theatre, she won’t be talking about a lot of those things (other than her marriage, which we’ll get to in a bit.) In fact, she doesn’t really know yet what the majority of her set will be.
“I think a lot of it happens in the moment,” Lee says. “I don’t do too much planning in advance. I’ll jot down some things I think I want to talk about, but once I’m onstage, I kind of feel it out and tailor my material based on how I’m interacting with the audience.”
But if Lee’s recent appearance at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal is any indication, she might find some material around town before her set. At Just For Laughs, she talked about being catcalled on her way to the show, and about her odd experience with a Canadian customs official who asked if she was related to Jamie Lee Curtis.
“If anything happens during travel on my way to a show, or if something happens locally in the culture and I experience it, I like to discuss it, because it connects you to people when you’re talking about their city,” Lee says. “And especially being an outsider to that city, I think people enjoy having a fresh pair of eyes on things that they see every single day.”
But beyond some awful encounter with Charleston’s finest or other embarrassing moment, Lee says she’s got some other things she’s mulling over.
“Right now I talk a lot about what it’s like to be a woman,” she says. “I think that’s relatable, even to the men in the audience. I think they find it interesting because it’s an insight into something they don’t experience. I talk a lot about my relationships, being married, and my love/hate relationship with the beauty industry. That’s something I’ve talked about a lot lately.”
Between the book and her stand-up, Lee talks a lot about her marriage, something she sees as liberating, both for her and, potentially, for her audience.
“Part of it is a little scary because there’s a lot of vulnerability that goes into it,” she says. “But ultimately it’s kind of freeing to say, ‘This is my experience,’ and then realize a lot of people are having the same kind of experience.”
Lee has spent much of the past decade building an impressive enough comedy resume that at this point, she can essentially work only on the projects that she wants to work on.
“I think when you first start out, you’re trying to latch onto whatever opportunity presents itself and you feel really grateful to be invited to the party,” she says. “But then you get to a place where you want to be the one throwing the party and tailoring it to be the kind of party you want to have. I think that’s where I am right now, trying to lean into things that feel like they have my voice very clearly on them. I think that the main thing I care about is putting out something I’m really proud of.”
Regardless of where her writing and acting careers go, though, Lee says that stand-up will always have a place in her life.
“Stand-up will always be there,” she says. “I can never see myself putting stand-up on the back burner because it’s too emotionally fulfilling. It really is the number one art form where you can say the things you think and there’s no one there to edit you.”
And before her set in Charleston on Saturday, Lee says she’s looking forward to checking out the rest of the festival.
“I think that’s one of my favorite things about festivals is seeing where the night takes you and stumbling upon a really great show that you might not have known in advance that you’d be seeing,” she says. “I think about festivals like summer camp; you see friends that you don’t see all the time. You’re in this situation together for just a couple of days, there’s usually a lot of hanging out with friends and staying up too late and it’s really great.” —Vincent Harris