How this comedian addresses topics including women’s health and reproductive issues to LGBTQ+ and racial diversity through punchlines.
The decorative statements inside comedian, writer and actor Sabrina Jalees’ open and breezy Highland Park home seem like a random collection at first glance. A deer antler surrounded by pine cones, crystals lining a bowl feet away from a school locker and an impressive collection of comedy writing “how-to” books hug the walls. But the seemingly disparate items blend seamlessly if you know the family who lives here. The elements mirror Jalees’ diverse career and skill set in both entertainment and advocacy, while the welcoming energy permeating the house reflects Jalees’s wife, Shauna McCann’s, love affair with costume and design.
Walking past the fragrant garden and wind chimes framing the front yard, Sabrina welcomes the team as though we are old friends. Hugs are exchanged and we are offered grapefruit juice (with or without tequila, dealer’s choice). A French Bulldog named Cowboy eagerly jumps from lap to lap. Sabrina sits down for glam and while the hair and makeup team prepares her for the planned photo shoot, she shows more interest in hearing about the squad’s recent breakups and summer travel plans than touting her own mega media accomplishments, of which there are many. Her wide-eyed enthusiasm and infectious unassuming personality creates an atmosphere of comfort and camaraderie. Sabrina asks her professional stylist and designer wife if she normally wears eyeliner or just mascara (because she can’t remember) then laughs as she shares how clutch it is to have a partner who’s also the final say on her wardrobe. When a member of the LA girl team states that their home feels like a place where someone can go and have a good cry, Shauna flashes a knowing, satisfied smile and says, “That has happened here. Many times.”
Before diving into Sabrina’s recent musings and projects as a Netflix comedian, Warner Bros. deal maker and writer on shows like “Big Mouth” and “Search Party”, she took a seat with our Editor in Chief, Erika De La Cruz, on the back porch to talk about when it all began. We come to find out that that answer is teenage Sabrina at 16-years-old, attending a show at Yuk Yuk’s comedy club in Toronto.
The LA Girl: Okay, let’s start at the beginning. How did you get your start in comedy?
SJ: I started going to comedy shows at 16 at Yuk Yuk’s in Toronto. I would sit in the front row and hope to get picked on. I got a flier for an open mic night and signed up. I had the confidence only a 16-year-old could. I didn’t have rent to pay, I already lived with my parents, what did I have to lose? The first time that I did stand up, it felt like I was flying. It was like ‘Oh my god, this is it.’ I had a mustache and braces, I was obviously the hot comic. It felt like I had found this thing that clicked. I remember running home and jumping on my parent’s bed like ‘This is what I’m doing!’ My beginning material was actually a bit of a reaction to a post 9/11 Islamophobia that was so overtly out there. For someone like me, who flies under the radar, I felt like I wanted to talk about it. At the core of everything that I talk about on stage is something that at one point in my life was embarrassing or hard to talk about. I figure out a way to have a conversation about it on stage and own the story. There’s a transformation that takes place when this embarrassing thing turns into this empowering thing, and that’s kind of the drug.
The LA Girl: As we celebrate Pride Month this June, it’s fitting to have you here, as you have become a voice for inclusivity and LGBTQ+ representation in the entertainment industry. What advice do you have for others who want to transcend the experience of feeling “other” through storytelling?
SJ: I grew up with a Muslim father and a mom who is from Switzerland. They met each other and they were kind of the original lesbians, in that my brother and I were sort of these kids that shouldn’t have been in the eyes of a lot of religious people. I would encourage anyone who feels the urge to talk about feelings of “otherness” to do so, because what you’ll find is everybody is waiting to talk about something that they feel sort of queer about. When I’m on stage, it’s the most powerful feeling to me. That’s the feeling that I had when I was 16 on stage talking about Islamophobia. It’s the idea that these stories and things that make us feel down and unlucky are actually the things that connect us.
Sabrina’s first staff writing job was on the show “Crowded”, which was filmed on the Universal Studios lot. She recounts the ‘good ole days’ of de-stressing from a long afternoon in the writers’ room by slipping behind a gap in the Universal lot fence and hopping on the Jurassic World ride or drinking down a beverage at Moe’s Tavern.
The LA Girl: So we just celebrated Mother’s Day and now, Father’s Day is this month. I’d love to hear the story about your family and how you and Shauna created your adorable son Wolfie.
SJ: We made Wolfie in the coolest way possible, which is…we took a trip to Mexico. Shauna got food poisoning because she had a taco and white power exists everywhere except for in the belly of a white woman. So I did what any loving partner would do while she was sick, I went out and took a surf lesson.
Sabrina continues to share a story that can be chalked up to a possible combination of gut instinct, divine timing, or sheer madness in the best way. In a similar vein to when she first laid eyes on Shauna while dancing in a nightclub, she felt a pang of connection and importance with her surf instructor. This wasn’t romantic love at first sight, but a deep knowing that he would become their future donor. He had similar features and coloring to her, and a wolf tattoo on his back. Years ago, the name “Wolfie” had come to Shauna in a dream, and the serendipity of the moment hit her as she paddled out to her first wave. After returning to the room and brainstorming with Shauna, Sabrina eventually asked the surf instructor to be their donor and after some surprise and confusion, he obliged. In the same beautiful flow in which Wolfie was made, he has now since met a German wife and the group has created a modern family with one another.
As if on cue, Wolfie comes out with a handmade Mother’s Day card for Jalees. It’s addressed to “Baba”, the Urdu name for “Father.” Jalees smiles and says she gets the best of both worlds, celebrating both Mother’s and Father’s Day. She reads Wolfie’s appreciation letter out loud, which thanks her for taking him sledding in Big Bear and to Universal Studios. (She and Shauna are pass-carrying members now, frequently taking their son Wolfie to the theme park she once snuck into.)
The LA Girl: Your early comedy focuses a lot on your family’s reaction to coming out. How does your family feel about your marriage and family now?
SJ: When I first came out and said that I was married to Shauna, my Muslim family literally disowned me. And it was this whole, year-long battle. It was really an insane experience. But what’s crazy is that having a baby is the ultimate unifier. I tell my family, like, ‘didn’t you disown me?’ and they are like ‘Nooooo….I mean….we want to spend time with our grandson’ and like, all is well.
The LA Girl: What can you say about the Writer’s Guild Strike?
SJ: We all know the value of actually making eye contact and connecting with authentic, real feelings, stories, and characters. I think it’s a really sad and dangerous path that these huge companies are attempting to take, taking away opportunities and voices from our community and our jobs as well. So, I’m very happy and proud of the Union for taking such a strong stance. I’m excited to put my pencil down until they come correct, and I’m excited for us to get back on track with a better contract.
The LA Girl: We applaud your willingness to tackle taboo subjects on your social media, in interviews, and in stand-up. You are very open about your miscarriage and a very challenging and disappointing experience at a fertility clinic. Why is it important to you to destigmatize these topics?
SJ: When I lost the baby, it was a total shock. I was three and a half months in, and the experience of getting the DNC was so horrible. It felt like I was just a number, or a cattle call. You’re waiting to get in the room and then it’s this super sad and horrible thing. I mean, the word miscarriage too is such a dated and shitty word. I didn’t “miscarry” anything, I carried it. The word miscarriage insinuates the woman did something wrong. The more we talk about it, the more people are equipped to prepare for it, whether it’s psychologically preparing for the outcome, or freezing eggs or embryos early.
They say tragedy plus time equals comedy, but there’s something about this experience that just makes me feel this urgency to speak about it. And when I do talk about it on stage, it elicits a response of, you know, the village of women, the community coming out and saying, ‘Thank you. We’ve been going through it.’ If more people spoke about it and normalized it, we wouldn’t have this feeling of being so “other” on top of the pain of loss and feeling cursed or that it’s bad luck when it’s really science. Mother Nature is the original chauvinist, and it’s amazing that with science we can actually do something proactive like freezing eggs, if you consider having a baby in the future.
Sabrina gives a glimpse into her grieving process, and how she and Shauna found as much solace and remembrance as they could in their home, amongst the lemon trees and healing aspects of nature that they’ve intentionally homegrown. She continued to discuss how women are often made to feel bad and shameful for announcing their pregnancy news too early when a miscarriage occurs, and how we should be open to examining and changing that narrative.
The LA Girl: Thank you for going so deep with us and we appreciate your openness. To wrap up, how has the move from NYC to LA been, and what are some of your favorite spots here in LA?
SJ: Moving from New York to LA was like taking your feet out of a blender and into a foot bath. I’m a Highland Park gal, and I love Highland Park Bowl. I was gifted with this competitive toe thumb (lifts up finger to indeed, show us her thumb, that resembles a toe.) I’m currently loving a dirty iced chai with oat milk from Civil Coffee on Figueroa. It’s a great place to write as well.
As Sabrina continues to make waves in the comedy and entertainment scene, she also has exciting projects in the pipeline. She’s been working on the new Hulu series “Standing By”, an upcoming animation series about the afterlife that features esteemed actors such as Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy, Glenn Close, and David Tennant. She’s also the host of the new CTV dating show “Farming For Love” and stars in the new movie “I Used to Be Funny” which garnered critical acclaim at SXSW.
We love that Sabrina’s creative endeavors consistently push boundaries and shed light on important stories. A trailblazer in the making, we eagerly anticipate the laughter, thought-provoking narratives, and meaningful connections that she will undoubtedly bring to the world of comedy and beyond. You heard it here first, set your alerts, because she’s just getting started.
Follow along her journey:
Stylist: Shauna McCann
Photography: Chiara Alexa
Key Makeup Artist: Ray Gonzales
Key Hair Stylist: Jacob Vega