The Problem with Our Staff
Q&A with Jay Jurden, Staff Writer
If you’ve listened to our podcast, you know that our staff is loaded with talented, hilarious writers. We thought we’d give you a chance to get to know them a little better by asking them probing questions about their hopes, dreams, and fears of dying in embarrassing ways. Keep reading to hear how staff writer Jay Jurden got this job and which insect he’d like to be reincarnated as.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you were doing before this job?
My name is Jay Jurden. I am a stand-up comedian, an actor, and a writer in New York City. Before this job, I was primarily just doing stand-up in the city. I worked in one writers’ room for a different project, E Pluribus Unum, where we worked in conjunction with a think tank figuring out fun and, more importantly, comedic ways to combat any sort of pushback in the post-George Floyd era. So basically, giving people new ways to comedically address the fact that we’ve moved into a society where we are attempting to discuss race relations and inequity a bit more explicitly. That’s what I was doing right before this, and before all of that just stand-up around the country. Oh, and when I first moved to New York, I was a personal trainer.
Ooh, maybe we should have you train the entire staff?
No, I am terrible. I’m a drill sergeant. Everyone here likes me currently. I don’t want that to change.
Fair enough. Alright, our hiring process has been talked about a lot, but what made you decide to sit down and write your packet?
I was a big fan, as a millennial, of Jon. I was very much aware of the matrix of politics, social commentary, observational humor, and just overall silliness. There’s this weird combo that Jon does very well, where it’s a point of view that is informed, but also at its heart comedic and aware of the ceiling of seriousness. Even when people were like, “I take him more seriously than newscasters,” throughout his entire reign Jon was like, “Don’t do that. Why are you doing that? Don’t do that. I told you not to do that. Why do you keep doing that?”
So I was really interested in working with one of the greats. I was a big fan of the super egalitarian aspect of the process. I’ve done packets before — I think I’ve sent one to every host named James — but I hadn’t ever made it to any of the later rounds for any of the late night packets that I had done before. So I was like, “OK, I’m just really going to do this.” And I sat down and I wrote out the required materials, and that was it. I felt really good about it. Then a few weeks later I got the email about going to round two, and that was really surprising and very exciting.
So when you found out that you had been hired, what did that feel like?
The second round went really well, and the interview went really well. My partner guessed it. My partner was like, “I think you’re going to get this job.” And I was like, “I don’t knoooow.” I was like, “This is a lottery. This is literally a lottery job.” So I was very excited when I got it, and then I found out how big it was. When you find out how many people did it, you’re like holy shit. So it felt really, really good. It felt super affirming. As a comedian in New York City, I do work very hard to make sure that my comedy is rooted in truth and rooted in observation, and also sometimes rooted in the absurdities that we kind of take as truths and don’t question. And then what happens when we break those down? And Jon and the vision and the voice of the show does that a lot. So I feel like I’m aligned with the vision of the show. So I was very, very happy when I got the gig.
So how does this work — the day-to-day process of writing on this show — compare to other jobs you’ve had?
Well, OK, so it is better than being a busboy. That we’ll put at the bottom. This job is almost as good as being shirtless in front of an Abercrombie. That’s somewhere up there because, come back-to-school time, you are a god. You can do no wrong. You’re just making money hand over fist. Kidding, it was minimum wage, but you do get as many free pretzels in the mall as you want. I mean, if you flirt with the guy at the pretzel cart.
Probably then being a personal trainer, because you know when you bring weights over to someone, you also have to take them back? It’s a little bit more physically demanding than people think. And then I would say stand-up comedian, because that was always one of my dreams. Then being naked on the TV show High Maintenance, and then this job. I’ve done all of them, and this job is definitely at the top.
What is it like to write about objectively bad news and try to make it funny?
Oh, I’m from Mississippi, so I’m used to doing that. Medicine is great with a little bit of sugar, so says Mary Poppins. So attempting to thread the needle of informative, funny, but also real but also trying not to depress everyone. Some of the shit can get nihilistic, and that’s such a bad place to start because it just goes downhill fast.
With some of the episodes, you come in and the information you receive at the beginning, like when you start the research process, the research team is just like “So we have a word in the business. This is… fucked.” And the writers are like, “Oh, yeah, this is terrible.” So internally, you can laugh at just how dark and macabre and how empty and world-ending all this stuff is. But you kind of want to dress it up a little before it makes it to the teleprompter.
So it’s tough, but it’s fun. It’s a good exercise. I always think about joke writing as an exercise, and it’s just like you’re whittling away at something. Writing is rewriting, as we learn all the time. So you’re just kind of like working to try to deliver this in the best way possible, not necessarily the scariest way possible, but the most comedic way possible. And then maybe have like a hard, hard point that you want to hit.
What is the most surprising thing about this experience so far?
The fact that it’s like this odd skeleton crew, a ragtag group of people from the digital world, from the news media world, from the comedy world. It’s an amalgamation of things I haven’t ever experienced. So it’s really cool to see what research does, what footage does, what digital does, what [showrunner] Brinda does. It’s this weird mix of all these elements of TV that you’re aware of, but you’ve never seen the inner workings of. That’s been really, really fun for me. I’ve always been interested in why the news looks the way it does, and to have some sort of intel on that has been very eye-opening.
What habit of yours do you think your coworkers find most annoying about you?
Oooooh. Whenever we’re in a meeting and we’ve been sitting down for too long, I’m not the only one to do it, but I am notorious for doing it. I just stand up and start walking. And I’m not going to leave. But if I’m in a chair for that long — and sometimes we’re discussing, very sad things, I mean we were talking about domestic violence and gun violence for two hours — I’ve got to get up and take a stroll.
Oh, the other thing, and they’re going to kill me for saying this. You know what? I’ll say it, I don’t care. What’s gonna happen? We make fun of [writer] Henrik for pretty much everything. So that’s one thing that he probably doesn’t like. But as a team, I think it helps us. So he’s got to take that for the team. At one point, his alarm was going off and it was a voice alarm and it was a woman’s voice. And he was like, “That’s just my computer,” and we’re like, “Do you have an electronic wife? Are you married to your computer?” It was very funny.
As a millennial of a certain age, we all are scared of trucks with logs on the back of them.
Ok, let’s get dark for a second, what’s the dumbest way you’re afraid of dying? Mine is getting crushed in a revolving door.
Oh my god. As the person who grew up with the Final Destination franchise, this is something we all think about. As a millennial of a certain age, we all are scared of trucks with logs on the back of them. But that’s not what I’m most scared of. We live in New York, and I am very scared, so scared of getting hit by the train. It is something that keeps me up at night sometimes. You know, it’s scary. Trains are scary. I’m even more scared of going in between the cars. Sharp turn, I fall off.
All right. Speaking of death, you’re going to be reincarnated in your next life as one kind of bug. What bug do you want to come back as?
Oh, oh, wow, ok. Now I like a lot of bugs, OK? I like a lot of bugs, and we’re saying bug, but this can mean insects? Any kind of arachnid? If this means arthropods, I would say lobster, because they’re immortal. They are bugs, kind of, right?
They’re the bugs of the sea, yeah.
But if we were sticking with insects, I think beetles are really cool. Not like a dung beetle, but like the Hercules beetle. Beetles are cool. Beetles look badass. I don’t want to be a spider. People are scared of me. I’m scared of people. You know what I mean?
You’d have to maintain that whole web, that seems like a pain.
Yeah, I don’t want to maintain a web. You’re telling me if I become a bug, now I also have to go to art school. No. I can’t be a spider. I don’t want to be a tick because I don’t like people that much. Right? I don’t want to get attached. I don’t want to be a bumblebee. That seems, like, worse than capitalism, and it’s a monarchy. So it’s also like a caste system? No, I’ll move to Britain if I want that. I don’t want to be a WASP because in this political era? No — that’s a joke for anyone who knows what that acronym means. I don’t want to be a millipede because the shoes will get expensive. So, yeah, I’m thinking beetle.
One final question, which is what’s your dream future episode of the show?
I always say it, and I’ll say it again. It’s The Problem with the South. It’s the problem with dismissing the south, which is an economic powerhouse. It has the most black and brown people. It is the future of our country, but also the past of our country — and because we can’t reconcile both of those things, it often breeds a lot of conflict.
I grew up in Mississippi, went to school in Mississippi, went to school in Alabama, worked in Florida. I think that the South is such an interesting, complicated, complex place. I think a lot of southern states aren’t Republican states; they are highly gerrymandered states. I think a lot of southern states aren’t dumb states; they are underfunded states. I think a lot of southern states are not uncultured states; they are beautiful, escapist green spaces that we’re still going to need. We’re also at risk of losing a lot of shoreline there because of climate change. I think that there are so many interesting stories to tell about where I’m from, and I think that the Problem with the South could be a very fun and informative episode.