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Up-and-coming comedian Jetta Juriansz talks about her dream female-centric cast

Jetta Juriansz may not be a name you recognize. Yet. But, the Arizona native is hoping to change that.

She’s been working her way up the comedy ladder since leaving the Valley for LA at 19; she’s appeared on the sketch comedy show "Studio C" and is currently a member of comedy troupe the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City.

In addition to being a comedian, she’s also a writer and actor — she performed in the pre-Broadway premiere of "The Karate Kid: The Musical."

Juriansz spoke with The Show about her comedy career so far, starting with whether she’s someone who always knew she wanted to be in comedy, on stage, in front of a camera.

Full interview

JETTA JURIANSZ: Yeah, I actually don't remember a time where I didn't want that. Like, I'm sure I developed the desire at some point in my life, but I can't actually track when that happened. I just, like, have always wanted to do this and it was always kind of my dream. And so, you know, in my head, even as a kid, I was like, actively trying to pursue this career.

MARK BRODIE: Were you somebody who as a child would try to make grownups laugh or make your classmates laugh?

JURIANSZ: Oh, totally. I was a certified try hard. I, I always say that I got into comedy because I have, I have five sisters and, I just wanted to make them laugh. And so that just kind of snowballed into me doing it, in, for my career. But yeah, it's like, it's just always was my desire to make people laugh and entertain.

BRODIE: When you were going to school, you know, high school. I understand you went to, to college briefly here in the Phoenix area, like, did you do theater? Were you doing comedy stuff in school when you were here?

JURIANSZ: Yeah. Yeah, I, I did theater all through high school. I was on my high school's improv team and I think it was cool because I ended up getting cast as like the comedic relief parts, which really set me up for the career I wanted because normally, like, when you're a young woman, I like, I didn't see myself as like an ingenue or like a basic leading lady. Like I saw myself as like the wacky old lady who like enters in and says a few funny lines because that's what I got cast as in, in high school. So when I moved to LA and I started pursuing acting as a career, I still kind of saw myself that way and, and in film and TV, it's not like I would really ever, ever get cast as like a wacky old lady. Like the time for that is coming. It's just, you know, years and years away. But like, because I, like, saw myself, I saw all the potential of like, what I could do in this broad spectrum, the area that you can kind of be all of those wacky characters is in comedy, is in sketch comedy, is in improv. And so, yeah, I'm, I'm happy that I was exposed to silly parts like that because I, I had that expectation going into my career being like, you know, I, I love playing an ingenue, I love playing really anything. But I was like, I, I want to be able to do all that crazy stuff that I know I can do because I got to do it when I was a kid.

BRODIE: It's really interesting to hear you say that, you know, you were exposed to this broad spectrum of things because I would imagine it wouldn't have been too difficult for you to also feel pigeonholed as kind of like the wacky neighbor, as you say, who comes in and says a couple funny lines and then leaves again. But it seems like you really saw the bigger picture there and saw a lot of how there could be opportunity here beyond just sort of this one, you know, sort of typecast character.

JURIANSZ: Right, yeah. Like, I think sometimes people, tend to put themselves into a small slot and I think that's in a way like the nature of the industry, you really feel the need to brand yourself and say, like, this is what I do. But I always tell people not to limit themselves. I'm like, you, you really don't know what you're capable of until you try. And so even as a comedian, I try to like, really seek out parts where I can be dramatic and like, you know, I'm classically trained. Like I, I still like to do, things where I have to be dropped in and really challenged and I try not to typecast myself because, you know, the industry is going to do that in its own way. And so the last thing I want to do is to limit my own potential. That's like the last thing I could do as someone who wants a, you know, fruitful career and an exciting life for myself. I wanna always leave room for me to pursue every opportunity.

BRODIE: Yeah. OK, So you mentioned you moved to LA but you didn't like get a start in, you know, quote unquote the biz at a super young age, right? Like your, your mom basically put, put some age limits on you before you could like get representation and move to LA.

JURIANSZ: Yes. Yeah, I mean, I'm so grateful for that now, of course, as a 12-year-old, I was like, “You're ruining my dreams.”

BRODIE: Of course.

JURIANSZ: But, but you know, I'm so glad she, she always said like, “You can get an agent when you're old enough to go drive and get one.” Because, you know, I've, I have five sisters, I have a big family. I'm there wasn't a world in which everyone could accommodate getting me to auditions as a kid or as a teenager. And so I didn't get my agent first until I think I was like 17 or 18. And yeah, and then, and then I, I did a year of college and I kind of planned on going to college and doing the whole thing even though I was, I was not a very good student. I was like, very, very focused and set on acting. And so I would like ditch class and go like hang in the theater building and like, you know, whatever. And I'm, I'm grateful that my family believed in me enough to like, kind of let me go off the path and move to LA at 19. Even though like that the fruits of that labor didn't like pan out right away. Like it wasn't like I moved to 19 and then like Mr. Hollywood opened the pearly gates for me and was like, “Welcome. We've been waiting for you. Here's an Oscar.” But like it, it more and more over the course of time became clear that this is the right thing for me and like I did make the right decision in doing that. And I'm just really grateful that my family was supportive of that even though it was, I think really tough on particularly my mom.

BRODIE: Yeah. Well, so like, what was it like for you when you first moved out to LA and really got started because, you know, I don't have to tell you, show business can be really difficult. And as you say, it wasn't like, you know, they just threw open the gates and said, “Hey, welcome. You know, here's, here's your you know, your best act, actor role here.”

JURIANSZ: Right. Right. Yeah, it was it was really difficult, I think, I think the, the most difficult thing about it actually wasn't the industry itself. I think it was just being 19. Like, being 19 is weird. You're just like, you're like, supposed to be an adult and it's like all you've ever wanted. I just remember being a kid being like, “And one day I'll be, you know, an adult living in LA and I'll be able to do it,” and then you get there and you're like, “Cool. Now what?” I think, you know, I was, like, really, really broke. I was living in North Hollywood. I was like, still really focused on, like, making friends and figuring out who I was and I didn't really know what you were supposed to do. I was a big, like, actor nerd. I was obsessed with like, every aspect of the industry and then the moment that I finally just, like, let go of all the expectations and all of, you know, what I thought I was supposed to do once I finally just, like, let myself enjoy it and have fun and like, do the thing I love. And that's really when things started to click for me and opportunities started to present themselves.

Well, New York was kind of like a fun, exciting chain of events. I like, I like to say that, like, you know, for me, my career has panned out with like little small windows opening over time and I, just sort of trusting my gut and following those windows. So New York was kind of one of those windows. I had this like deep desire to move here for whatever reason. I mean, it's not completely random. I did like my first big theater project like a year and a half ago and it may be transferring to Broadway at some point and I made a lot of connections out here. One of my agents is out here and I had just done some work in New York and, you know, as a comedian SNL is out here. So there were a lot of good solid reasons to move. But I think the biggest, one of all was that I just really wanted to, and the actors and writers were on strike for the majority of last year. And so it just kind of felt like a good opportunity to do something scary and trust my gut and so far I've been, like, super, super happy with that decision. It's been wonderful.

BRODIE: Well, it seems like at least in one respect it's really worked out in the sense that you've landed on Upright Citizens Brigade.

JURIANSZ: Yeah, totally. Yeah, I'm, and that has been so fantastic so far, and I, in general, I just, the comedy that I've been able to do out here has been so much fun. I have a show tonight even. It's just, yeah, there's so much live comedy, live theater and I'm still going out for the same TV and movie stuff that I was back in LA.

BRODIE: Well, so the place you are now with Upright Citizens Brigade, like this is obviously a place that a lot of really well-known comics and comedians have come out of.

JURIANSZ: Oh yeah, some of my absolute favorite comedians are UCB alum and it's, it's so exciting. I really like being, I like being challenged when it comes to comedy. I like being in a room where I'm like, oh my gosh, everyone's so good. And I'm growing and I'm learning and my brain is like firing off and that's how it feels to be on my team so far. Everyone's just, just wickedly funny and really welcoming. I mean, on my team, it's the majority of the people on my team have been on UCB teams before and they've just been super welcoming. And yeah, it's, it's been fantastic. I'm so happy.

BRODIE: And do you still have the dream of being on SNL?

JURIANSZ: I do. It's such a finicky dream because it's so, I mean, it, it’s not different from any other show. It's, there are only so many slots, but it is kind of a thing where, you know, they're trying to have a really fleshed-out cast where everyone brings something different to the table. And so it is like so random who gets on and when, but I've seen that I've been, you know, for example, Chloe Feynman, I was a fan of hers for years before she was on SNL, see, seeing, you know, comedians that I am peers with or that like, I know it makes it seem so much more possible. And yeah, I've been, I've, my, my first audition for SNL, I was like 24. And so I've auditioned for, for SNL every year since and every single time it's, it's just a dream, but it is a fleeting one. It's like one of those like smoke, like, you know, you try to catch it. But how, and like when, but if it does happen, I think that I will explode and become a star in the sky because this is my biggest dream of all time.

BRODIE: Well, I mean, I would think that like, for someone who does what you do, like, I don't want to say that is the pinnacle because that would suggest anything else that you do is, is not quite up to that. But, like, that's a really big deal if you're a comedian to be on Saturday Night Live.

JURIANSZ: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that it was the home base and the launching pad for so many great, great talents and, like, you know, for example, Tina Fey has turned it into a career where she gets to produce and she gets to direct and she gets to write and she gets to be the head writer and those sort of things really light my fire. You know, like talent like Mindy Kaling who Mindy Kaling even only wrote for SNL, I think for like, maybe not even a full season, like half a season. And, but like, her career is one that I really admire because I really like to do everything. And so SNL kind of excites me in that way as well, like the possibility to turn it into something more and work with so many talented people.

BRODIE: Well, it's interesting because it sounds like, yes, you definitely want to, you know, be on screen, but you also kind of want to be the boss.

JURIANSZ: Totally. Totally. Yeah, I think I didn't know that that was going to be the vision for myself when I moved out to LA when I was 19. But you, you try more things and you kind of learn more about yourself. And like, I think my dreams grew with me. I would try something and be like, wait, I like really, really like that. I always say I'm an actor but like my dream is to do everything at the same time. Like I'm like, if, if it were up to me, I would be like the showrunner, the head writer, the actor, the producer, executive producer of a show. And that would be like my real, real dream.

BRODIE: So you talked about how, you know, you, you know, your family has been supportive of your, your mom. You know, looking back now you really appreciate, you know, how she sort of reined you in a little bit. Maybe when you were younger, like, are they, do they come out and, and see you in shows now? Are they able to, to really appreciate, like, how far you've come?

JURIANSZ: Oh, totally. I, my family is my, I mean, like my home base, they're the people I bounce everything off of. They're the people I tell first about everything. I think I genuinely think my family has great taste. So I really trust their instincts as well. I, even this week I had an audition where I just was like, I sent it to my sisters. I sent it to my mom and I was like, what do you think? And, you know, my mom is the first phone call I make whenever book anything and she, she seeing them in the audience of anything, it just moves me there. Was a video once of like, I did a musical in LA for the Hollywood Fringe Festival. My sisters and my mom came out to see it and it was like an emotional show. But after the show ended, my sisters were sobbing and I just came out and started sobbing. Like you would think we were like reuniting after the war. Like we were all like holding each other quivering and they're just so supportive. I love them so, so, so much.

BRODIE: All right. So I know that this question is kind of like asking a parent to pick their favorite child. But if you were to be able to sort of have your dream job with a dream cast, like who are some people that you would just love to be able to work with?

JURIANSZ: Oh my gosh, I'm so obsessed with that question. Well, OK, I, there are so many, so many amazing female comedians I would love to work with. Dream scenario, I'm going to use famous people, but I also keep in mind that like, if it were up to me, so many of my real-life friends would be in this project. But for the sake of people listening, I won't be like, you know, my friend Sawyer, everyone will be like, who is that? But, but I think I would love to work with Ayo Edebiri, I just admire the heck out of her. Mindy Kaling, like co-producing a show with Mindy Kaling, would be a dream come true. I love Quinta Brunson. I love, oh boy, Rachel Sennott. I love, there's so many amazing, honestly, Chloe Fineman. I love Lisa Gilroy. I love, there's so many. Oh Issa Rae, these are all just like female. My dream I think would be to and most the majority of the things I write are very female-centric. But I think like an ensemble comedy with female comedians is like my ultimate end all, be all dream. Like that's what I would if, if you know, suddenly a check for like a bajillion dollars just floated down from the sky and landed in my hand. If I could make anything, it would be with all of those amazing women and just women in general. I just love female-centered storytelling and I love female-centered humor.

BRODIE: All right, we'll have to leave it there. That is Jetta Juriansz, an actor, comedian and writer based in New York. Jetta, It was really nice to talk to you. Thank you so much and good luck.

JURIANSZ: Thank you so much, Mark. It was so much fun.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.