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Jen Ellison is an actress, writer, director, and professor focusing on comedy and theatre. Throughout her career, Jen performed and directed at ComedySportz, Collaboraction, The Neo-Futurists, and The Second City (the legendary improv theater where Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Key and Peele, and Stephen Colbert first learned how to be be funny on stage). As a professor, she is the former lead of an Ethics in Gaming class, analyzing how we—as players—can become somebody else, living through another point of view, experience empahty, and how videogames and cinema are powerful tools of storytelling and human connection. Ms. Ellison also mentors students on how to become funnier at Columbia College Chicago, by teaching comedy classes in the Comedy Studies program. You can check out her work both on stage, and on “Drunk JCrew You Guys”, a parody of JCrew models' shots on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.

"We don't give ourselves the agency to really feel the profound truth of what somebody else could say to us and understand about us. And oftentimes, for the sake of efficacy, we don't offer that to other people. Because truth is hard. But there is an absolute feeling of love, and acceptance, that can come from somebody really seeing you how you want to be seen, not just in the way of the best parts of you to have somebody look at you as a whole person and not just one facet of you is really profoundly valuable. Every class I teach is really about that. I want people to be their authentic selves and I also want them to challenge what that means."
— Jen Ellison

Actress Jen Ellison's headshot with a scarf covering her mouth.

Transcript

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Jen Ellison (guest): We don't give ourselves the agency to really feel the profound truth of what somebody else could say to us and understand about us. And oftentimes, for the sake of efficacy, we don't offer that to other people. Because truth is hard. But there is an absolute a feeling of love, and feeling of acceptance, that can come from somebody really seeing you how you want to be seen, not just in the way of the best parts of you to have somebody look at you as a whole person and not just one facet of you is really profoundly valuable. Every class I teach is really about that. I want people to be their authentic selves and I also want them to challenge what that means.

Simone Salis (host): I am Simone Salis and these is The Hoomanist, with today's guest: Jen Ellison Jen Ellison, is an actor, writer, director and Professor focusing on comedy and theatre throughout her career, Miss Eloise and performed and directed at comedy, sports collaboration, the new futurists and the second CD the legendary Improv Theater, where Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Key and Peele and Stephen Colbert first learn how to be fun on stage as a professor, she's the former lead in an ethics and gaming class, analyzing how we as players can become somebody else. living through another point of view experience in empathy and how video games in cinema are powerful tools of storytelling and human connection. Jen also mentor students on how to become fun. You're at Columbia College, Chicago by teaching comedy classes in the comedy studies program. You can check out our work both onstage in drunk J. Crew models, apparently have j crew's advertising shots. we've captured some Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook pages. I usually don't laugh introduction, but that's it. Author of drunk J. Crew models. What a Just tell me what it is.

J. Ellison: Okay, so drunk J. Crew. So I'll just tell you the origin story. I think that's probably the best way to go about it. So one day, I was sitting there eating my breakfast, and I was looking through j crew's website. And while I was reading it, I just noticed that the way that they pose the models and whatever it is they're doing. I don't know what's happening in these photo shoots. But they all look hammered. But like not, they look white girl wasted. Like that's just they're all in this place of just being like, I don't even know what's going on. Like, so I while I was eating my cereal, I started saying out loud. Like you guys have to sit down. And so so I started these first eight like captions where they just famous eight. Yes, like these first eight pictures, like, I'll just look really wasted. And I put captions on them. And I posted them on Facebook just to my friends. And they started they started, they started sharing them right away. And it really took off. All of a sudden, it was like 1000 shares in an hour, and so a friend of mine named drop Ariel Dima, who is on she's a writer for coal bear, she emailed me and was like, you have to make a Tumblr because Tumblr was the place to do that at this time. And this was like four years ago,

S. Salis: right? He was a mean, like, you have to make a MySpace Yes. Right.

J. Ellison: So I posted all of them on Tumblr. And then I think in the next couple of days, I had, like, 35,000 followers, and wow, I like yeah, it's, it was nuts. You were famous. I was like, I like to use the term my micro famous line. I have a lot of people who like it. I have people who come to my classes, and I tell them that I'm that person. And they're like, wait, what you can do? Yeah, because they don't necessarily follow it. But they've just seen it. A lot of places. It is worth noting that a couple of days after I started the tumbler. Somebody took the Twitter handle the Instagram handle drunk J. Crew and started posting as if they were me, and trying to you're trying to steal my jam. And so I created drunk J. Crew you guys, which is the Instagram and the Twitter. And that's what I wound up doing. And they wound up stopping eventually. And I had a whole bunch of friends who just went after for them on Twitter, because they don't like when people steal jokes.

S. Salis: Yeah, that's, that's a good approach defending like, original work.

J. Ellison: And I just didn't even think about it. I was like, Oh, this is silly little thing. And then it just turned into this whole big, I think it actually might have stalled a little bit just because of the part of the, the process of getting it out there. But I still do it every so often. And I have people that really like it. And I have

S. Salis: a lot of very specific rules about what I do. What is ok, you. So this is captions on the Lou Hamer. Like, is it white girls after St. Patrick's Day when they are still under age? And they pretend to drink now? Yes.

J. Ellison: Oh, yes. They're just like, so many shot. Yeah, yeah.

S. Salis: But so you were saying,

J. Ellison: oh, that have rules about Yeah, what those rules are. So here's the thing is that I don't do the men on the J crew web site. Because the men in general tend to look more active and dynamic. I also don't, I don't sexualize the women in it. And I also want to be very clear, I know what it is I'm doing. I'm doing like a mean thing. So it's not like you know, I'm doing some sort of like, you know, devastating blistering literary criticism. I do make sure that I don't I try not to portray them as being sort of stereotypical a catty towards each other. I mean, they get into fights over things I have, like some of the later ones, like where they get into fights about stuff. And people eating each other's chips and damp and I but I tried to make it so that in my mind, I just imagine that all of these women live in a house together, and they all have these personalities. And that there, they just want to play games and have a good time. And they try to be nice to each other. But then it just kind of gets in the way when you're drunk. So

S. Salis: yeah,

J. Ellison: so I tried to it to make it I try not to make it so that it's, it's quite so stereotypical in how the women are portrayed. And I like it like that. Like, I don't like the the person who tried to steal the stuff tried to make it very easy. Like, Oh, wait, you know, la peed myself. And it's like, that's not even you don't, you're not even having to try to figure out what the story is with this girl who in this one in one of them, it was like, Oh, I shouldn't have told you this about Leslie. Or another one was I found these cool Ray Bans in the bathroom. And so I just wanted there to be a story to the things that were happening. And not just I think it's easy to make fun of. I think it's maybe not easy but common to make fun of women and models. putting people in those scenarios. I what I like to do is try to imagine like they have lives in a weird story and that they're, they're all best friends a little bit this house. So it's also really weird when I see the models and other catalogs or in other I'm like, What are you doing here? You need to go back to J. Crew

S. Salis: you recognize them? Do I know? I yes. Haha. It's so weird. Yeah, now they're like your friends. Maybe they know you. They go like, Look, this

J. Ellison: is one of the models did comment I'm one of them is saying. Oh, I remember that shoot. Like,

S. Salis: there was there was a comment. Yeah, that was it. Oh, I remember that for paradise in me.

J. Ellison: But I don't think I don't know. I know that people who work at j crew know it exists or have known and exists and announced but I don't haven't told me to stop like that. They're not, you know,

S. Salis: well, you know, drink crew. In the past few years, family has been like a, you know, we'll, we'll take a walk, take what we can like,

J. Ellison: about to be bankrupt.

S. Salis: Here goes gap. And here. It's us. I know. I just like I don't wish them that. But that's what it sounds like. When you read about that. Every time

J. Ellison: I read about it. It's like, oh, going down. You know, as it just as a side note, I should make mention, I am not teaching at DePaul anymore for the ethics department. I will be hopefully I'll be teaching a screenwriting and I took a break. And I'm going to hopefully teaching be teaching screenwriting in the winter. I'm not teaching the ethics class, mainly because I don't have a degree in ethics. Okay. And philosophy. So I feel like that should also just be what

S. Salis: do you what do you have a degree on ending and acting? Okay, well, we all know that, hey, I have a comedy. And you taught me

J. Ellison: what are we doing here? I don't know. I don't know.

S. Salis: There were a couple times like we are internet phenomena. Yes, you are. I'm an internet. You're with your micro. I'm like know, what is the scale my no fame,

J. Ellison: Charmaine. Oh, famous. Hilarious, but I do feel like I should make mention that I did teach. I did teach ethics for like, I think, seven years, you know, you were able to pull it off. I pulled it off for a while. I think what's interesting is people have asked me about how did you become become then? And I taught screenwriting for a while, and also working with actors. And then I somebody there was like, Oh, we have to film that we have to fill this class would you be interested in teaching in and so I went through and I basically taught, I gave myself a philosophy minor I was, I read everything. I, I started researching everything. So I don't, it's funny. It's like, I know so much about it now. But I just don't have the degree. But it was it really fantastic and amazing class. I like I learned something every single time I taught it clearly. Because I didn't have a degree in it. But I definitely it's it shaped how I saw like, what you were saying earlier about, like, how human empathy is, was that correct? Okay. Yeah, that was that was basically it, just sort of talking about what are the effects of these pieces of entertainment that we consume so frequently, and also the internet and what that's like for us, but how these filter their way into our brains and create certain schema and scripts that we might not even recognize that we follow, and how they create an environment that certain things are valued in certain things or not, there was this one, I'm just kind of going off the rails here, there's one exercise that was always that I was one of my favorite ones that I would do in my ethics class. And I would say, okay, we're going to divide you into your into separate groups. And I want you to imagine that you are production company. And I'm going to come to you with several topics or genres of TV shows and movies. And I want you to answer the questions that I give you. And so I would say, Okay, so first we're going to do you're going to be creating characters, you're going to create two characters for a buddy cop film. So this is going to be a buddy cop film. And I want to know the names of the two characters that are the buddies and give me so give me their names first, and last. And something interesting that they do on in the film something An interesting fact about both of them. And so each group would go through and give me the character names. And then I'd be like, okay, I'll list them all. And then I would do another one where it was hospital drama TV. So and then another one which was torture genius, quote, unquote, film and that person's that so it's who's the torture g Li jobs, who's the torture genius, and who is the long suffering best friend or assistant or whatever. And so we would go down the line once they were finished. And they have a great time doing it, because they would make up kind of crazy names or weird names. Or they would have the most bizarre things about the the facts about the characters. And then all of a sudden, I would go through and circle all of the identifiably female characters that were on the board. And I, I wish I had kept the numbers, because it was pretty consistent every time roughly 19% of the characters were identifiably female, it's more than I expected. That's true for me, too. But what's interesting about that is that it's almost on par with Hollywood films and TV shows. Wow. So what they are, what they're seeing is something that they're reflecting. And oftentimes, so I, I would teach classes. And they would be predominantly identifiably male, and so you'd have this situation where I would say, K, is this a surprise to you? And many of them would say, well, it's no, I guess it's not surprising. And then they would say, I wish we had thought about that more, there's, some of them will say, Well, I wasn't, it would kind of be a little bit defensive. Yeah. And the thing about it is, I'm not here to accuse anybody. I'm not here to like point the finger. What I'm here to say is, this is reflective of the system that you are most familiar with. And if you're most familiar with that system, and you know that these things exist, and that there's a huge disparity between the number of women characters, female characters that you are putting forth, not not even to mention how many identifiably you're queer characters, or non white characters, how many, how many of these names could identify that, or they would say, oh, an interesting thing about them is that they're gay, or that they're in like, not even, they wouldn't even mention trans because the torture genius could be gay. Sort of point to that. And I would really like, let's just be clear, the interesting fact about them should not necessarily be their sexual orientation. But I would call that out. But I would also say, look, you think that you are making these choices of your own volition. And in many cases you are. And I'm not saying that there's no such thing as free will. But what I am saying is that we respond to the system in a way that the system tells us to respond. Mm hmm. And so you have to be mindful about that. Are there ways you can override those ideas? Are there ways that you can, because we've seen all of these stories before we've seen the torture genius who's who's usually straight white male, yes. And we've seen the characters where they are usually like the long suffering assistant is either female, but there was only one of those or they're just there they are. They are identifiably male, we've seen those stories so many times. And of course, you do that because you've seen those stories so many times. But what would happen if you told a new story? What would happen if there was a different lens through which we could see different different experiences and personalities and identities? And they really do respond to that well, which is like, Oh, that is a way to innovate. It's a way to expand my level of reference and empathy in a way that they might not have anticipated. And I'm able to lead them there without it being lecture. Yeah,

S. Salis: yeah. Yeah. Because it's an exercise and, well, you know, who is so basically what you're telling them is, like, here is a tool, I want you to be fully I'm not saying you're not in charge, I'm saying this is what it is the system and wouldn't you want to be fully in charge of your decisions, then you can decide to go with the white males here. Is that gonna do any good? Is that your choice? Go ahead, hopefully, hopefully, will not be

J. Ellison: like thinking about what that thing about what that story is. And are you really being original?

S. Salis: Yeah, that's Yes. That's exactly that's that's the thing like being in charge of yourself and being conscious. Like Don't be a victim, but override the system decision like the system override the system with your conscious choice. Yeah, in that way, you can be sure that you have at least a shot at free wheel,

J. Ellison: right. So on some level, there are all kinds of people who were like, No, we don't necessarily have free will, blah, blah, blah. But actually, there are people who think that even the notion even the notion that there could be free will actually could lead to greater freedom it individually because there's this idea of like, Well, I have then you're challenging your surroundings.

S. Salis: I just started a new mailing list. It's the humanists weekly digest a text only curated collection of interesting links and articles that you wish a good friend would have share with you. It's delivered every weekend to your inbox as simple plain text and you can subscribe now for free on human is d slash subscribe. I am see Mona Salus and these is the humanist podcast with today's guest, Jen Ellison, comedian, and Professor Hello, generally say hello, humanist and drunk. J. Crew. Yes, you're here. So, you thought this ethics. in video games, and, and screenwriting, you will teach screenwriting class, and I'm pretty sure it will very much if you do incorporate the same elements. Because at the end of the day, you are trying to just make people conscious of their ethical choices and positions in creating media, right?

J. Ellison: Every class I teach is really about that the comedy theory class that I that I teach sketch writing classes that I teach, and the ethics class when I did teach screenwriting, it was also that like, I want people to be there be their authentic selves, and allow themselves to be their authentic selves. And I also want them to challenge what that means, if you are somebody who is your experience has really been homogenous, and you've only grown up in a very, like, for instance, my, my growing up, I was in a pretty homogenous place, a very small town in North Carolina called Black Mountain, which is beautiful and lovely, but also pretty homogenous. And so I think that I, it took me a long time to kind of break out of old ideas about what you know, about identity and, and race and gender. And like, all of those things, it took me a while to break out of even like coming from this small place, and having parents who were very who were raised in the south and sort of were definitely products of an older south, but they were both very aware of not not being they didn't want like, I guess, sort of the the stereotypical, like racist stuff to be implanted in me and me. And so, Amy, my sister started being much more interested in social justice. And she was she really did a lot of like, volunteer work and started doing that kind of thing. I was a little more selfish, I was just like, I'm going to be an actor. So you're welcome you guys, everybody. I'm just gonna be an actor. So I came to college here. And then I realized that I wanted to direct and just generate that was you wanted to generate Okay, I wanted to generate material. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a producer, I wanted to be a director. I wanted to be an actor, like I wanted to do everything, but I decided to get an acting degree. Start with us generate the people. Yes. So I, I graduated from the theater school and then immediately was cast comedy sports, which interestingly, taught me about how to how to be on stage in front of an audience for whatever buddy like I think that that sometimes people will look at comedy sports. I like oh, short form, and it's, you know, it's

S. Salis: Well, yeah, that's the nerves of comedy. I don't think it's gonna make any difference to anybody. It is not an improv re many, I mean, at least at least at least unless the experience

J. Ellison: for sure, sure, sure. Sure. It is definitely improv comedy that is geared towards a general audience Ling. And it taught me how to, it taught me how to host a show, it taught me how to play to, to my strengths in terms of not being dirty all the time, and taught me how to be it taught me how to make choices really, really fast. And I really learned a ton because when I got out of college, and I was cast in comedy, sports, I was a little bit like incoming sports, you know, like I was because I thought, well, I'm a trained actor, and I'm sure sure, but what I learned was how to really be myself on stage in front of an audience, guide them through this, bring them to because I also would host the shows, bring them to the performers and meet the audience where they were meeting, I try to meet people where they are, and I try to meet the audience where they are. And then if I can pull them closer to where I might be, then that's, it's a meeting point, something can then something like something can be communicated, especially a they differ from me, I was income eSports for think about three years. Yeah, it just taught me a lot. And then I became the artistic director with theatre company called WAP. And I was the artistic director for I believe, 11 years. And that's where I spent a lot of my time generating material because we would do everything we would do very serious place we would do really crazy Bizarro stuff, we did a live Gong Show, we would do a performance art, which is what I I also did for eight years before eight years, you did data perform better performance? Can

S. Salis: I can I have a glimpse of that? Like, no, not not now, but like, what is it like the scripture?

J. Ellison: Oh, yeah. Okay. All right, everybody get ready to little lights, Iraqis and lights up. And so that's basically what it was we okay. So a description of this. We did something called soiree data, which I did not create. I was a part it was a it was a group of four or five people who were they started out as sort of German clowns, they pretended to be German clowns, and that was part of the, the conceit is that we all pretended to be German, we would wear suits and I let you go, I know, have have slicked back hair. we would we would wear white face makeup. Then we would perform original data, poetry and performance art we would do Dinah plays. What

S. Salis: does it do? Sound poem? Oh, my God. Jen. I'm gonna sound stupid data, like in. Dadaism. Yes. I thought you Sade data. Da, ta. Oh, what kind of poetry is like, if see if the auto correct wrote a poem if Syria is actually

J. Ellison: very data, but things are pretty, but they are also data. Okay. It's really interesting that

S. Salis: okay, love back to back to the current. Oh, yes. Okay. Everything makes so much more sense. Even if they they need self does. No, no. Oh,

J. Ellison: I'm glad we cleared that up. Yes.

S. Salis: Good. I feel so much better. Yeah, I had no idea what I was talking like,

J. Ellison: we did several iterations of story data where we would do we would do full shows we would do like, and we were at the, let's see, we did one in the Cultural Center, which was produced by the City of Chicago when they did the Department of Cultural Affairs, they let us do that. And then also, they commissioned us as part of the storefront theater when it was still I think that that it was, I don't know if it's still there. But they commissioned us to do a Christmas show, which we performed in the storefront theater and downtown and we had people run out of the theater times because it was called me it was called schmuck to Holland, which is deck the halls in German, sort of, we Google Translate, and it was in it was insanity. Like, they for sure, yeah, one of the best nights of the show. So we had 60 high school students come and see the show. Mm hmm. They sat and watched, I think there were nine of us on stage, we're all wearing white face, pretending to be German, doing data poetry about the holiday for for 90 minutes. And they are the most unruly audience they would, they would yell out, they would one of them, like we brought up on stage, they would, they would laugh about all kinds of inappropriate things, they would talk back to us. And it was one of the best shows we've ever done, because data ism as response to systemic breakdown, so it was what her friend was amazing. And at one point, and they like we, there was one kid who would not shut up the whole time. And he was just like, finally, we brought him up on stage, we made him do some stuff. And he was horrified and terrified that we brought him up on stage. But then, and, but then when he sat back down, he got what he needed out of that performance. It was he was totally into it. And then at the end of the show, I would take off because I was the leader, I was the head data, so to speak, the boss clown. Sure, sure. And so I the bus Data Cloud. And so I would, I would sit there and I would take off parts of my suit. And of course, there was like a heart. And then I just stood there and stared at them until they were quiet. And then they were quiet the entire rest of the time, because they had been unruly, but we had treated them to a really fun weird evening, we didn't talk down to them, we want being a teenager is about testing boundaries, and about crying out and about, like, looking around you saying, and seeing that the bill of goods that you were sold by your parents and by the society did not add up. And so that's the time when you're really figuring that stuff out. And I think that that show they gave us the biggest, loudest standing ovation, I think of any any place I've ever been to, because they were so excited. And galvanized by what they saw. And they, they came to us, this is a, this is the moment of like, bringing the audience to you, especially when you feel like you're at odds with them. I know that some of the other daughters had some frustrations with it, which is natural, I there were times when I was just like, shut up. But at the end of the day came, they we met them where they were. And then we lead them into our territory, it was a better show, because of it. Because we were inviting them to play rather than telling them to, I think the two halves of my philosophy and attitude about teaching about directing about performing those two things come from doing comedy sports, and doing soiree data. And those are the two places where my attitudes about an audience inviting them to, to see things and giving them agency to like it or not, even in the face of an audience potentially being hostile, being able to stand fast in the thing that I am doing, and be okay. At the end of the day, if they are on my page or not on my page. I they don't have to agree with me, I just want them to have heard me. And sometimes that won't even happen. Sometimes they'll just be like, No, I don't want to hear this,

S. Salis: you know, performance, hard to really kind of putting yourself out there and you just say it, I want people to hear me. And some times they don't. And that is painful. When you're shooting yourself. Oh, absolutely terrible, terrible feeling is just like, you know, this, this is teenagers are out there, and in Graham or YouTube video. And he has two views. And those metrics just make you feel ashamed for who you are. And I feel it's like everybody's a little bit of a performer without the tools or the conscious decision of being a performer. I think that

J. Ellison: that's real real. I frankly, I don't know how kids do it. I mean, I think the good Lord baby Jesus every day that that I was not born in this time, you feel

S. Salis: business as an adult. I mean, it started when I was what 21 when Facebook happened yesterday. And I felt miserable. And my most of my career and studies were paid by the number of views that I had in Italy, or Spain.

J. Ellison: And I felt miserable for years, it really is just like, it's this, the internet is probably and other people have said this as well, is on par with the printing press. Sure, as in terms of, of innovations and human technology and communication. It is an extraordinary tool. And of course, we as humans love to look extraordinary tools and say, How can we fuck this up?

S. Salis: How are you a greater that

J. Ellison: you're really good at it. We're amazing. Things are truly amazing. But we're also amazing at bookings. Yeah, yeah. So I do think that it is I think it's an extraordinary tool. I also think that it reflects us in ways that we didn't anticipate and the thing that you're talking about that awful feeling of like, I'm putting this out there and then either people say lol kill yourself, or they don't say anything at all. There's an island, it's just validation is just absolutely we look at that. And we see that as a reflection of our own self worth. I don't know how kids do that. Like, I think that it is. I think it's really hard for kids now to not to feel the weight of every social media interaction in their daily life. It's I know, it must be difficult. It's like how, you know when when you were in middle school or somebody in in high school and you were not liked or whatever. It's that times a bajillion times seven and a half billion people, right. They weren't

S. Salis: like times older people connected to the internet. Yes. Like, if your high school immediately be like the world. And you're like, Yeah,

J. Ellison: Yeah, it is. And now everything is so public. And so of, like, available, and so have so when we're talking about like the drive to get you to do thing, there has to be a consistent what what drives me to continue to do things is creating things is creating stuff. I'm happier when I create things that I like, and that make me laugh and that I want to invite people to joy as well. Those are the times when I'm, I feel most full. I really want people to again, feel seen and feel heard and not just feel it in this sort of artificial way of like, Okay, fine. What you're saying is like, you know, like, I'm not trying, I don't want to pretend to be to see someone in this kind of artificial way. I want somebody to be able to come to me. And if they have something that's going on, feel like they can express themselves and feel like they can discover the truth of what would be helpful to them. Why

S. Salis: I don't know why. Why is it important to you? To me? Yes. I'm not in general. Because in general, I can think of something. But yeah, why does it matter for you? Like why do you think this is the important thing to leave to other people? I think Hmm, that's a great question.

J. Ellison: I do I do think a lot of it has to do with maybe not being seen and heard or feeling like I wasn't seen and heard as I when I was younger. Or maybe not having someone to feel like I could be seen and heard around as much I mean, which way up as a I don't know, as a i. So I rescind what I was going to say about not having someone see me and hear me because I mean that that because I do think that people have seen me and heard me and my, in my history. I have a group of friends that I hang out with a lot people that I knew from college. And we've been very close my whole life since then. And what I had with what I have with them and continue to have with them, we went through college together we did, we sort of grew up together. I've known them for now over 25 years, there is such value in the time that we have together. Because I can say things to them. I can't say to anybody else and feel like they understand my context. They understand who where I'm coming from. They understand. Like, when I'm joking, they understand when I'm screwing up, they've been able to tell me when I have when I have fucked up utterly. And I respect that, like, I, I never want anybody to not be able to express themselves. Be honest, like the honesty of it is, I think, extremely profound. We don't encounter that a lot in our lives, I think or at least not enough. We don't give ourselves the agency to really feel the profound truth of what somebody else could say to us and understand about us. And oftentimes for the sake of efficacy, we don't offer that to other people. Because the truth is hard. And, but there is an absolute love, a feeling of love and feeling of acceptance that can come from somebody really seeing you how you want to be seen, and how you but not just like in the not just in the way of of the best parts of you. But all of the parts of you that are scared or frightened, or just messing up or are are kind of ugly, and and selfish and angry or ambitious and the wrong ways. Or, you know what I mean, all of those things, to have somebody look at you as a whole person. And not just one facet of you is really profoundly valuable in that, like, it's important to me because I I like being seen for who I am. And I want other people also to feel that because people have dignity and worth and they are they should be given the opportunity to be seen and heard in that way. And so that's something I'm constantly trying to, you know, I'm not perfect at it.

S. Salis: I have never you become perfect. Let me know. Just send me a text. So you're like, it's like, oh, here's the way to do it. Do an article will share it on BuzzFeed. 10 steps to become perfect. Right. But it's not. And.

J. Ellison: But I do think that like, there there is a there is a journey to be had with. So you just take take our context for example, right. I am your former instructors. Sure. Yes. Yes. Professor so and I I like knowing you warts and all and like and some of the stories that you would tell in class or some of the things that you would do or so you know what I mean yeah, I those things are exciting to me because they are full expressions of you as a human being and I like are there ways that I can help you reach more clarity with that or or find a different way of expressing that like those things are exciting to me because they're helpful to you as an artist and as a person so you want to build a new one to generate not exclusively yourself but you want to generate other people ginger Will you

S. Salis: know you want to help other people generate themselves Yeah, that's that's that's just like to enable them to do what you would the exercise that you do with yourself because you think it's important I am see Mona Salus and this is the humanist you can listen to every episode of the show on human is T and on your favorite podcast app, I created the humanist as an independent media project for thinking, logically aware, contemporary humanists, you will find articles, a curated mailing list and all the podcast interviews on human is t. This is a challenging solo project that takes hundreds of hours each month with coding, writing, recording, editing, graphics, and publishing. If you would like to keep enjoying new content regularly, please become a Patreon. Now on human is t slash support. Today's guest is Jen Ellison director and professor at Columbia College. Chicago. I remember that, you know, I remember talking with you, like many other people probably do the end of a class. I just go like Janet says some fight don't get his field. It's something is there just legally speaking, but is just slightly out of reach in Kenya. He just looked at me, we think I saw like true that what I see now what you're talking about. You were just like this here. All right, fine. If they accept that she's right, then that's it. Then the search is over. Game over. That's it, like game over you. When are you doing?

J. Ellison: When are you? Are you there is no. Yeah, I think that when it comes to that kind of thing, like, I don't have the Beeline or the perfect path. All I can do is say it like, again. This was sort of my teaching philosophy, I think, posted this on Facebook, which was like, my teaching philosophy is no, you're not crazy. Yes, this is hard. Do it again. That's basically it. I want people to feel less somehow they are alone. And somehow, like less like it's unattainable. Or it's not understand what the right word or it's that the struggle is not worth it. I think at some point, it just becomes fun. If you keep doing it long enough.

S. Salis: Like at some point, you just wanna you know, as long as you're true to yourself. There is it is

J. Ellison: very hard to be honest with yourself. Yeah, not judged yourself. And I think that that's also the thing that I'm talking about. It's like, there is the weight of the trajectory. And what I mean by that is, there is so much pressure on and I mean this for artists, I mean this for writers, actors, comedians, everybody, but there's so much pressure to have this trajectory that you can sort of see clearly. And even though everybody's everybody says, I know that that's not the way that it is. I totally understand. I get it, I get it. But what's the trajectory what's, so there's this sense of this weight of having to, you're going to, you're going to go through the second city Conservatory. And then you're going to get to work and then you're going to get like all of this stuff about the path and what they're what it's really hard to kind of come to grips with is that that is a path that has happened for some people. Mm hmm. It really is about you doing things that that are exciting for you to do that, or interesting for you to do, and trying to get better at those things. And trying not to judge the fact that you are not at a particular place or like there's no just embrace whatever you want to do when you and have fun. But you know, your compass is a worthy compass. It's not an ice, I would say this to to anybody. Everybody thinks everybody else's compass is prettier, a nicer and better has better idea of diverse company. Yes, yes. But really, everybody has their own compass. And I think part of heart of late capitalism tells us that we have to modify certain things to be able to track certain things and do a bubble test. And suddenly you're a famous comedian. And it just doesn't work out like that. And even though everybody intellectually knows that at the heart of it is a real devaluation of their own instincts, and their own abilities and their own ideas about what is good and interesting, and have been able to have enough agency for themselves to create the thing that is exciting and cool and fun for them and invite people into that. Unfortunately, there are so many that like, the pressure of the trajectory exists there. And it kind of takes away from people thinking that they have that agency and that agencies hard, it's hard to stand on stage and have people hate your stuff. Hmm. It's hard. It's hard to be told. No, we don't want that. It's hard to be told. Like, it's not easy. And I think that's, you know, I'm sitting here in this very comfortable chair talking about how literally just have to do that. You know, like, I like I have that. There's also but there is, there's the hard work of it. It's a choice every day. It's not just a point of arrival. We're like I did it made it done.

S. Salis: I'm not gonna sit in this room forever. Yes,

J. Ellison: I am just going to stare into the middle distance. And then one day the sweet sleep of death will do not. We don't like that. There are multiple goals achieved. achieved. Kill, kill screen and deployment.

S. Salis: Yes.

J. Ellison: There's like, it is the hard work of and it's a it's can be a grind. I am. I am stupidly optimistic. Okay. I am a stupidly optimistic person. How, uh, how I feel like human beings are in general good. Mm hmm. I also I'm extremely gullible. Let's just say it is. I feel like I should tell people that I'm extremely gullible. I do believe in inherent goodness. Cuz I think that that, yeah, yeah, I do think that people look at other people. And either they take whatever personally, they being around other people's hard It really is, you know, just really hard to my life. It's, it's a challenge, right? And so I think that people are afraid of judgment and afraid of being told they're wrong and afraid of being told that they're bad and afraid of being found out as being horrible. Like, I think that we have so much shame. And this is, I think, very true of Americans in particular, but as humans in general, there's a sense of like, of shame. That is not the productive kind of shame. Like there's not, it doesn't it's not a teaching shame. It's just a shame of like, I must be awful. Mm hmm. And I think that this happens a lot with human beings and people and because of that, there's the lashing out there's judging other people for things there is the the traffic fire that is internet discourse

S. Salis: What does that is that you know, that's the one thing that because I'm optimistic of human beings too. But it this kind of like waited The internet is is kind of hijacking behavior in a way that you end up in that black hole of trash like resolve very little consequence of like, interacting with somebody else. There is no the human signal of you and I sitting across that's why I like to do interviews in person using and look at her there is so many more signals and interacting You know, it might be a cliche, Diana, in talking in person is better. No, no, there are things there are not missing like it is

J. Ellison: actually 100% true that it is better to speak in person. Yeah, you do the way that move

S. Salis: my face, or my whatever that is leveraged when the behavior modification thing of Facebook or those stuff to sell you advertising is caught up by Russians. And yeah, and that's, that's the thing. They're like, Oh, this thing is for advertising. And then an artist a good like, Oh, this thing is for messing you guys up.

J. Ellison: Yeah. Some people do that. Some people just want to destroy there was like a Samantha me did a an interview with some Russian trolls A while ago. Oh, like, like in person? Yes. And they had on like, ski masks on their faces. didn't want to be identified. Of course. Yeah. And they were and she was just, she asked the question, why? Why are you doing this? And they were just like, cuz it's there. Cuz it does. And I have to say, this is, I feel like this is going to be very culturally insensitive of me. There is a there is a certain type of Russian nihilism that is genuinely terrifying. Cold stare, just like wow, nothing means anything. So why? I'm just like, okay, so you guys burn? I feel like because I can say yes, there and also, you know, real die alone. So, yeah, you just like, Okay, so we're

S. Salis: a fireplace at home. That's my American. You're

J. Ellison: just like, Don't you want to be seen in her?

S. Salis: Come to my class.

J. Ellison: I am. Yes, I am a contradiction, because I just want to shake people.

S. Salis: All right. Before we go back to what we're talking about. I think you you you had a show you were telling me about the you are about to direct rain? Yes. So

J. Ellison: actually had because I decided to slow down a little bit. I'm actually three shows that are opening and have opened in September 1, because you're slowing down. You're only three only have three. The first is Max and Annie have lost your mind at the annoyance at eight o'clock on Sunday nights. It is a sketch show than is basically about heaven and hell and two best friends and it's probably it's one of the more disturbing shows I've ever directed. I love it. But it's also disturbing. No, no, that away. No, not Well, kind of. Actually. There's some there's definitely some data to it. It's very it's three punk. Okay, so I and it's very much about what about the other one. So then also one man show and the blackout cabaret at second city called an infinite evening with Nick Jester that also opens mid September on Sunday nights. And then the third show is a remote of a show I directed last year at the new futurists called tangles and plaques and it is about dementia and how we think about dementia and how basically in the next few years one in two people will be affected by dementia and whether they are a caregiver or they're being affected by themselves and so we younger people are going to be are sort of going to be subject to this epidemic of of dementia and so what the show seems seeks to do is like help people understand what it is and humanize it so it's less scary and give people some tools for being able to treat the people who are affected by it who actually have the diseases with dignity and help them feel heard and seen sort of which I guess is just sort of my and what are it's kind of your thing what I would what um what are the dates again the dates for that it opens on sep tember 13th I believe and will run for three weekends after that

S. Salis: this was the part of this is if you want to see Jen This is where to do it either as a director or as a performer yes yes sure let's go back straight to what we were talking about go back straight to what we were saying so to all the Russian trolls and the Chinese agents Listen

J. Ellison: guys my dress

S. Salis: you're listening sign up for Jan's class next semester you'll feel heard what you feel warm and fuzzy inside and you look and Facebook and nothing like oh that's right because it's their Gen. Ellison thought me that we can use it to empathize with each other

J. Ellison: tall order.

S. Salis: Thank you so much. I want to close it there. Judge sure yes thank you

J. Ellison: for today I'm the homeless oh You're so welcome. Thank you for asking me this is lovely

S. Salis: generally Sony as a content creator. She's an actor, writer, director and Professor focusing on comedy and enabling people to advance their own passions and discovering their true self through performance and creation. She's also the creator of drunk J. Crew you guys and you can find more on Tumblr on Twitter and on Facebook about her work Don't forget to subscribe and listen to more interviews from the humanist on your favorite podcast app the humanist is a solo project created and produced by just one person me to keep enjoying new episodes and content regularly please show your support now at human ISP slash support or try the free weekly digest on human ISP slash subscribe.