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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.


Jen Ellison - Transcript

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 the 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 faucet 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 this is The Hoomanist with today's guest Jen Ellison. Jen Ellison is an Actor, Writer, Director, and Professor, focusing on comedy and theater. Throughout her career Ms. Ellison performed and directed at Comedy Sports collaboration, the new futurists and the Second City the legendary emperor of theater were Steve Carell, Tina Fey key and Peele and Stephen Colbert first learned how to be funny 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 experiencing empathy. And how video games in cinema are powerful tools of storytelling and human connection, Jen also mentor 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 on Undrunk J-Crew Models apparently on J-Cruise advertising shots with captions on Tumbler, Twitter, Facebook pages I usually don't left there, the interaction but that's it drunk J-Crew models just tell me what it is?

Jen Ellison: Okay, so Drunk J-Crew, so I'll just tell you that words in 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-cruise website, and while I was reading it I just noticed that the way that they posed 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, they just they're all in this place of just being like I don't even know what’s going on. So, while I was there eating my cereal I started saying out loud like you guys…I have to sit down, and so I started these first eight like captions where they just…

Simone Salis: The famous eight

Jen Ellison: Yes, like these first eight pictures, like they all just look really wasted and I put captions on them and I posted them on Facebook just to my friends. And they started sharing them right away and it really took off all of a sudden it was like a 1000 shares in an hour. And, so a friend of mine named Drop Arielle De Ma, who she's a Writer for Colbert, 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

Simone Salis: Right, I mean like you have to make a MySpace

Jen 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…

Simone Salis: Wow

Jen Ellison: Like, yeah it was nuts…

Simone Salis: You were famous

Jen Ellison: I mean I like to use the term, I am micro famously, I have a lot of people who like it I have people who come through my classes and I tell them that I'm that person and they're like, wait what, you are kidding. 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 Tumblr somebody took the Twitter handle, the Instagram handle, Drunk J-crew and started posting as if they were me and trying to, they'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 because I had a whole bunch of friends who just went after them on Twitter because they don't like when people steal jokes

Simone Salis: Yeah, that’s a good approach defending like original work.

Jen 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 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 a lot of very specific rules about what I do.

Simone Salis: Okay, so, this is captions on they look hammered like they look like white girls after St. Patrick's Day when they are still underage and they pretend to drink.

Jen Ellison: Yes, oh yes they're just like, I have so many shots

Simone Salis: Yeah, but so you were saying I’ve interrupted you,

Jen Ellison: Oh, that have rules about

Simone Salis: Yeah, those rules are…

Jen Ellison: So, here's the thing is that I don't do the men on the J Crew website because the men, in general, tend to look more active and dynamic I also 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 meme 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 try not to portray them as being sort of stereotypical Ecaddy towards each other I mean they get into fights over things I have like some of the longer ones like where they get into fights about stuff and people eating each other's chips and imp and I but I try 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 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 I try not to make it I try not to make it so that it's quite so stereotypical in how the women are portrayed and I like it like that like I don't like the person who tried to steal the stuff tried to make it very easy like oh wait you know I'll I peed myself and it's like that's not even you know 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 I shouldn't have told you this about Leslie or another one was I found these occult ray bans in the bathroom thank you 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 what I like to do is try to imagine like they have lives in a weird story and the better they're all best friends a little bit. So it's also really weird when I see the models in other catalogs or in other and like what are you doing here you need to go back to J.crew

Simone Salis: You recognize them?

Jen Ellison: I do yes it's so weird that's

Simone Salis: Yeah, no they're like your friends maybe they know you they go like look at this

Jen Ellison: one of the models did comment on one of them saying oh I remember that shoot like

Simone Salis: And there was a comment

Jen Ellison: Yeah

Simone Salis: that was it oh I remember that thank you for paradise in me

Jen Ellison: but I know that people who work at J.crew know it exists or have known it exists in the nest but I don't even told me to stop like that they're not you know

Simone Salis: well you know J.crew in the past years probably as being like yeah you know we'll take what we know here goes gap and here is us

Jen Ellison: I don't wish him that but that's what it sounds like when you read about them

Simone Salis: every time I read about it it's like oh yeah as it

Jen Ellison: just as a side note and 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 you know and I took a break and I'm going to hopefully teach you to be teaching screenwriting in the winter. I am NOT teaching the ethics class mainly because I don't have a degree in ethics and philosophy so I feel like that should also just be

Simone Salis: What do you have a degree?

Jen Ellison: Acting

Simone Salis: Acting okay

Jen Ellison: Hey I have a comedy degree and you taught me something

Simone Salis: What are we doing here? I don’t know

Jen Ellison: We are internet phenomenon

Simone Salis: yes you are

Jen Ellison: I'm an Internet your is your micro I am like what is the skills I may know famous but I do feel like I should make mention that I did teach, I did teach ethics for like I think seven years

Simone Salis: Oh, you were able to pull it off

Jen Ellison: I did I pull it off for a while. I think what's interesting is people have asked me about how did you become that and I taught screenwriting for a while and also working with actors and then I somebody there was like oh we have to film this class would you be interested in teaching it and so I went through and I basically taught I gave myself a philosophy minor, I read everything, 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 really fantastic and amazing class I like I learned something every single time I thought it clearly because I didn't have a degree in it but definitely it's shaped how I saw like what you were saying earlier about like how human empathy is

Simone Salis: Was that correct?

Jen Ellison: Yeah 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 and certain things are not there was this one, I'm just kind of going off the rails here, there's one exercise that was always that I there 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 you're in two separate groups and I want you to imagine that you are a production company and I'm going to come to you with several topics or genres of television 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 and 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 that names of the two characters that are the buddies 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 and I'd be like okay I'll list them all and then I would do another one where it was Hospital drama television show and then another one which was “tortured genius” film and that person's so it's who's the torturer gee al odd jobs who's the torturer 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 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 wish I had kept the numbers because it was pretty consistent every time. Roughly 19% of the characters were identifiably female.

Simone Salis: It's more than I expected

Jen Ellison: That's true for me too but what's interesting about that is that it's almost on par with Hollywood films huh and television shows

Simone Salis: Wow

Jen Ellison: So, what they are what they're seeing is something that they're reflecting and often times so I would teach classes and they would be predominantly identifiably male and so you'd have this situation where I would say okay 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. some of them say well I wasn't it would kind of get a bit defensive and the thing about it is I'm not here to accuse anybody and 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 a huge disparity between the number of women characters female characters that you are putting forth not even to mention how many identifiably

Simone Salis: Queers

Jen Ellison: Or characters or non-white characters like, how many how many are of these names could I identify that with or they would say Oh an interesting thing about them is that they're gay or that they're enlightened not even they wouldn't even mention trans

Simone Salis: Because the torturer genius could be gay

Jen Ellison: Sort of point to that the interesting fact about them should not necessarily be their sexual orientation but and 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 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 tortured genius who's usually straight white male 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 do you do that because you've seen those stories so many times but what would happen if you told a news story what would happen if there was a different lens through which we could see 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

Simone Salis: A lecture

Jen Ellison: Yeah, yeah

Simone Salis: Because it's an exercise and well you know who is so visually 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 male sir is that going to do any good is that your choice go ahead hopefully would not think about what that

Jen Ellison: Right but think about what that story is and are you really being original?

Simone Salis: Yeah that's exactly that's this a thing like being charged 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 in that way you can be sure that you have at least a shot at freewill.

Jen Ellison: Right, yes it's on some level there are all kinds of people who are like no we don't necessarily have free will blah blah blah but actually, but there are people who think that even the notion even the notion that there could be free will actually could lead to greater freedom in individually because there's this idea of like well I have then you're challenging your surroundings [Music] [Applause]

Simone Salis: Hello I started a mailing list called the weekly digest the Internet has great content but I think it's becoming harder to find it easily with all the noise from social media. so once a week I send you interesting articles that I wish a friend would have found and share with me it's free text only and you can sign up now on hoomandoIST/subscribe I am Simona Salas and this is the hoomanist podcast with today's guest Jen Ellison. Hello Jen Ellison

Jen Ellison: Hello

Simone Salis: The Hoomanist drunk J.crew E. JEN:

Jen Ellison: Yes

Simone Salis: You are here, so you thought these ethics in video games and screenwriting, you'll teach us 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?

Jen Ellison: Right every class I teach is really about that the comedy theory class mmm 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 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 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 homogeneous and so I think that it took me a long time to kind of break out of old ideas about identity 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 self but they were both very aware of not being they didn't want like I guess sort of the stereotypical like racist stuff to be implanted in Amy 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 actor so you're welcome everybody. So I came to college here and then I realized that I wanted to direct and just generate

Simone Salis: You wanted to generate, okay.

Jen Ellison: 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 get it acting degree so I graduated from the theater school and then immediately was cast comedy Sports which interestingly taught me about how to how to be onstage in front of an audience mm-hmm for what everybody liked I think that that sometimes people look at comedy Sports they're like oh a short-form and it's you know it's well

Simone Salis: yeah that's the nerves of comedy I don't think it's going to make any difference to anybody it is not an improv right I mean at least unless they experience

Jen Ellison: Sure, it is definitely improv comedy that is geared towards a general audience like and it taught me how to host a show, it taught me how to play to it 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 how many sports I was a little bit like I'm incoming sports you know like I was because I thought well I'm a trained actor and I'm not 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

Simone Salis: It's a meeting point

Jen Ellison: Then they something can be communicated especially if they differ from me I was in comedy sports for I think about three years yeah it just taught me a lot and then I became the artistic director of a theater company called WEP 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 plays, we would do really crazy bizarre stuff we did a live gong show, we would do Dada performance art which is what I also did for eight years,

Simone Salis: For eight years you did dada perform?

Jen Ellison: Data performance

Simone Salis: Can I have a glimpse of that like no not now but like what is it like the scripture

Jen Ellison: Okay, everybody get ready to the lights and lights up and 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, they started out as sort of German clowns they pretended to be German clowns and that was part of the conceit is that we all pretended to be German we would wear suits and let you go slicked back hair we would we would wear white face makeup then we would perform original data poetry and performance art we would do data plays what does it do sound poem

Simone Salis: Oh, that! Oh my god Jen I'm going to sound stupid Dada-like in daddy

Jen Ellison: Yes

Simone Salis: I thought you say data.

Jen Ellison: Oh no; no.

Simone Salis: And I thought what kind of poetry if the autocorrect wrote a poem.

Jen Ellison: That's actually very dada but they are also data.

Simone Salis: okay

Jen Ellison: Which is really interesting that is beautiful

Simone Salis: Okay to the current oh yeah okay everything makes so much more sense even if data in itself does no any phrase.

Jen Ellison: Oh, I'm glad we cleared that up.

Simone Salis: Yeah I feel so much better I had no idea what I was talking.

Jen Ellison: We did several iterations of swari dada where we would do we would do full shows we would do light and we were at the let's see we did one in the cultural center which was introduced 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 dada Christmas show which we performed in the storefront theater and downtown and we had people run out of the theater a couple times because it was called, I mean was called smirk des Hollen which is deck the halls' in German sort of we Google Translate and it was in it was insanity. yeah, one of the best nights of the show.

So, we had 60 high school students come and see the show they sat and watched I think there were nine of us on stage who were all wearing white face pretending to be German doing Dada poetry about the holidays for 90 minutes and they were the most unruly audience 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 it was one of the best shows we've ever done because Dadaism is response to systemic breakdown so it 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 and 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 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 a little head Dada and so to speak, the boss clown, sure and so I the puffs out of cloud and so I would I would sit there and I would take off parts of my suit and of course there was like wow part 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 being a teenager is about testing boundaries and about crying out and about like looking around you and 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 place I've ever been to because they were so excited and galvanized by what they saw and they came to us. 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 dada has had some frustrations with it which is natural there were times when I was just like oh shut up but at the end of the day came they we met them where they were and then we led 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 been doing soirée dada and those are the two places where my attitudes about an audience inviting them 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'm doing and be okay at the end of the day if they are on my page or not on my page. 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.

Simone Salis: You know performance art you're kind of putting yourself out there and you just said I want people to hear me and sometimes they don't and that is painful when you're sharing yourself

Jen Ellison: Terrible feeling is just like you know these teenagers are that put out there an Instagram or YouTube video and it 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

Simone Salis: I think that that's real is very real I frankly I don't know how kids do it I mean I think the good Lord made with Jesus every day that I was not born in this time

Jen Ellison: I mean it started when I was what twenty-one when Facebook happened and I felt miserable and most of my career and studies were paid by the number of views that I had in Italy real estate and I felt miserable for years really is just like

Simone Salis: It's this, the Internet is probably and other people have said this as well is on par with the printing press

Jen Ellison: Sure

Simone Salis: As in terms of innovations and human technology and communication it is an extraordinary tool and of course we as humans love to look at extraordinary tools and say how can we

Jen Ellison: How are you great at that?

Simone Salis: Truly amazing we're also amazing and you yeah

Jen Ellison: 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 law will kill yourself or they don't say anything at all there's an island it's just validation yes just absolutely we look at that and we see that as a reflection of our own self-worth

Simone Salis: I don't know how kids do that like I think that it is really hard now kids now - 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 you were in middle school or somebody's in in high school and you were not liked or whatever it's that times a bajillion

Jen Ellison: But sometimes seven and a half billion people raise it more like times all the people connected to the Internet

Simone Salis: Yes, like if your high school immediately behaved like the world nearly

Jen 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 things yeah there has to be a consistent 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 enjoy 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

Simone Salis: Why?

Jen Ellison: I don't know why

Simone Salis: Why is it important to you?

Jen Ellison: To me.

Simone Salis: Yes, not in general because in general I can let him think of something but

Jen Ellison: Yeah

Simone Salis: Why does it matter for you like what do you think this is the important thing to leave to other people?

Jen Ellison: I think, that's a great question 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 you feel like I could be seen and heard around as much I mean which way maybe as uh I don't know as a I saw i rescind what I was going to say about not having someone see me and hear me because I mean of that because I do think that people have seen me and hurt me in 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 like 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 that 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 fucked myself, when I have up utterly and I respect that like 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've, but not just yet like in the not just in the way of the best parts of you but all of the parts of you that are scared or frightened or just messing up or are kind of ugly and selfish and angry or ambitious in 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 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.

Simone Salis: Whenever you become perfect at it just let me know or send me a text

Jen Ellison: Oh, here's the way to do

Simone Salis: Or just do an article we’ll share it ‘the 10 steps to become perfect’

Jen Ellison: But I do think that like there is a there is a journey to be had with so you take our context for example I am your former instructor

Simone Salis: Sure, yes Professor.

Jen Ellison: And 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

Simone Salis: Yeah

Jen Ellison: Like 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 find a different way of expressing that like those things are exciting to me because they're helpful to you as an artist and

Simone Salis: As a person so you want to build anyone E. JEN: To generate.

Simone Salis: Not exclusively yourself but you want to help other people generate themselves 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 Simona Salas and this is the humanists you can listen to every episode of the show on hoomanist and on your favorite podcast app I created the humanists as an independent media project for technologically aware contemporary humanists you will find articles a curated mailing list and all the podcast interviews on hooman ist this is a challenge in solo project that takes hundreds of hours each month with coding writing recording editing graphics and publishing and if you would like to keep enjoying new content regularly please become a pattern now on hoomanist/support today's guest is Jen Ellison director and professor at Columbia College Chicago. You know I remember talking with you like many other people probably did at the end of a class I'd just go like Genesis something don't get it feel that something is their artistic speaking but it's just slightly out of which I just looked at me I think I so like true than what I see now what you're talking about you were just like [Music] [Laughter] alright if they accept this she's right and that's it then the search is over a game, over game, over you win yeah.

Jen Ellison: I think that when it comes to that kind of thing like I don't have the B line or the perfect path all I can do is say it like again this is sort of my teaching philosophy I think I posted this on Facebook which was like my teaching philosophy is no you're not crazy yes this is hard do it again I want people to feel less somehow they are alone and somehow like less like it's unattainable or it's not entertainment make the right word or it's that the struggle is not worth it.

Simone Salis: I think at some point it just becomes fun if you keep doing it long enough

Jen Ellison: Yeah

Simone Salis: It’s just like sometimes you are just, as long as you're being true to yourself

Jen Ellison: It is very hard to be honest with yourself you know not judge 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 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 Torico and then you're going to get like all of this stuff about the path and what it's really hard to kind of come to grips with is that that is a path that has happened for some people. it really is about you doing things that are exciting for you to do that are 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…

Simone Salis: Just embrace whatever you want to do when you and have fun

Jen Ellison: But you know your compass is a worthy compass it's not and I would say this to anybody everybody thinks everybody else's compass is prettier and nicer and better and has better but really everybody has their own compass and I think part of part of late capitalism tells us that we have to commodity certain things and 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 being 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 agency's heart it's hard to stand on stage and have people hate your stuff, 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 we just have to love ourselves. but there is there's the hard work of it it's a choice every day it's not just a point of arrival where you're like I did it one day the sweets can be a great I'm I am stupidly optimistic.

Simone Salis: Okay

Jen Ellison: I am a stupidly optimistic person.

Simone Salis: Why?

Jen Ellison: I feel like human beings are in general good I also I'm extremely gullible let's just say I feel like I should tell people I'm extremely gullible I do believe in an inherent goodness construct I think that. I do think that people look at other people and either they take whatever personally they being around other people are hard.

Simone Salis: It really is.

Jen Ellison: Sorry, no just really hard to my nightlife it's a challenge.

Simone Salis: Right

Jen Ellison: And so, I think that people are afraid of judgment and afraid of being told that 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 of humans in general there is this 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 the shame of like I must be awful and I think that this happens a lot with human beings and people and because of that there's lashing out there's judging other people for things there is the trash fire that is internet discourse.

Simone Salis: That's the one thing that because I'm optimistic of human beings too, but it is kind of like waited the Internet is it's kind of hijacking behavior in a way that you end up in that black hole of trash like there is so 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 because I can look at her so many more signals of interacting you know it might be a cliché like a you know talking in person is better no I know there is are things they're not missing like.

Jen Ellison: It is actually 100 percent true that it is better to speak in person.

Simone Salis: Yeah you do the way that move my face or whatever that is leveraged when the behavior modification thing of Facebook or those stuff to sell you advertising is thought up by Russians they're like oh this thing is for advertising and then an artistic look like oh this thing is for messing you guys up.

Jen Ellison: Yeah some people do that, some people just want to destroy it, there was like Samantha and I did a an interview with some Russian trolls a while ago 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 where doing this and they were just like because it's there.

Simone Salis: Because it there…

Jen Ellison: 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 means anything so why okay so you guys burn [Laughter] you know I alone just like don't you want to be seen in her all right.

Simone Salis: before we go back to what we were talking about I think you had a show you were telling me about that you are about to direct right.

Jen Ellison: Yes so actually it because I decided to slow down a little bit I've actually three shows that are opening and have opened in September that's because you're slowing down.

Simone Salis: You only three?

Jen Ellison: I only have three the first is max and Annie have lost your mind at the annoyance at 8 o'clock on Sunday nights.

Simone Salis: What is it about?

Jen Ellison: It is a sketch show then 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.

Simone Salis: No doubt that are we know not…

Jen Ellison: Well kind of actually there's definitely some dada to it it's very it's very Punk and it's very much about.

Simone Salis: What about the other way?

Jen Ellison: So, then also a one-man show in the blackout cabaret at second city called an infinite evening with Nick gesture that also opens mid-September on Sunday nights and then the third show is a remount of a show I directed last year at the neo futurists called tangles and plaques and it is about dementia and how we think about dementia and how basically in the next few years 1 & 2 people will be affected by dementia and whether they're a caregiver or they're being infected by themselves and so we younger people are going to be are sort of going to be subject to this epidemic 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 it’s kind of my thing.

Simone Salis: It’s kind of your thing, and what are the dates again?

Jen Ellison: The dates for that it opens on September 13th I believe and will run for three weekends after that.

Simone Salis: This was the part of this if you want to see Jen this is where to do it either as a director or as a performer.

Jen Ellison: Yes

Simone Salis: Let's go back straight to what we were talking about her so to all the Russian trolls and the Chinese you're listening sign up for a dance class next semester you'll feel heard and you look at Facebook and I think like oh because it’s Jen Ellison taught me that we can use it to empathize with each other. Thank you so much I want to close it there Jen.

Jen Ellison: Yes

Simone Salis: Thank you for being on the Hoomanist.

Jen Ellison: You’re so welcome, thank you for asking me, this is lovely.

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