Sabrina Jalees on “Portrait of a Serial Monogamist” and writing queer storylines on NBC’s “Crowded”

Sabrina Jalees is an out Canadian comedian, long loved in her native country. After a few years of living in New York City and then moving to Los Angeles, 2014 and 2015 were breakthrough years for Sabrina where she joined VH1′s Best Week Ever and Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore and appeared in the film Portrait of a Serial Monogamist, opening in select theaters this weekend. Sabrina did a heck of a lot more during that time, and 2016 promises to be an even bigger year now that she’s a writer on the upcoming NBC sitcom Crowded! (premiering Sunday March 20 at 9:30/8:30c) and developing her own shows.

We recently spoke with Sabrina about her start in comedy, the struggles she had with coming out, her acting career, being a “queer Muslim role model” and more. Like lesbian storylines on Crowded! kind of more.

Sabrina in “Portrait of a Serial Monogamist”POASM_Dog_Park copy You started your comedy career at 16, is that right?

Sabrina Jalees: Correct. That was the first time that I ever did stand-up.


AE: What motivates a 16-year-old to put herself out there like that?

SJ: I just remember thinking like, “This isn’t much different than when I go up and tell jokes at high school assemblies.” Except the stakes are much lower. Like if I bombed at my high school, then the next day all the hot girls that I have a crush on that I don’t know that I have a crush on are going to be like, “Uh, she wasn’t funny.”


AE: You were doing stand-up at your high school?

SJ: Kind of. Like a form of stand-up: trying to be funny at assemblies.


AE: Was it authorized?

SJ: I did unauthorized stand-up. You know me too well. My unauthorized, attention-grabby stand-up moments were in middle school when like I Know What You Did Last Summer or Scream came out, and all the kids were going to be at the theater on that Friday night. I would go up before the previews, before the trivia, before the everything, and I would pretend that I worked there and talk about the movie and like lie about facts. “You know when Jennifer Love Hewitt was shooting this scene she actually wasn’t laying in a tanning bed at all!” And just like try to get people laughing. I did cartwheels. Like I was desperate. I would be such a nightmare if I never found stand-up.

Usually, stand-up is just like this big struggle in the beginning, and then you get better, and you break through the struggle, and then you find your voice, and then things start coming to you. Whereas for me, I was so different and young and I had kind of an advanced understanding of like–for some reason I was able to make people laugh early on. So I developed really fast, and I was at Just For Laughs two years in when I was 18. My progression was different. Because when I moved from Toronto to New York I never really had that struggle that you need to go through as a stand-up to push yourself. And it took me about a year or two into living in New York to realize that I had to throw out my material and start from the bottom. And part of that was also start by being honest on stage in terms of my sexuality.


AE: Let’s talk about that a bit more. I had read that you had a difficult time coming out. What was that about for you?

SJ: I was a good child of two immigrants, and being gay, to me, would’ve been a bad thing. I think that everybody goes through that. The time that we were raised in, and hopefully that’s changing now, but you’re raised to believe you are straight and straight is normal. And being gay is a difficult path. Being queer is choosing a difficult path. Which, who would want to choose a difficult path?

The other thing is I think something that’s going to shift, as we get more familiar with and more honest about who we are as people, is that sexuality is not binary. And I think most gay people know this, because it’s a right of passage in coming out to realize, “Oh I wasn’t lying when I said I had a crush on Scott Wolf.” But I mostly wanted to be Scott Wolf when he was having sex with Jennifer Love Hewitt on Party of Five.


AE: You are obsessed with Jennifer Love Hewitt.

SJ: But it wouldn’t be a horrible day in Sabrina Jalees’ life if Scott Wolf showed up at my high school on a Vespa, picked me up, we ate frozen yogurt and made out. I mean I would never be mad at that. And fantasizing about that, there were no lies in that. The truth though was I would spend the rest of my life with Jennifer Love Hewitt, never thinking about Scott Wolf. And that’s where I lie on the spectrum of Scott Wolf to Jennifer Love Hewitt, which I believe we should change the Kinsey scale to.