It doesn’t matter what you weigh or look like. If you’re talented, you’re talented. My first agent used to say that I wasn’t attractive enough for TV. While I get what he was implying, now that I’m older, I realize that it shouldn’t matter. If you’re a good writer or performer, you can create your own look or career path. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo.
Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo is the Chief Executive Officer at Wonder Woman Writer, LLC, Freelance Writer, and avid Women’s Health Advocate. She is a Forbes Women Contributor and has had pieces included in Time magazine, Parents Magazine, Huffington Post, and ScaryMommy. Ms. Palumbo has covered topics such as infertility, women’s health, patient advocacy, pregnancy, relationships, parenting, being the mother of an autistic child, and more. As an infertility subject matter expert, she has been interviewed on news outlets such as CNN, NPR, FOX, NBC, and BBC America, and was featured in the documentary, “Vegas Baby.” She also contributed a chapter in the book, “Women Under Scrutiny” by Randy Susan Meyers and performed in the Cover Girl’s “Stand Up for Beauty” with Aisha Tyler. She has been highlighted as an influencer in Medium and Welum magazine. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was fortunate in that my parents introduced my sister and me to movies, classic comedies, musicals, stand-up comics, and television shows that many my age didn’t even know about. Bring Up Baby with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russel, and pioneers in entertainment were played often in our house. We were probably listening to things that were a little more mature than our age (Hair, Bette Mider live with her Sophie Tucker jokes, etc.). Still, it introduced both my sister and me to an endless vocabulary and various mediums to explore and express ourselves. I’m so grateful for that as having an imagination and create outlet have carried me through my entire life so far.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
We used to listen to both stand-up performances on long drives and even, as funny as it is to say now, 8-Tracks of popular television shows like All in the Family. I learned something so valuable from that. That you know something is incredibly well-written when you don’t have the visual aspect; you can listen to it, and it’s as engaging. Whenever I watch television now, I imagine just listening to the words, the banter, and the characters. Even when you hear to particular audiobooks like David Sedaris, it holds your attention and entertains you. This started my love of writing.
Can you tell us the most exciting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Some of my highlights are the first time I performed stand-up comedy at Caroline’s on Broadway (it was also the first time my parents saw me live), the time I hosted a show in front of 3000 audience, attending the Tribeca Film Festival and watching the documentary, Vegas Baby, that I’m in, any time I’ve been invited to be a keynote speaker, and honestly, anytime a piece I worked hard on or meant a lot to me gets published is exciting. I have loved anything where I feel like I’m connecting with people and either learning or teaching something.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I started performing as a stand-up comic, I never wrote anything down. I would practice an anecdote over and over again and perfect it that way. One of the most common pieces of feedback I received was how persuasive my writing was. I would say, “I don’t know if I can write. I can tell a great story, though!” I don’t know how it eventually occurred to me, but one day, I realized, “Wait… I could write down the story and see if it’s as good!” I mean, duh!
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people who have helped me, inspired me, or taught me something. I think that’s one of the mistakes that some make: they think that asking for other people’s insight, advice or opinion makes them weak or changes their commitment to who they are or what they are trying to achieve. They always miss the second part of that process. That is, you can keep an open mind and listen to others, but what you do (or don’t do) with that advice is up to you. You always have the final say.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
More than anything, you can’t take any losses or failures as a commentary on your talent or who you are as a person. Even if you have this fantastic success — yes, celebrate it, but you can’t let that define you either. Whether you win or lose, succeed or fail, you have to know who you are (and aren’t) and not let outside events, or people change that.
What drives you to get up every day and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
I genuinely enjoy writing and performing. The love of what I do and the desire to make a difference is a massive motivator for me. I always want to learn something new, create something different and meet new people. I love too that there are so many unique shows and people coming to entertainment now. For a while, it felt like every creative medium was just recycling previous ideas. More and more, people are celebrating and welcoming things that are different. I’m particularly encouraged by the show Pose, which is the most unique and brilliant show I’ve seen for a while!
You have such an impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
I am hosing a few fundraisers, which I always feel good about. My favorite thing about stand-up comedy is making people laugh. To take that skill and raise money for a good cause is an ideal relationship to me. I’ve also begun work on a children’s book inspired by my two sons. My oldest has autism, and I’ve spent a lot of time explaining to my younger son what that means. I want to write a book for neurotypical siblings to help them understand what autism really means.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
One. It’s time. It’s BEEN time for too long. Too many people aren’t being represented. We need to see more real people in the entertainment industry because the more we do, the more everyone will feel seen and included.
Two. The more unique the person and their story is, the more it can help change minds. In some cases, people haven’t met or experienced anyone different than them, so when you have a character or storyline that introduces the public to a new way of living or thinking, it can open minds.
Three. There are an obscene amount of talented people who have been dismissed because they don’t fit into what is considered “The Leading Lady” or “Leading Man”. We are ALL leading characters in our own lives, so we need to start reflecting that on stage and screen.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
One. It doesn’t matter what you weigh or look like. If you’re talented, you’re talented. My first agent used to say that I wasn’t attractive enough for TV. While I get what he was implying, now that I’m older, I realize that it shouldn’t matter. If you’re a good writer or performer, you can create your own look or career path. It’s not easy, but it is possible.
Two: There will be people who will try to take advantage of you. I had one agent tell me point blank that if I slept with him, I’d get to be part of this big comedy festival. When I didn’t, he said I would never be invited back to audition. He stayed true to his word, and I never was. While this may seem like a negative lesson, I take pride in the fact that I didn’t fall for it. When you’re starting out, you need to be aware that not everyone there to help you.
Three. That bringer shows are smart in terms of making money but terrible for producing quality shows. When you first start out performing in stand-up comedy, clubs will tell you, “Bring 5 people and we’ll give you five minutes.” Yes, it brings money into the clubs, but the reality is then ANYONE could bring 5 people, go up on stage and bomb. It’s such an insane plan. The guests are subjected to comics who just know a lot of people but may not be funny, funny people end up wearing out all of their friends, begging people to come to shows at 5pm on a Tuesday and it just seems unfair.
Four. That comedy is tougher on women. It just is. Whether it was male comics hitting on me, people telling me women weren’t funny, the double standard of comedy, or simply being the only woman on a show — it’s not for the weak. It made me stronger, but man, was it exhausting.
Five. That, for the most part, comics help each other. Yes, it can be competitive, but my overall experience was stand-up comic helped recommend each other for shows, tell others about them, give them suggestions on their act, etc. It really is an inspiring and fun community.
Can you share with our readers any self-care routines, practices, or treatments that you do to help your body, mind, or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
As a mother, I watch A LOT of animated movies and shows. As basic as this may sound, for me, self-care is watching television shows or movies that inspire me (and aren’t made by Disney). It’s not that I don’t enjoy Children’s movies. It’s just that I also take time to watch shows like Sanditon, Pose, Brooklyn 99, NBC’s Superstore, and films with subtitles from time to time. That’s my “me time.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Live your life by design and not by default. I heard that when I was in my twenties at a bit of a crossroads, and it changed the trajectory of my entire life and career. I was unhealthy, unmotivated, working from 4 pm to midnight, in a relationship with a lovely guy, but we weren’t that happy anymore and only writing and performing when I could. I realized that I didn’t just have to accept it. I could redesign my life, and that’s what I did. I changed jobs, broke up with my boyfriend, got my studio apartment, got healthier, and started writing and performing several times a week (if not every day).
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
We need more compassion and to listen to one another more. We need to have more empathy and less judgment for one another and, we must get comfortable with not always being right. It’s ok if you’re wrong. You may learn something new, so listening instead of just waiting to talk could be a game-changer!
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I think Fran Lebowitz is not just a brilliant writer but her wit in parallel to none. She is just so good. I think if I ever had lunch, I would just shut up and let her talk!
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
And LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifer-jay-palumbo/
This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!