Sam Jay is making her film debut in You People hitting Netflix this week.
For those who aren’t yet familiar, Jay is already a pretty big deal in the comedy and TV world. She has written for shows like Saturday Night Live and The Damn Michael Che and has a Netflix standup special Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning, as well as her own shows Bust Down and an HBO late-night show titled Pause with Sam Jay.
Her standup special caught the eye of Kenya Barris—who is also making his film directorial debut with You People—and he reached out to the comedian to praise her work via social media. Soon, that conversation evolved into Barris expressing interest in her being part of his film as the character Mo, who is the straightforward and honest best friend and business partner to the main character Ezra, played by the hilarious Jonah Hill.
Mo helps Ezra navigate his interracial relationship with Amira (Lauren London) but they also work together to make their podcast a success after he quits his day job to focus on their dream. [Ed note: Look out for the Complex Networks shout-out at the end of the film.] There was a clear organic connection between Hill and Jay in the scenes they shared together, and working alongside a comedic genius like him made her experience even better.
“To be able to discover this character across from somebody as talented as Jonah Hill was the dream come true,” Jay tells Complex. “I’m a big Jonah Hill fan, a real fan, so I definitely was fangirling a little bit during the breaks. But he was super cool about it and he really helped me be comfortable, which I think really helped me succeed in the role.”
The director also seemed pleased with his choice to cast Jay during a previous conversation with Complex, where he said she was the film’s greatest surprise and that she transformed Mo into “the best role in the movie.” To say this when her castmates included industry vets like Eddie Murphy, Nia Long, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and David Duchovny, is quite a statement. But Barris was right, Jay is a pleasant addition to the story and more than holds her own in the film among the greats.
Working in television is much different than making a film, especially for someone like the comedian who is used to being involved in behind-the-scenes processes like writing and producing. Letting go of the reigns to bring someone else’s vision to life takes courage and patience, but her role in You People has piqued her interest in wanting to make more films—and maybe even star in some Marvel movies down the line.
“I’m just super open to what’s next, and excited about the limitlessness of the possibilities. When I first started, I put myself in a box, I think a lot of us do. ‘I’m a comic and I’m a standup, and that’s all I do and that’s what I am,’” she tells Complex. “The more I learn and grow, the more I’m like, ‘I’m an artist and I like to create things and I just want to be able to create things for as long as possible.’”
You People hit select theaters last week but it is now available for streaming on Netflix. Complex caught up with Sam Jay ahead of the film’s release and she talked about her experience working on the film, what she learned, and what her hopes are for the future of her career. Check out our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, below.