H&L When you were growing up, was becoming a comedian a dream for you?
Jessica No. I don’t know why but I wanted to either be a secretary or a psychologist. I watched Carol Burnett as a child and thought she was absolutely hilarious. I was voted the funniest girl in high school and one of the Improv Champions of Canada, but it didn’t occur to me that this could be my career.
I went to Ryerson for Radio and Television Arts, but after college I decided to go to Venezuela as a missionary. It was only after my return that it occurred to me that being a comedian was possible.
During the mission I learned how important communication was to me. I arrived in a small Venezuelan village with only five weeks of language training. My first companion was a Venezuelan who didn’t speak any English. Suddenly my personality was swept away, which made me aware of how much having fun and laughing with other people was important and decided never to take fun for granted again. Having fun and making fun for others is a big part of my personality.
H&L A missionary, that’s quite a decision. What were your reasons?
Jessica I was 21 and thought it would be a great thing to do, to give back, but didn’t realize it would be so hard. The first couple of months were the loneliest, saddest time of my life away from family and friends. I cried every night. The only time you could talk to them was on Mother’s Day and Christmas. All I had was a companion and we didn’t speak the same language.
I prayed to get sick or get hurt a little to be sent home, because I didn’t want to quit. At the end of my mission I was so proud that I finished the hardest thing I had ever done. I was a really good missionary. I learned to speak excellent Spanish, did good works, and was a fun companion. I was thrilled with my accomplishment. Overcoming those hard times developed my confidence. I learned not to give up and that it’s okay to redefine goals as you change and grow.
That’s why I encourage others to go after what frightens them; it’s the scariest things that push us forward the most in life and sets us free. Now I feel free to do whatever scares me. There isn’t anything much harder than leaving everyone you love and everything you know to live and work in a country where you don’t know anyone and you can’t speak the language. It really is freeing.
H&L Your family must have been very supportive. Tell us about them.
Jessica I’m the only girl and the youngest of four. My family has strong Christian traditions. However, my father is Mormon and my mother’s agnostic. She’s also a Rape Crisis counselor and a very strong feminist. As a young child she sent me to Catholic Church while my brothers went to Mormon Church with my Dad. At 19, I decided to join the Mormon Church. My parents have a very interesting relationship and marriage. My family life prepared me very well to respect differences and to be open-minded to cultural diversity. I was raised in a house where everyone could be strong in their own beliefs; we didn’t have to adopt one another’s, could still be best friends. I’m accepting of all things but not compromising in my beliefs.
H&L I love that everyone fit together with their own beliefs. Do you and Scott have a religious practice?
Jessica We decided to do the traditions we were both brought with but the religion of neither. We’re raising our daughter Unitarian. We agree with their main principles to respect one another, love each other, love the Earth, love the world and that’s how to reach spirituality.
H&L Do you have opposition from either family?
Jessica No, we don’t. Scott’s mom is in charge of the Jewish traditions for our daughter Alexa and my family will provide the Christian traditions. She’ll learn about all of them and that makes Scott and I happy.
H&L Life as a mom.
Jessica When I had my baby I realized that it’s one thing for me to be part of the world that has flaws, but the world has to be perfect and healed because my kid is going to have a kid, that’s going to have a kid and so on. It’s heartbreaking that there’s so much strife, pain, suffering and sadness in the world. But the healing has to start with me; I need to be forgiving if I expect the world to be forgiving. I try my best to let things go and to say, “I forgive everybody everything.”
H&L It’s being the change you want in the world. Life changes when you have a baby.
Jessica It does but I’m praying it doesn’t take away my funny. I don’t want to be so nice that I can’t be cynical.
H&L How cynical are you?
Jessica When I was young and watched TV with my mom, we’d pick everything apart. I still do the same thing with my best friend today. This becomes the basis of the scripts. Seeing the flaw in the system or celebrity becomes the focus to write the monologue from.
Comedians are the last sociologists of the media. We can say what newscasters aren’t allowed to say and what many are thinking or feeling. Comedians can say, “What’s the matter with that? How can that be fixed?”
H&L Do you feel like you struck gold getting on Air Farce?
Jessica I feel like I struck gold by being taken under their wing. They’re the nicest people and I was welcomed into their family. That’s how they operate, and it’s the greatest feeling of all. After five seasons I still don’t think it’s hit me that I’m on such a legendary show. It’s been around over 30 years. They have so much experience and make it a priority to mentor younger generations. I'm very lucky to have this forum to do comedy and become known by Canadians.
H&L You and Scott are comedians – do you motivate one another?
Jessica We really do. When I first started, he had been in the business a couple of years. He was an actor going out to work everyday and this motivated me to never give up and that kept me going.
H&L What about working together?
Jessica I think we should go on tour together. He can do a little Reiki, me a little comedy and the audience leaves feeling terrific. But, he has an awful lot of excuses; maybe my husband doesn’t want to work with me. (She howls her big laugh.)
H&L How do you keep your marriage fresh?
Jessica There’s a study showing that couples who focus more on romantic memories are less likely to stay together than couples who focus on comedic memories. When we found that out, we started a funny journal. Usually something embarrassing happens to Scott, and I laugh for 20 minutes. Those become our funny recollections.
H&L Does he make you laugh the most?
Jessica Yes, but my uncles have been making me laugh for years. When I go to family functions, I sit and watch them joke, tease and laugh with each other for hours. We have such a good time together. When your family is able to laugh at one another, you learn to laugh at yourself and that helps lighten the serious moments of life.
When I brought Scott to Peterborough to meet my 30 relatives for the first time, they formed a line to say hello. Each of them shook his hand then left the room. What Scott didn’t know was that they were circling back to the end of the line. There were so many people he didn’t notice right away that he was meeting the same person three times. That’s normal activity for my family, always joking around.
H&L Who have been your life motivators?
Jessica Jane Moore – my high school improvisation coach who led us to national gold – mentored me more than she knew. She kept telling us gals not to take a second seat in the scenes, and in life. When I contacted her after high school to say that my male-dominated industry was frustrating and that I’d quit if I had to play another secretary while the men played the meaty roles, she said: “You do that and you’re losing out, and leaving the world the way it is. Why not fight for what you want and make a change in the world for the better?” Now I’m more vocal on every job I do to see that men and women both have a chance to shine. Air Farce is great with that. The producers couldn’t be more forward thinking. Like the time they handed me a script and said, “You’re Michael Jackson.” But of course – a young, white woman would play Michael Jackson.
I’m also a big motivational-speaker junkie. I like Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra. And people like Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, and Carol Burnett, who tell it like it is.
H&L How have they played a role in your life?
Jessica I took Tony Robbins’ approach and Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People go-getter principles into the acting world. We read Deepak Chopra before we go to bed at night to put us into a different space; he comes from the spiritual heart. His book on abundance teaches that everyone deserves abundance. In grade three, I was taught that there’s enough food in the world for everyone. I don’t know why some have and others don’t. I look at the world in that way, that everybody deserves great things. Scott and I make an effort that the more we get the more we give. We’ve become involved with a number of charities – World Vision and fighting child hunger and I’m involved with a lot of animal charities.
In North America we’re a spoiled society. If people found ways to enjoy themselves rather than buying material things, their fulfillment levels would increase and stress would go down. Studies show that people don’t depend on their neighbours anymore, that they don’t even introduce themselves. There’s no sense of community, especially in a big city like Toronto. It’s easy to feel lost and alone.
H&L The hardest part of being a comedian?
Jessica Paying my dues in the beginning. Doing stand up in a smoky club with two people in the audience. Trying the same material in different rooms; some nights people would laugh, some nights they wouldn’t. Learning not to take it personally was tough. Having done those hard things make it easier to do the hard things now. I heard that as you run towards the monster, it gets smaller. I love that concept: the sooner we address whatever we view as our biggest problems, the sooner we become the masters of our domains. Tony Robbins teaches that your tiny successes become the first step to overcome the hard things. Start with one extra serving of veggies a day and within a month you’ll quit smoking. “Oh, I have such a long way to go!” Jessica confesses.
“More than anything I love communicating, sharing and bringing happiness to people’s lives.”
H&L Your favourite exercise.
Jessica On the elliptical in front of the TV. I walk a lot and I do yoga because it’s important to be flexible. When I’m older I want to be able to get out of bed without doing the funny morning walk. (Jess gets up and demonstrates. We laugh hysterically.)
H&L What’s Jessica’s bliss?
Jessica Having a great time and laughing with the people I love.
H&L Most emotional point in your life?
Jessica Deciding to have a baby and taking 8 months to get pregnant. Then we thought we had a miscarriage. We didn’t, but it took a week to find out for sure. That was the saddest I’ve ever been. An ultrasound a week later found her heartbeat, all was well.
H&L Your life mission?
Jessica To bring humour to everyone else and myself. We can all use more.
H&L What’s next for Jessica?
Jessica I’m beginning the groundwork of a book about increasing laughter and fun in life. Creating a fun budget and increasing entertainment spending by going to movies, getting together in groups and entertaining each other instead of buying expensive things that don’t have any impact on our feelings.
I love doing comedy, but more than anything I love communicating, sharing and bringing happiness to people’s lives. I’m drawn to researching statistics on happiness more than finding the next comedic character. There are a lot of stats showing people heal themselves through laughter. One study shows that if people know they’re going to watch a comedy later that week it relaxes them all week. So now Scott and I watch a half hour comedy show daily.
One of the things I’ve done is add a page to my website where people can share their stories on how they got through adver-sity with humour, or how they’ve increased laughter in their lives. Recently I met a woman who used humour to alleviate an uncomfortable situation at work. She had messed up royally and the bigwigs called her in for a meeting to confront her and she knew it. Her solution was to borrow her son’s football equipment: the shoulder pads, helmet, all the gear and walk into the boardroom fully suited-up. She bellowed in her husky male voice, “Bring it on boys.” It was great because all they could do was laugh. The stress was alleviated and they were able to sit and talk about the situation in a normal manner and come away with a good solution.
Finding humour in my life is more important now because I’m a mom. I want to live a long time to see my children grow up and achieve their dreams. Laughter is one of those controllable ways like exercising and eating your blueberries. It slows down the heart rate to help us live longer and improves quality of life. Finding ways to laugh at ourselves and our circumstances and to be comfortable when people are laughing at us is very healthy.
H&L You sound very excited!
Jessica I’m excited to move into this next stage of my career – to do what’s interesting. You’re only a good entertainer as long as you’re doing what interests you. If it stops, you won’t be funny or fresh. It’s easier and more exciting for me right now to do research on how people can bring more fun into their lives.
H&L Your personal motto?
Jessica ‘Laugh it off!’ And, ‘bring it on!’ It takes discipline to see things in a light-hearted way and humour is important in our lives. ‘Bring it on’ is strong and powerful. Finding more lightheartedness and fun in life takes hard work but it makes me a more powerful, effective person and hopefully will help me live to a ripe old age.
H&L Let’s assume you’ve finished your book and you’re on stage as a motivational speaker. What would your final words be to this grand audience?
Jessica Jessica “Everything is okay, so have fun.” I want everything to be okay for all of us. In my clearest moments, I get what our universe is about – that God or a higher being knows what’s going on and that there’s purpose to everything. What if there’s no such thing as a mistake? That would mean that everything we do is okay. Everything is fine. Even if it doesn’t look fine, it’s still fine. Go easier on yourself; take a deep breath, smile and laugh.
Visit JessicaHolmes.net to share your funny stories. Air Farce is seen weekly on CBC TV. Check local listings.