Second City cast member talks auditioning for 'SNL'

Amid rumors that Kristen Wiig is leaving “SNL” at the end of this season, the show’s team has been auditioning female comedians, including The Second City e.t.c. cast member Jessica Joy, who’s been making a name for herself in the current production “Sky’s the Limit (Weather Permitting)” and as a medical student-slash-bunny on NBC-TV’s short-lived “The Playboy Club.”

Although she did not receive an offer from the “SNL” team at the conclusion of her audition in March, the Cleveland native—who moved to Chicago in 2005 to study at The Second City Training Center, began working on touring company and cruise ship productions in 2007 and joined the e.t.c. cast a year ago—is set to leave the cast when “Sky’s the Limit” closes on April 8 to pursue opportunities in New York. We called her to catch up.

You’ve gotten great reviews in “Sky’s the Limit.” What’s your favorite segment to do in that show?
This song that I wrote with our musical director called ‘Questions.’ It’s based on some of the weird thoughts that I have and it’s basically just a song that I sing before I’m about to die. My favorite ones are, ‘Why did I work out so hard to get a body like Britney Spears when I just could have waited for hers to get all sh***y?’ And then I also have, ‘Is there a heaven for atheists where we can watch the Christians at the moment they realize that there’s no heaven?’

How were you notified that “SNL” wanted an audition?
They came and saw the show in January or February and the week after, everyone’s looking at everyone else, like, ‘Okay, did anyone get a call? [Laughs] Has anyone heard from anyone?’ And then we all heard that they were flying a bunch of people out to do a showcase audition at a comedy club in New York. And none of us got called.

And then a month or two later, they called me randomly and asked if I could come out and do the official screen test—the final, real audition on the stage in front of Lorne Michaels and everyone. And I was like, ‘Where did this come from?’

They give you a week’s notice and you have to do five minutes of original characters and then celebrity or political impressions.

Your celebrity impressions?
I did Fiona Apple, January Jones and Sofia Vergara.

Did you create a new original character for the audition?
During Second City rehearsals—they call it process—we try out completely different things every night and we just churn out so much material in three months that I had a stack of unused bits. So I used a couple of those.

One was actually a two-person scene I wrote [about] a racist ventriloquist who forces all of the really awful racist punchlines on his dummy. And then the dummy gets increasingly uncomfortable. When we did it in process, I was the dummy and my friend Michael was the ventriloquist and I end up killing him because I can’t stand to be made to look like a racist. But I realize after I’ve killed my ventriloquist that I can’t move. [Laughs.]

So I borrowed an actual ventriloquist’s dummy and just made it a one-person scene.

Did they give you feedback?
More than likely when they’re interested in you, you’re asked to stay and talk to Lorne Michaels and I wasn’t, so I knew right away—I’m like, "OK, they’re not considering me right now but they know who I am now."

What was it like to work on ‘The Playboy Club?’
You know, I’ve been a fan of the Playboy brand for awhile, specifically their early ‘60s times, after seeing Mad Men and all the other ‘60s-style shows. And I thought it was a cool take on that era because it was about girls who were breaking out of all that—you know, the first kind of feminists coming out. I had heard rumblings about people signing nudity contracts so I was like, ‘I’m just going to go and if it ever gets to that point, then I’ll address it.’

Did it?
No. My character was one of the bunnies who was working her way through medical school. There was a whole scene where I was describing to the girls something I’d done in school that day. I loved the scene and I thought it was interesting.    

And that’s the thing that people I think got carried away with about ‘The Playboy Club.’ [Laughs.]  It seemed like the last thing it was about was sex. Everyone was very covered up. Those outfits were super-tight but they sucked you in; they made you look great.

It was just a colorful, fun show.

What are your favorite places to go in Chicago when you’re not working?
Any Thai food place [laughs]. And I live right by the lake. Every time I walk down there, I think to myself, I can’t believe this ishere! I should be here every single day ‘cause you step out there and it looks like you’ve left the city behind and you’re on the beach.

I also have to give a shout-out—my favorite restaurant in town is Orso’s; it’s an Italian restaurant on Wells and Schiller. They gave me a job back in 2005 and I worked for them for at least five years. It’s run by a little Italian family, ma and pa—the food is great, it’s all made from scratch and they’ve been there for like 40 years. And their back patio is insane. And now you can go out there cause it’s getting warm—or, it was for a second, anyway.

What are your career plans for New York?
I love singing. At Second City, whenever I get an idea for a sketch, my first thought is, ‘How do I make it a song?’ [Laughs.] And then, everyone’s like, ‘Okay, you can’t have 12 songs in the show.’

So I want to explore that some more. Comedic music and then also maybe—I’m not saying Broadway, but why not? At Second City, you get to join the Actors Equity Union, so that opens up a bunch of doors in New York.

“Sky’s the Limit (Weather Permitting)
Go: Through April 8 at The Second City e.t.c., 1608 N. Wells St.
Tickets: $22-$27; 312-337-3992; secondcity.com

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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