When porn star/Lindsay Lohan survivor, James Deen, calls for any ol’ body to film a scene with him, someone has to answer. Luckily for the Internet, comedian and writer Jenn Tisdale was at the ready. After flying to New York and shooting a scene with Deen inside of her hotel room, Tisdale recounted her experience in an article, which has now been circulating around the Internet, making its way onto sites like Jezebel and The Huffington Post. Serial Optimist caught up with Jenn last week and chatted with her about Investigation Discovery, how hard grocery shopping is and not porn. Just kidding, of course we talked about porn.
Serial Optimist: Thank you for postponing your grocery trip to chat with me!
Jenn Tisdale: I don’t know what I’m doing at that place. I don’t know what people eat!
SO: I know! I have the same problem. I’ll try to make a list of healthy foods and I go in and I’m just like, “What am I supposed to do?”
Jenn: Yeah, I just have a fridge full of vegetables…
SO: Then you don’t know what to do with them! I’m not just gonna eat raw broccoli.
Jenn: I will say that I eat a lot of hummus.
SO: Oh my God. That’s all I eat now. Carrots and hummus.
Jenn: Yeah, so I feel pretty good about that.
SO: I feel like if that’s a meal, like a bag of carrots and some hummus, I’m doing all right.
Jenn: Yeah, that’s what I eat all the time. At work I’ll eat something in the middle of the day then I’ll just come home and I’ll snack on things like tortilla chips and salsa and hummus and carrots. I’m the absolute worst. But anyway… Nobody’s like, “She made a porn, but what is she eating? How does she keep that OK body looking so good?”
SO: You look great!
Jenn: For 33! For sure. Yeah, I do. You know, somebody commented and was like, “She looks good, but her feet… ” I’m like, “My feet?! What are my feet doing?”
SO: I was not focused on the feet. And I did watch it, just so that’s out there.
Jenn: You watched the whole thing or just the trailer?
SO: I just watched the trailer.
Jenn: That’s enough. That’s all you need.
SO: How long were you… doing the act for? Or acts plural, rather.
Jenn: We did it twice and he actually didn’t include — so I’ve heard, I haven’t watched the whole thing either. I’ve asked people to tell me, I’ll be like, “I remember we did this. Did that make it in?” But the first scene, I guess he kept the whole thing in, and then we took a break. If you read the article on brightestyoungthings.com, when I wrote about how we watched John Mulaney’s special… that’s what happened while we were recovering, like we were kids at camp huddled around my laptop watching this very funny thing. But I think they both took, like, 30 minutes… but that’s a long time! You know, he’s a professional and I’m like, “Whoa! Whoa! This is a nonprofessional vagina! Hold on.”
SO: That’s so cool that during the break you watched John Mulaney’s special of all things. Is James into comedy?
Jenn: No, but he knows I do stand up. So he’s like, “Well, who do you like?” And I start naming names, and I said John Mulaney and he goes, “Who’s John Mulaney?!” So we’re naked in the middle of a hotel room and I’m like, “Well I’ll show you John Mulaney!” It was very weird. And I said, “This is exciting because I don’t live in New York. I’ve been here before, but we’re both not new in town, but it makes sense. You’re new in my town … Wink wink.” Apparently — I’m not gonna say apparently because I took a screenshot of this like a douchebag — John Mulaney tweeted about it, which was very exciting.
Jenn: Well… yeah. This is all he wrote — I wish he would have tweeted at me, in a perfect world. Do you hear this, Mulaney? He just wrote, “Oh! I’m in this really nice article!” And then he linked to the article. Then a follow up tweet right after that was something along the lines of, “To be clear, the porn star did not exactly say whether or not he thought that I was funny.”
SO: He’s the best.
Jenn: He seems to be. For someone I’ve never met… but from afar seems to be the best.
SO: You signed up to do the scene supposedly with other co-workers, but they never signed up…
Jenn: I mean, I knew they wouldn’t. Their circumstances are slightly different than my own. We all just laughed about it, and I don’t think they thought I was gonna do it… and I of course didn’t think anything would come of it so quickly. Then it was just very fast. When I was contacted, it was all very quick. I mean, I thought about it, obviously.
SO: What was their response when you were like, “Hey, I did sign up, and I’m gonna do it!”
Jenn: Well, they were like, “You should do it! This is great!” And I thought, “Well, I’m only gonna do it if I can write about it… If he [James] lets me write about it.” And of course he let me write about it, but he got to approve it and anything he didn’t like I would’ve cut, but he liked everything. I didn’t change a single thing. And then I got on my high horse and was like, “This could be a big sociological experiment, you guys!” And I rode that horse for a minute and then I was like, “I’m gonna make porn!” This is what I compare it to: You know in high school or beyond when you’re forced to tear apart a book, and it’s like, there’s just no way the author — who’s probably dead, we’ll just use Steinbeck as an example since he has a whole chapter on turtles — and you’re looking at your English teacher like, “There’s just no way this is what he was thinking. It’s possible that he just liked turtles.” So to say I was kind of thinking of this feminist angle — I wasn’t. It was just a pleasant byproduct of the experience.
SO: It’s a great story to have just hanging out and ready to go.
Jenn: Yeah, in a chamber. If I’m at a party and someone’s like, “Oh, I’ve been bungee jumping…” I can be like, “Well, you know what I’ve done…”
SO: You’ve mentioned that you had never seen any of James’ films before doing this. Did you just do a Google Image search, and were like, “OK, it’s not Ron Jeremy, so we’re gonna go with this!?”
Jenn: Ha! I had seen only one movie [of his], The Canyons…
SO: Oh, with Lindsay Lohan!
Jenn: Yes! So I thought he was good. I mean, Lindsay Lohan is endlessly appealing. That’s the thing. It doesn’t matter what she does. She’s at a point, I think; in her career where we’re always gonna watch. So I watched this movie, and I knew a porn star starred in it, and that was all she wrote. So I was like, “Oh, James Deen. The guy from The Canyons.” Which is probably a sentence that you rarely hear. And then I chose not to watch any porn. I watched a couple trailers, but I didn’t watch a full movie. Which is where that other story came in, because he does this every week. Every Friday he releases an amateur video. So I watched a different one where the girl had not made her bed and I was horrified by that. I was like, “This is fine. You’re making a porn… but make your bed! All these people are gonna watch. Make your bed.” So those were the things where it sort of became a competition in my mind. Where I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna make the bed, it’s going to be a very pretty room, I’m going to comb my hair.”
SO: Absolutely. You have to think of those things.
Jenn: Yeah, I obviously didn’t wear any makeup. And then when I watched the trailer my first thought was, “God, I look tired.”
SO: You said that the thing that you were most nervous about was how this would affect your stand up career. In my mind, I would think that this gives you loads of material. What was your biggest fear in regards to it negatively affecting it?
Jenn: Well, women in comedy … The age old “women in comedy.” We don’t have to do much to be labeled something horrendous. I have one joke about sex, and I don’t say, like, “fuck it” or “bang it,” and it’s about my boyfriend. It’s a beautiful, little joke I think. And for some reason, in the past, I’ve been called a slut from male comics who have 20 minutes on a blow job. So the hypocrisy in comedy in terms of women is just insane. Simply by being not ugly in comedy as a woman, you’re perceived as getting shows because you’re pretty. Maybe! But when an audience laughs, that’s irrefutable. You can’t then go, “Well, they’re laughing at her pretty.” So I thought, “Well, Jesus. If I don’t do anything and they’re assholes, what’s gonna happen when I do something?” And then I really didn’t care. I thought I might as well control it a little bit. This is in my control, and I’m really proud of it.
He always starts off in these amateur videos chitty chatting with the girl and then it segues to the sex. But our chitty chattting is apparently 19 minutes long. I’m sure people are like, “Ugh, fast forward.” You know, that’s not what they want to jerk off to. But it was delightful! We were very funny I felt. I thought it would be important — because most women in porn, in the movies I’ve seen, and I actually haven’t watched all the porn in the world — I don’t know if these women are being told to dumb themselves down. I mean, I know that’s not why they’re there. I’m not here for the conversations, but you don’t have to be an idiot. So I was like, “Let’s have this first part actually, hopefully show someone who’s not a dummy.” So then it can be like, “Look! All kinds of women can have sex and like it.” That was my hope. I got a lot of nice messages and tweets from women… and we’re not notoriously supportive of each other.
SO: A lot of the comments that I saw on the article were pretty supportive, too…
Jenn: Some of them! You go to Jezebel, and whoa, boy! I think the meanest one I saw was somebody claimed my twitter feed wasn’t very funny, and I was like, “Well that’s just not true. Now you’ve gone crazy.” And then there were a lot of guys who were like, “I guess he’s just pity-fucking girls now.” No! And I asked him [James]! I said, “You would tell me if I was ugly, right?” And he said, “No, you’re a babe!”
SO: He honestly seems like a really cool guy, too. Just by reading his tweets and his blog, he seems like a person who would be a lot of fun to be around in a completely nonsexual environment.
Jenn: He is hilarious. When we started exchanging emails and he said, “Let me know what you’re not comfortable with.” I made a joke about not wanting to be skull fucked. Is that what the kids are calling it? And he loved it so much he labeled himself in my phone as “skull fucked.” I’ll get a text and I’m like, “Oh, it’s skull fucked.” He’s delightful. And very, very funny. Not just as a porn star, but also as a person, which is what he is! [laughs] He’s a whole human being.
SO: James is becoming a pretty mainstream figure. And by him being out there, I think he’s opening the door a little bit to make sex and pornography less taboo topics to be discussed. There’s so many articles that I read now that are about him on The Huffington Post or wherever that help make porn an actual topic of discussion rather than something we’re just shutting out completely.
Jenn: Yeah. And there’s all kinds of porn. Some people like to be demeaned, and there’s nothing wrong with that. 99% of the time those people, that’s what they want. I know that’s a hard thing for people to understand. And I’m not saying James does this, but in porn, in general, if you have someone who wants to be insulted a little bit, or given a slap on the ass — it’s hard for people that the person on the receiving end of that probably wants that. So they write it off as “Porn treats women terribly!” It’s not true. You know, there’s porn out there with women slapping men on the ass. There’s something for everybody. And I think gone are the days when you scoop some teenage runaway off the street and trick her into making a porn. I mean, there are awful things in the world, but for the most part nowadays on a reputable site somewhere, everyone has signed up for exactly what they want to do and exactly what they’re comfortable with. But I have very limited knowledge. I just did it the one time with James. But his whole angle the entire time was, “What do you want? What are you comfortable with? How can I make this the best experience possible for you?” And that’s what I got.
SO: Before this, you said you weren’t super into porn. After this experience, has that changed at all?
Jenn: I was into it in the way that if I couldn’t quite finish and I needed some extra, external help — visual or reading some hilarious story. Somebody actually figured it out! The part I referenced in the article about The Captain of the Guard, that is from a series of Anne Rice books where she writes in her pseudonym. It’s called The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty! It was delightful. Find it. Google it. I can’t even pronounce her pseudonym because it’s very fancy and Victorian sounding. As one would expect. But I watch as much porn as I had. I’m not against it. It’s just usually more like a Hail Mary at the end of the game, if I need it.
SO: Right. So moving away from porn, you’re also a stand up comedian and a writer…
Jenn: You’re probably the first person to ask me something else. Yeah, I am!
SO: You are a person who did more than porn the one time with James Deen.
Jenn: Yeah. That’s OK. I mean, if someone comes for the porn, and stays for the comedy then great!
SO: Have you noticed your readership increasing because of this?
Jenn: I’ve noticed that my twitter followers have been steadily increasing. I tweeted last week after everything started happening, something like, “Hey guys, thought I’d let you know that porn was really great, but I’m probably never gonna do it again (watch as twitter followers fade away).” But I warned everybody that I really like puns! So if you like wordplay, stick around. Fuck, I love puns. But yeah, they just keep trickling in. And if someone stops following me because they’re like, “Wait a minute! It’s not just gonna be her boobs every five minutes?!” then … I have noticed [laughs]. But I was just in New York. I did an open mic up there, but I haven’t done a show show since. I’m doing a storytelling thing, which is not usually my thing, on Wednesday where I’m telling this story. And I get it. They’re gonna capitalize on this. That’s fine. I’m no dummy. I’m happy to tell the story because I really enjoy it.
SO: If someone’s gonna tell the story, it might as well be you.
Jenn: It should be me. Then I’m going to do a Q&A after, and my mom’s gonna be there, and she’s gonna participate. I know that people are gonna be like, “How could you let your 33 year-old, adult daughter do this? When she’s 33 and an adult.” So, we’ll see. I said, “They might be assholes,” and my mother emails back, “I’m not afraid of assholes!”
SO: Your mom was pretty supportive of it. She was concerned about diseases and things, which as a mother makes sense.
Jenn: Yeah. She was just like, “Be careful!” And I was like, “Allll right.” Yeah, we’re doing all the STD tests.
SO: So what made you want to get into comedy?
Jenn: I always sort of knew I was funny and I wanted to see if that was something that was universal or just, “Oh, your friends think your funny!” It felt like maybe it was the only thing I would possibly be good at, which is not meant to sound depressing, but if you can find at least one thing that you’re good at in your life, then you’re OK. And I just really like to do it. Even when I’m having a bad set, and I take them very hard. Even at an open mic, I get nervous. But I just get so much out of making people laugh. It’s really a selfish pursuit. I’m not gonna pretend that I’m out there like, “Oh, I can’t wait to spread joy.” You feel good when you make other people laugh. And it’s nice when it’s like, “By the way, they’re feeling good, too!” Great!
SO: How did you get started in comedy?
Jenn: I started doing comedy late. I sort of dabbled in and out. I didn’t actually try doing stand up until I was 30. I wish I would have started sooner. There’s so many who started doing it when they were, like, 20. I just wonder where I would be if started that soon, but I had another path to take at that time. But I think I just did it. I think that’s what happens. One day you just do it. And from there, a lot of people I’ve found, which is the same with me, they’ll do one open mic then not do anything for a month, and then they throw themselves into it and you get the bug. It gets to a point where you’re like, “Well I can’t quit now. How can I quit now?” Even if nothing comes of it, it seems impossibly hard to quit.
SO: Do you prefer writing or performing?
Jenn: I think my performing hasn’t caught up quite yet with my writing. It’s not bad, but I think I’m a better writer. The only thing that gives me anxiety about performing is that I have a really horrible memory. I couldn’t tell you what I did yesterday sometimes. So I get really anxious about remember jokes, and I don’t wanna take notes on stage because I think it makes me look unprofessional, even at an open mic, which is insane. That’s the only thing about performing that gives me anxiety is just remembering my jokes. I’m very envious of all my comedy friends who are like, “I’ve got 20 minutes locked in my brain! No Problem!”
SO: OK, we have to talk about Investigation Discovery really quick…
Jenn: Don’t — You’re a fan?! Did you know they follow me on twitter?! Stop it. Well, here’s what happened. How familiar are you with all the shows?
SO: Pretty familiar. I wasn’t super into it until I moved in with my roommates now, and one of them is obsessed with it so now we watch it all the time.
Jenn: I have a very good Investigation Discovery joke and always when I mention it I hear gasps in the crowd and I’m just like, “Yeah, here I come. Speaking your language.” But I interviewed Darren Kavinoky, who’s the host of “Deadly Sin.” It’s the one where the woman is walking through the church in the beginning and she gets in the confessional wearing Christian Louboutin pumps. She would not be able to afford them. Anyway, we had the best interview. I’m asking him how I can get on the show, and he’s like, “You can come up to New York when we’re taping the episodes.” And I’m like, “OK! Yeah, I’ll do that.” So because he tweeted out our interview together, Investigation Discovery started following me! The Internet is a gift. My Facebook cover photo is currently a screen shot of “Investigation Discovery follows you”. It is my goddamn cover photo because it is the greatest, and I don’t know what I would do without it. It’s the channel that pays you back.