BACKSTORY: A writer/actress/comedian who advocates for mental health while spinning her struggles into singular stories
FROM: Raised in the Bay Area, and then worked as a freelance writer for years in New York before heading to LA
YOU MIGHT KNOW HER FROM: Project UROK, a nonprofit that offers reassurance as a resource for teens, or from her large portfolio of online pieces both humorous and humanitarian
NOW: At the lead of IFC’s new webseries Neurotica, a romcom about bonding through bondage
Every hero has an origin story, and Jenny Jaffe—fictional hero of her own short-and-sweet webseries Neurotica, and, with her open and honest discussions, a real-life hero in a worldwide push to destigmatize mental health—is no exception: “I feel like I was bitten by a radioactive Strangers with Candy,” she says.
The cult-classic Comedy Central series, an episodic after-school special from Hell, brought Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert nationwide notoriety among ’90s comedy nerds, but it also brought something unexpected to young Jaffe as she grew up overwhelmed by bullying, anxiety, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: self-care.
“Consuming comedy was one way I dealt with having a lot of alone time and being too nervous to leave the house,” she explains. “I remember, in fifth or sixth grade, a family friend gave me a DVD box set of Blackadder. It’s such a great show, and the very end—spoiler alert for a forty-year-old show—is the saddest episode of TV. It hadn’t occurred to me that comedy could hold so many different things at once. I got really into a lot of British comedy from there… Fry & Laurie, The Mighty Boosh, Garth Marenghi, and Strangers with Candy on the American homefront. If I soaked in as much comedy as I could at any given time, then I didn’t have to listen to the thoughts in my head.”
“I wanted to find a character who was really [sexually] confident but has a set of other things she’s dealing with.”
The flaws of her comedy heroes gave her the strength to openly talk about—and, eventually, joke about—her challenges with depression, OCD, and suicidal ideation. “Maria Bamford was the first person I ever heard talk about OCD the way I experienced it. For people who have dealt with significant mental health issues, that optimism is really hard-earned and it’s the optimism you need to say, ‘I’m going to continue to live, even though it’s a nightmare to be inside my own head.’
“I like characters—especially female characters—who are confident,” she adds. “But it’s hard to find female comedy characters who are overtly sexually confident. I wanted to find a character who was really confident in that regard but has a set of other things she’s dealing with.” With that in mind, Jaffe created Ivy, a sunny, small-town dominatrix who has conquered her OCD to become the best sadist she can be—only to face a relapse when a “megadungeon” threatens to spring up across town and take her business. (A sadomasochistic You’ve Got Mail, in other words.)
Rather than leaning on lewd jokes or easy gags (no pun intended), Neurotica packs its short run time with inclusive humor unusual for sex comedy—or any comedy, for that matter. “This is something of a comedy mission statement from me. It’s silly and positive and nonjudgmental about all kinds of people,” she professes. “Everybody’s got their secret sex thing. I think it’s not funny, and too easy, to just be sniping from a distance as opposed to approaching all people, no matter their sexuality, as human beings who live normal lives. Treating your characters with love is a more interesting and exciting choice than choosing to be removed from them.”
Now in Los Angeles lending her upbeat and inclusive sensibility to the writer’s room for Disney XD’s Big Hero 6, she’s come full circle after claiming ownership of her struggles and finding her creative voice. She brings along a message she hopes to convey through her mental health advocacy—the message she wants to give her sixteen-year-old self: “You’re going to be OK. Not only is [life] going to be worth living, it’s going to be even cooler than you think.” FL