It’s not easy being a dominatrix with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), especially when a new MegaDungeon opens in your small town. Such are the tribulations of Ivy, the main character of the new IFC Comedy Crib series Neurotica, created by and starring Jenny Jaffe and produced and directed by Jetpacks Go! ComicsVerse’s Danielle Sottosanti recently had the opportunity to talk with Jaffe about her comedy, as well as her work on improving media representation of mental health illness.

ComicsVerse (CV): Like the best comedy, Neurotica takes on important social issues while providing entertainment. In particular, you show that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) isn’t just hand washing. Can you talk a little bit about the show’s portrayal of OCD, and how it fits into your work as founder of Project UROK?

Neurotica creator and star Jenny Jaffe (JJ): There were a lot of like comments on the video when the first episode of Neurotica was posted. People basically being like, “Great another show making a joke out of OCD,” and those were the only comments that I would address personally because OCD feels like such an intrinsic part of me that it’s hard for me to imagine that someone could look at me and not see it, which sounds funny because obviously because mental illness is an invisible illness.

It’s just been part of me for so long that it’s really hard to imagine that people might look at me and think that I was making fun, but of course, they’re right to be skeptical because the portrayal of OCD has been so abysmal in TV and movies.

READ: Check out our overview of TV shows, movies, and comics that represent mental illness accurately (and those that don’t)!

With Project “UROK,” a big part of my goal was changing the conversation around mental illness in pop culture and trying to encourage people who have actually experienced or continue to experience those things to represent themselves. So for me, it was to be able to do a show where I could create this character who has OCD and who’s been managing it for a long time and has gotten better, but sometimes when it gets stressful, the OCD starts to get worse again. And that’s been my experience of OCD. The reason I want to make comedy in the first place is because I feel like it kept me alive for so long.

Image Courtesy of IFC
CV: One of the other big issues Neurotica tackles is this idea of a small town, and small-town businesses dealing with the fact that a big conglomerate is going to come in. What was that angle? Why did you decide to set the series in a small town rather than New York City, for example?

JJ: When we first started talking about [Neurotica], I was living in NYC at the time. There was just something more interesting about setting it in a small town. And then I started to get very enamored of the idea of this small town where everybody is just very radically open. It’s sort of like this version of a small town that I don’t think anybody’s seen on TV.

READ: Animated shows deal with social issues too. Check out our take on social issues that TEEN TITANS needs to discuss!

I think small towns are often portrayed as sort of insular and not super welcoming or accepting of other people. And I thought it was just kind of a more interesting choice to have this small town where everyone’s like, some people have mental illness, some people are into different things when it comes to sex, and that’s just okay! Everybody’s gotta take care of each other. It also made sense why the MegaDungeon opening was a bigger deal. I guess there’s also a part of me that’s like, oh it’s kind of an old story of the small town wanting to save the rec center except that it’s not a rec center. Something way better.

CV: There’s recreation involved but–

JJ: Certainly recreation involved.

CV: When you were in the NYU sketch comedy group Hammerkatz, did you both act and write for it?

JJ: Yeah. And then I was actually made the director of it my senior year, and I got hired at College Humor as a writer-performer, and I was a student on top of that. So I decided to leave the group, unfortunately. Something in my schedule had to give, and I was so sad that it had to be Hammerkatz, but those are some of my favorite memories.

Jenny Jaffe
Image Courtesy of Sharon Alagna
CV: So how did the dynamic of writing and performing live sketch comedy prepare you for the work you’re doing now, like writing scripts? What were some takeaways for you?

JJ: I think it was sort of my sketch comedy training grounds. I learned how to write a tight sketch in a short period of time, how to a rewrite, and how to take notes and give notes graciously. We were putting on a new live show once a month and then doing assorted other shows once a month, and it was insane and hectic, and we had no money. We would go to Halloween Adventure on Broadway in the middle of the day on a Saturday and scramble to get all of the props ready for the show.

READ: Animated shows deal with social issues too. Check out our take on social issues that TEEN TITANS needs to discuss!

There would be so much drama: this sketch got cut, and you know, this sketch isn’t working, and it’s almost curtain—what do we do? We’d perform in this room in NYU’s Kimmel Center where you had to illegally black out the lights because they wouldn’t let us just turn all the lights out, but we were like, “We need to be able to do a blackout!” One time we were at the Silver Center in NYU which used to be the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory building [the site of a famous factory fire].

CV: What were some of your biggest comedy influences, growing up, at NYU, or even now?

JJ: Strangers with Candy, Amy Sedaris, A Bit of Fry & Laurie, Black Adder, and The Mighty Boosh — those are the things that formed a lot of what I thought was funny, and they’re all things I think are ultimately warm and optimistic. They’re just really not afraid to go for the goofiest jokes they see there. I love things like that, that aren’t afraid to go for the goofiest choice, and are simultaneously creating and maintaining a reality about the world — which is the key to comedy.

I’m also just sort of a sponge for media. I always have been. I still write for Vulture and do recapping and this type of thing. There are people I’m going to kick myself for missing I’m sure. I try to watch everything or kind of have a good idea of the cultural climate at any point. I feel like my best T.V. writing training came from doing T.V. recaps

READ: Love analyzing comedy? We do too. Check out our take on COMEDY BANG! BANG! The podcast versus the series!

CV: What advice would you give to a teenager or 20-something-year-old aspiring comedy writer, who really wants to get involved and doesn’t really know where to start?

JJ: I was able to find outlets for what I wanted to do and got really into school theater. I think probably the best thing to do though is to start to become a student of comedy and really hone what your sense of humor is. There’s so much great stuff out there, and it’s worth just finding the things that speak to you and make you laugh on a gut level, and sticking to those and figuring out what exactly you like about them.

And the other thing — and this is something everybody says, and it’s easier said than done — but there are so many places for content right now. It’s not just that you should be making your own stuff. It’s that you have to or nothing’s going to happen. Because we have YouTube and social media accounts, people won’t look at someone who hasn’t already been doing things. It can take many forms.

I think people get picked up for weird things. And always just have a current sample on hand; you never know when you’re going to be asked for one. Also, if you’re in college, join whatever sketch group is available, or if there isn’t one, start your own.

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