Jackie Pirico: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Professional Comedian

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One quote I love is “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” which speaks to my advice of looking failure in the face and bouncing back from it. I could sit and lament about a bad set and let myself wallow, perhaps cower; but I can’t go back in time and fix it. All I can do is learn from it, force myself back up on the stage, look ahead and not back, and do my best to turn it around!

As a part of our series called “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Professional Comedian”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jackie Pirico.

Jackie Pirico is a fast-rising and highly coveted stand up comedian originally from Guelph, Ontario, and currently based in Toronto, Canada. Her first big break came in 2016 when she was called to do a network television taping for the largest International Comedy Festival in the world, Montreal’s Just For Laughs. Since then, Jackie has had multiple television tapings under her belt. Her stand-up performances can be seen in Crave’s JFL All Access, CTV’s The Stand Up Show, and CTV’s Roast Battles Canada among others. Most recently, she made her sitcom debut on the award-winning series Children Ruin Everything. Jackie has released two stand-up albums: Dream Phone (2019) and Splash Pad (2022). Most recently, she received the prestigious 2023 JUNO Awards nomination for Best Comedy Album of the Year for Splash Pad.

Named by Exclaim! Magazine as a quick rising force in comedy and an “adept comic scene stealer” by The Hollywood Reporter, Jackie delights audiences with her oddball material and high-energy style. Outside of comedy, Jackie’s other passions lie in music, voice acting, vintage clothing, and giving back to causes that are close to heart including The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and animal welfare organizations.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I’m grateful to say I had a very happy, interesting, and active childhood. I was raised outside of Guelph, Ontario in a rural 1960s suburb that was surrounded by farmland, trails, creeks and the Speed River. I lived with my parents, my brother, and my grandparents in a lovely bungalow that my grandfather built after immigrating to Canada from Sicily in 1952. My grandmother was a retired schoolteacher who taught me to read and play piano at a very young age. My parents both worked very hard and provided my brother and I with a solid foundation of comfort, laughter, and encouragement all throughout our childhoods. Lucky ducks!

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path as a comedian?

Absolutely! In 2006 I moved to Montreal to attend Concordia University. I needed a part-time job, but my French wasn’t good enough for most bars and restaurants — except for one — an English-speaking stand-up comedy club called The Comedy Nest. I worked there every weekend for many years, serving cocktails and absorbing thousands of hours of comedy! Eventually I thought, ‘Hell, I’m gonna give this a shot.’ So basically, I went from working the tables to working the stage!

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Well for better or worse, there’s never a dull moment in comedy, so it’s tough to pick just one. But one very interesting moment stands out. In February of 2020, I got to perform on a live recording of CBC’s Q at the River Run Centre, a beautiful theatre in Guelph. Aside from playing a giant sold-out theatre in my hometown with tons of family and friends present, I also got to share the bill with legendary children’s performer Fred Penner. My brother and I were massive Fred Penner fans as kids; so much so that my aunt Donnalee Stewart, who is an artist in Guelph, made us a paper-mache tree trunk “tunnel” just like the one Fred crawled through in the opening sequence of his show. Not only did I share the bill with Fred, but I also got to sit right beside him and chat with him on the panel of Tom Power’s hit segment Jam Or Not A Jam. It was a tremendously surreal and joyful moment in my career, where my hard work and talent landed me on the same stage as someone who inspired me so deeply from such an early age. Ah! I could tear up right now just reminiscing.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

One funny mistake worth mentioning is one that I still catch myself making after all these years! And it’s this: when there’s an audience member who appears to not be enjoying themselves, or even just not laughing as hard as the rest of the crowd, sometimes this is the only person I can focus on. I don’t make it obvious, but in my head, I’m thinking, ‘they don’t like me, they don’t like me.’ The entire rest of the crowd could literally be pissing themselves laughing, and if one person isn’t? Well? Looks like I’ve got my white whale to contend with! I become focussed on their approval. This is a mistake because with this art form, you have to accept the fact that your jokes cannot be for every single person every single time, and the fact that some people just don’t express laughter as openly as others — whatever the reason — it helps to play to the many people who are enthusiastically enjoying your act rather than having an obsessive inner dialogue with yourself onstage about the one who isn’t, haha! But that’s human nature, I guess.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There is most definitely an exquisite group of people who really helped bolster and accelerate my comedy career in a big way. When I first arrived in Toronto from Montreal, extremely new to comedy and ready to pursue it full on, I knew that Laugh Sabbath was the show to see in the city. Laugh Sabbath is a decades-long running stand-up comedy collective originally founded by incredible Canadian comedians such as Nathan Fielder, Tim Gilbert, Katie Crown and Chris Locke, to name just a few. I was lucky enough to get booked on my first Laugh Sabbath show some time in 2014, and it turns out I fit right in! I was then asked by fabulous producers Rebecca Raftus and Ashley Gray to guest host, and the ball kept rolling from there! By early 2015, I was welcomed as a regular member and producer of the weekly Laugh Sabbath show, which did wonders for establishing my place in the Toronto comedy scene, developing my comedic voice, and making lifelong creative friendships! I owe them so much and love them all dearly! Laugh Sabbath is every Thursday night at 9:30pm at Comedy Bar West in Toronto!

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Yes this career really is challenging; a real roller-coaster ride for your self-esteem! But speaking of failure, my advice would be this: failure is your friend! In stand-up, you will fail; there’s no way around it. You will bomb, you will have bad sets, you will have off-nights and it will hurt; there’s failure lurking at every junction in this business! But! In my experience, it is these moments that help you grow the most. If you have the grit to look your failures in the face, assess and retool in the aftermath, and most importantly, get back up onstage afterward, then you can arm yourself, even subconsciously, with an arsenal of tricks and tools to help you grow and strengthen your skills.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

Thank you so much! A project I’m very excited about is my new podcast which will be premiering the first week of April! It is a comedic advice podcast where listeners can submit anonymous questions about anything; relationships, career, love-life, family, etc. Me and my co-host, the hilarious and beloved Mark Little, do our best as completely untrained and non-accredited counsellors to steer people down the right path; or, maybe just a path. It’s called How Can We Help? We often have other comedians as guests and it’s just a really fun and silly listen. From there, I hope to do more writing and hone my skills of writing for the screen. My dream would be to write and create a vehicle for myself like Pheobe Waller-Bridge did with Fleabag; what a triumph!

What do you do to get material to write your jokes? What is that creative process like?

Like many comedians, my material is gathered from my own observations and experiences, but it’s my interpretations of those experiences that are often cranked up to a place of hyper reality, or surrealness, which is what I believe sets me apart. Onstage I like to amplify and embellish mundane, relatable experiences in an almost cartoonish way. I also do a lot of the crafting of my material live, meaning that I’ll have the kernel of an idea for a joke, and I’ll try it loosely and improvise on it a lot for a period of time, until it evolves and takes an ideal shape. Some of my favourite jokes are the result of a years-long evolution of material. I also like to dig into unique stories about my family, in particular my father, who is a very entertaining and eccentric man. Nobody’s gonna have material like the material I get from sitting back and watching my Dad live his crazy life, haha!

Super. Here is our main question. What are your “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Professional Comedian” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

Having Fun is a Must

It’s Gonna Hurt

Have Your Mask Ready

Your Relationship is with your Audience

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One quote I love is “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose.” which speaks to my advice of looking failure in the face and bouncing back from it. I could sit and lament about a bad set and let myself wallow, perhaps cower; but I can’t go back in time and fix it. All I can do is learn from it, force myself back up on the stage, look ahead and not back, and do my best to turn it around!

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

My movement would be to afford all children everywhere the means and encouragement to pursue their creative passions! Singing, acting, comedy, art; I believe every person has the capacity within themselves for creative talent! I think the major barrier to so many people discovering their talents is not having the opportunities, the funds, the equipment and most importantly, the encouragement to reveal them. I would love to create some kind of movement that brings the pursuit of creative expression further to the forefront for children in their formative years.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

That’s a tough one! I love lunch! Hmmm. I think it would have to be my all-time comedy idol and favourite comedic actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus. I grew up just absolutely dazzled by her in every way on Seinfeld. The opportunity to have a couple drinks and get all the gossip from her days on that set would simply be heaven on earth for me!

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

Yes! Please follow me on instagram and twitter at @jackiepirico

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

Jackie Pirico: Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Professional Comedian was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.