After receiving a Writers Guild Award nomination for Comedy/Variety Sketch Series for her first season, stand-up comedian and former Saturday Night Live writer Sam Jay hits play, er, pause, to pick up where she left off last year. Eight new half-hour episodes find Jay hosting her funny friends in her apartment for no-holds-barred conversations about race, sex, money, politics and more, intercut with additional interviews, sketches and animation.
Opening Shot: Continuing a theme from Season 1, this season opens with guests mingling in Jay’s apartment, ambient chatter in the background, before focusing on Jay turning to a friend to ask: “Do you see yourself in queer spaces?”
The Gist: Each episode of Pause has a topic, and Season 2 opens on Jay’s own exploration of her intersectionality by being Black and gay.
She moves back and forth from her houseparty, where notably almost all of her female friends are LGBTQ+ while the two guys she speaks with are straight, to an interview segment with Cathy Renna, communications director for the National LGTBQ Task Force. In both contexts, Jay confronts her feelings that place her both inside and outside the gay community. As Jay tells her friends: “I’m Black first. Gay second.” As she tells Renna, Jay gets the sense that LGBTQ discussions and even Pride parades are dominated too much by white members of the community.
Back at her party, Jay claims there’s no Hollywood agenda to push gay themes, although she believes society does portray Black men unfairly as somehow more homophobic. “That is bullshit,” she says. “Homophobia exists everywhere and I don’t think it’s particular to Black men.” It’s telling, however, that the two Black men she speaks to at her party both express fears that somehow teachers, school books, or show business is promoting homosexuality to children.
For a complete change of pace, Jay also sits down with two lesbian couples where both partners are “studs,” and asks them wildly specific and funny questions to see if those couples still split into more heteronormative masculine/feminine gender roles with each other. Jay also cops to asking such questions because “for me, stud on stud is my homophobic thing.”
And then there’s the basketball game, which is a whole other piece of comedy, music and athletic performance art.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of?: Compared to two previous HBO efforts in weekend late-night, Jay’s show continues to blend the playfulness of The Chris Rock Show with the seriousness of Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas.
Our Take: What makes Jay such an accomplished stand-up also serves her well in her variation on the late-night talk show. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, whether she’s debating one of her friends in her apartment or revealing her own shortcomings of opinion and knowledge during an interview in front of complete strangers. By not censoring herself, Jay continues to finds laughs and intriguing moments even when she’s not specifically looking for them.
Her ability to conduct nuanced conversations stands in stark contrast to, oh, say, Dave Chappelle’s obsessive riffs pitting LGBTQ activism against Black American activism. Even so, Jay’s pursuits also somehow allow us to perhaps better understand why Chappelle might be so consumed by the topic.
The openness of her format (no desk and panel here), and her lack of restraint, also match her willingness to go for it, such as in the first episode of Season 2 where there’s a record-scratch rewind moment to double back on her off-handed comment gossiping about Jamie Foxx holding rumored naked basketball games, so she can double-down on the comment by turning it into a full-fledged, full-frontal sketch.
Sex and Skin: How’d you like to experience naked basketball? We spend four or five minutes watching “Sam Jay’s Naked Niggasectionality Basketball Tournament and Slap-Box Contest,” where she coaches a team of naked men playing hoops against another group of naked men coached by current SNL writer Alex English called “The Slick Back Booty Boys.”
Parting Shot: We return to Jay’s houseparty mid-conversation over the closing credits, as Jay’s telling her friends about an a guy who “knew me when I wore purple cargo shorts.”
Sleeper Star: For this episode, it’s gotta be the half-court freestyle rap performance by Kidd Kenn with Delli Boe that follows the basketball game, complete with twerking women and a hot dog mascot. For the series? It might be Jay’s party co-host, Yaya Vincent, for maintaining an atmosphere that allows for such heated and humorous conversations.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Far superior to the Real Time show that precedes it on the linear HBO schedule, my new rule is SKIP Maher and go straight to Jay for topical cultural discussions that matter, and make you laugh while provoking you.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat for his own digital newspaper, The Comic’s Comic; before that, for actual newspapers. Based in NYC but will travel anywhere for the scoop: Ice cream or news. He also tweets @thecomicscomic and podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.