Jenna Cormey spent the end of 2021 perfecting her Lisa Kudrow impression and making audiences laugh as Phoebe Buffay in the Off-Broadway production and National Tour of FRIENDS! The Musical Parody. Now she is showing off her comedy chops in FST’s popular musical sketch comedy revue, Laughing Matters (Variant 6): Paranoia on Parade.
We sat down with Jenna Cormey to discuss her favorite song to perform in Laughing Matters, how she keeps her energy up for such an active show, and the importance of the audience.
The process of developing Cabarets at FST is extremely collaborative, and with Laughing Matters, a musical sketch comedy revue, everyone’s perspectives and ideas are considered when tweaking the show. How would you describe the rehearsal process for Laughing Matters? What did you learn or discover from that experience?
The rehearsal process for Laughing Matters was a blast. I’ve never been so excited to get up and go to work in the morning. It was a longer rehearsal process than I’m used to, but that’s because the show went through significant changes up until opening night. With Laughing Matters, we used every second of the four weeks of rehearsal to make the show the best it could be.
During the first three weeks, we learned all of the music and started blocking for the non-musical sketches. We cut numbers, shuffled material around, switched out sketches for ones that made more sense, and made sure the show flowed smoothly.
By the start of Week 4, we were in the Court Cabaret itself, but the work didn’t stop there. We had invited run-throughs with 40-50 audience members, which were incredibly helpful because they told us what was and was not funny, leading to further edits all the way up to opening night.
My biggest discovery was coming to find that the show looked absolutely nothing like it did when we started out—it was completely different, but in the best way. The artistic and production team members come from all different backgrounds, and they each brought their personal insights to the table. This ensured that our more “controversial” material was evenly distributed and that no one rides for free. It also ensured a safe, communicative, and collaborative working environment for our entire team.
Were there any songs or sketches that were taken out of the show at the last minute? What effect did these edits have?
There is actually one number that is still in the show that was almost cut opening week. For one of the preview performances, the song was actually taken out completely to see how the show would work without it. Ultimately, Richard decided to keep it in the show, but he mindfully moved it from one act to the other (which helped us avoid a dip in the energy of the show). Richard is an absolute genius— he knows his audience, through and through. So if a song that you sing is cut, it’s nothing personal. It’s in the best interest of the bigger picture. We juggle some pretty charged subjects in this show, but thanks to our fabulous team of writers and Richard’s mindful direction, these subjects aren’t just palatable, they’re funny!
By the time that Laughing Matters closes in June 2022, you will have completed over 150 performances of the show. How do you take care of yourself so that you’re able to do this show 8-9 times a week for several months? Do you have any pre-show rituals to get you in the right headspace/mindset?
Laughing Matters is no laughing matter. It’s an incredibly active show and with only four voices, we need to be singing fully in addition to all that movement. To stay in shape, I work out for more than 30 minutes every day and do yoga every morning, including on my day off. My costume was custom-made, so to make sure I fit in my costume for the whole 17-18 weeks, I also do intermittent fasting.
Before every performance I do a 15-minute vocal warm-up, and then arrive at FST an hour before show time to start my makeup and wig prep. I like to take my time and listen to feel-good music while I get ready, so I voluntarily show up early. That way I’m calm and centered when stage management says “Places, please!” If the troubles of everyday life decide to follow me once I get to the theatre though, I can always do a little 5 to 10-minute meditation to clear my mind and release any tension I’m holding in my body. It’s important to leave negativity at the stage door, because every audience deserves us at our best.
You get to sing some really fun songs in Laughing Matters, from “COVID, COVID” to “She’s Got You.” What is your favorite song to perform and why?
I think my favorite song to perform is “She’s Got You.” In this fast-paced, high-energy revue, it’s the first time in the show where we slow down for a moment. The simplicity of the staging gives me a little bit more freedom as the storyteller because I can truly connect with each person in the room. While still a ballad, the song is packed with hilarious punchlines and local references. It also showcases a strong female character that pushes against stereotypical attitudes. In a situation that could easily translate as a “sob story,” this character actually comes out victorious. “She’s Got You” definitely goes out to the ladies, but if any gentlemen happen to find themselves sitting in the right spot, they may just become my scene partner.
The audience is integral to Laughing Matters and really completes the show. Have there been any unexpected or surprising moments with the audience that have happened since the show opened?
We like to refer to the audience as our sixth cast member—their energy, vocalizations, applause, and participation shape each performance, so that no two performances are the same.
Audience members sing along and wave their arms to our parody of “Imagine,” which is definitely an audience favorite. Every night, audience members cheer on their favorite political figures and even clap in agreement with certain statements or lyrics. As I mentioned before, we deal with some really intense topics in Laughing Matters, but we do so with care and kindness. Neither comedy nor parody need to be cruel to be successful. We’re not encouraging laughter at anyone’s expense.
Just the other day we had two audience members return to see the show a second time after seeing one of our invited run-throughs. They enjoyed the show so much, they just had to come back. To know we’ve made just one person’s day a little bit better is so rewarding.
Laughing Matters (Variant 6): Paranoia on Parade is now playing in FST’s Court Cabaret through June 12. For tickets and more information, click here.
Header Picture: Nick Anastasia, Jenna Cormey, and William Selby. Photo by John Jones.