Shawna Jarrett is pretty sure she’s going to die early. “Men don’t get asked the question enough, but any woman over the age of 20 gets asked, ‘How do you have it all?’ You don’t sleep enough and you die early, that’s how,” says Jarrett. “How married to sleep are you?”
A full time communications administrator on Seabrook Island (“I live 45 minutes from home, I live out of my car”), freelance graphic designer, and frequent stand-up comedian, Jarrett isn’t particularly married to sleep — and she’s OK with that. “I just want to work,” says Jarrett. “I have severe clinical ADHD and I can’t go to a movie and sit still, I can’t sit without something in my hands. When I’m at home watching TV I’ll be making notes on a set.”
Jarrett has been creating comedy in Charleston for years now, from hosting shows to headlining to being the lead comic on the Charleston Comedy Bus. This coming month, Jarrett has several big projects lined up, ones she’s rightfully proud of. Things kick off with her headlining show at Flowertown, Is This Art?, a benefit for the Center for Women, this Sat. Sept. 8 at 8 p.m. “Anytime we’ve done anything in Summerville or anywhere where you don’t have to drive 20 minutes downtown, people are excited,” she says.
The Flowertown show presents the challenge of a different audience from the one Jarrett sees almost ever weekend on the Charleston Comedy Bus.
“I have two ranges,” says Jarrett. “I’ve got the bus with 14 people, maybe some bars and small shows, and then something like the Music Hall which has 1,000 seats. It’s feast or famine — which is amazing.” Jarrett describes herself as a crowd work comedian, and while she likes the face-to-face feedback she gets on the comedy bus, she can still work the audience in a larger setting if only to hear someone’s “voice in the void.” She’ll work the audience at the Hall on Thurs. Sept. 20 as she performs for the third time as part of Charleston Pride Week’s LGBTLOL.
The following night, Fri. Sept. 21, Jarrett offers a more intimate comedic setting with a special Comedy Bus Pride Night. “I think the bus has grown me up,” she says of the successful venture that is now about a year old. “You can do material, but it can’t feel like material. No one wants to be monologue-ed at for an hour in a small space — I know I wouldn’t want to.”
And despite her experience in the Charleston comedy scene, Jarrett doesn’t always know what to expect when she steps before an audience. For example, when a group of moms (who describe themselves as a bad moms club) requested Jarrett for the Comedy Bus, she figured they knew what they were getting into. “I was like, ‘What’s up whores,'” she says. “They were not into it.” So, the next hour required Jarrett to dig deep into her reservoir, pulling out jokes about kids and parenting instead of, well, dick jokes. “It went fine, it wasn’t my best. It’s funny what people expect of you or what they want you to be.”
Jarrett, inadvertently or not, has become one of the faces of Charleston’s comedy scene. Recently she was quoted in a P&C article about Aziz Ansari’s shows in Charleston, shows that come just months after Ansari was accused of sexual misconduct by an anonymous source on babe.net. Jarrett told P&C‘s Kalyn Oyer, “One thing I appreciate about talking about this with other comics — which I do not get when talking about it in the wider world — is an inherent understanding of the uneven power dynamics present in those encounters.”
This comes with the territory — a successful local comic, whether she signed up for it or not, becomes an authority on wide-ranging topics, the voice of her fellow comedians. It could be a lot of pressure for one person to handle, or it could just be another day in the life of a woman who doesn’t sleep very much. Jarrett takes it all in stride, from expressing her opinion about Ansari to happily accepting a new gig that’s just a tad outside of her comfort zone: teaching.
“Palmetto Scholars Academy booked, no ‘book’ is wrong, hired? I guess, they hired me,” says Jarrett, who will be teaching stand-up comedy to high school kids at PSA. The class is an elective, part of the school’s Leap Day, an enrichment program that introduces kids to everything from yoga classes to DIY/maker workshops to, now, stand-up comedy. “I was a magnet kid too,” says Jarrett, who attended Academic Magnet. “I was the same kind of weirdo in the best way, I feel very at home with that demographic.”
After seven weeks of writing, workshopping, and covering stage basics, the group of PSA kids will present a showcase. “I had a dream that I start the first class by slowly writing, ‘donde esta la giggly-oteca,” she says, “but that’s a red herring because I don’t have any other puns.” Other than that, Jarrett will utilize her background in writing and her experience leading a writing group during Tin Roof open mic nights to help her guide the group of kids.
She would like to see a junior scene of comedians in Charleston — maybe those same PSA students hang around CofC and start performing. Right now, though, she sees the of-age scene as one that’s thriving, and ever-growing. “Joseph is my hustle husband,” says Jarrett of fellow prolific stand-up comic, Joseph Coker. She also praises friends and fellow comedians Hagan Ragland and Jon Antoine, creators of the Petty Couch Podcast, as well as Keith Dee, a new(ish) to the game comedian who has been crushing it, hosting stand-up nights at Creekside Comedy and SportsBook for a year now. “Tanner Riley and Heath Richardson, they’re killing it too,” says Jarret. “And Sarah Napier, she does the Cat Cafe show that she keeps selling out.”
These fellow funny men and women (or as Jarrett describes herself on her Facebook, as a “comedy person”) join Jarrett in the long hours, late nights, and totally uncertain future. We can’t speak for all of them, but Jarrett, in the face of an uncertain comedy career, is certain of why she keeps doing what she’s doing: “What else would I do? I’ve never cared about anything so much. I have a full time job and I freelance graphic design and I like all of those things — but I don’t care about them as much as this.” And if lightning strikes and something “cool and weird” happens, Jarrett is open to new comedy possibilities. Lucky for us, though, she has no plans of going anywhere anytime soon. “I’m planted here, I’m gonna grow where I’m planted. It inherently has to be its own reward.”