It’s been six years since Jessica Holmes last graced CBC's Toronto soundstages as part of the cast of Air Farce. Just a few days ago, Holmes made her long-awaited return to shoot the comedy troupe's one-hour New Year's Eve special.
You'd think she'd be popping champagne in celebration, but no, instead she's stressing over her Christmas shopping list.
“I just started Christmas shopping,” she tells Popjournalism in a phone interview. “I've been putting it off because I've been so busy lately and I don't know what I'm going to do. Anything popular that my kids may want will have to be from the 1980s.”
Christmas stresses notwithstanding, it's good to have Holmes back on Air Farce.
"I watched the last New Year's Eve special with my family and we all loved it," she says. "I thought it was hilarious and the new cast members were amazing and it looked like so much fun. I was itching to go back, so I got in touch with [cast member and executive producer] Don [Ferguson] and I'm really grateful to be back, and for them to have made room for me."
So why ever leave the Farce family?
"I wanted to get away from scripted work at the time," she says of her Air Farce exit in 2010. "I wanted to experiment more, to see where my inner muse took me. Unfortunately, my inner muse is a homeless, toothless man who gives terrible advice. In between, I've been doing stand-up and motivational speaking, corporate keynotes. These past years have truly taken me to some awesome places. I've opened for Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Russell Peters and Jerry Seinfeld."
Backstage with Ellen and friends
What was it like opening for those huge stars?
"Being backstage with the Oprahs and Ellens of the world is about being surrounded by security," she recalls. "It's so tight and strict and uncomfortable that you're scared to even look in their direction.
"Ellen had the largest entourage. She had 20 people around her. When I was standing in the wings, her security came by and said, 'You can't be in the wings.' I said I have to be in the wings because I'm the opening act and I'm waiting for the director to call me on stage. It's the most uncomfortable I've been professionally.
"I should've stayed in the wings and jumped on [her partner] Portia [de Rossi]," she jokes. "But seriously, people are full-on bonkers about Ellen. Her fans came up to me, grabbed me, and asked me to tell Ellen that they loved her. Ellen addressed all the attention on stage and said, 'I have a thousand people a day who say I just need two minutes of your time,' and that she loves all her fans but can't obviously take the time for them all."
Was anyone low-key?
"Jerry Seinfeld didn't have any security and he was really cool and came by to tell me to have a great show. Russell Peters didn't have any security around him either."
On a comedy mission
Despite her success, Holmes didn't start out as a natural comedian.
"I was always interested in comedy and loved writing sketches with friends, but never found myself confident enough," she says. "I grew up with a mom who was an agnostic feminist and my dad was Mormon. I felt like we were in a sitcom."
At age 21, she finally found her confidence while travelling in Venezuela as a missionary for the Mormon church.
"I was a shy, sunburned girl back then," she describes. "Silly, but very shy. I liked to tell jokes even though language was a giant barrier. I traveled to four different cities in Venezuela, and one location was at a truck stop. I walked around in a Holly Hobbie-style gingham dress with a name tag on. When I got home from the mission, after a year-and-a-half of knocking on people's doors and convincing strangers to join our church, it felt more natural to perform."
Her first taste of the comedy spotlight happened while she was a student at Toronto's Ryerson University Radio and Television Arts program.
"Some friends and I dared each other to try stand-up at an open mic night," she recalls. "It was really terrifying, but I had to, and afterwards, I wasn't satisfied unless I was on stage. My 20s were very much me going out on open mic nights and performing for free. I will flat out say that I wasn't good. I didn't even tell jokes, just cute stories. It was a great time, though, and I was following my heart. I wanted to express myself."
During those early comedy days, she also started to drift away from her Mormon upbringing.
"I was meeting a lot of comedians and I knew it wasn't the kind of environment for religious people, hanging out at bars. I was on a different path and making friends with people who were gay, and realizing that they weren't necessarily welcome in the way straight people were. I started questioning the whole thing."
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