15 Minutes With Baroness von Sketch Show’s Jennifer Whalen

Baroness von Sketch Show’s Jennifer Whalen talks women in comedy, dresses with pockets and taking on edgy material.

Jennifer Whalen, The Baroness von Sketch ShowPhoto: CBC

In Conversation With Jennifer Whalen of CBC’s Baroness von Sketch Show

Reader’s Digest Canada: Your show is a sketch-comedy series starring four female comedians over 40—a double rarity. Given our cultural obsession with youth, how big of a deal is this?

Jennifer Whalen: It’s huge. For a woman, you have this idea when you’re young that you can be whatever you want. But then puberty hits and you realize that a lot of your value is tied to what you look like. As you get older, that calms down, but then you don’t have a place in our society anymore. It’s such a waste. The minute I hit 40, I was just a smarter, better version of myself. There’s also the fact that some men don’t see women as fully human, and here’s a show where women are fully realized people with their own agendas. I think that’s important.

What does each of the Baronesses bring to the group that’s unique?

We all come with a slightly different point of view: Meredith is a single mom; Aurora has a partner and an eight-year-old; Carolyn is living the fabulous queer life; and I have a partner and a stepson. It’s like a band where we each play our own instrument, but then when we come together, the sound is greater than our individual parts.

What’s an example of a sketch that is “so Jenn”?

There’s one based on how I had gone out and bought a bunch of new summer dresses. Any time someone would compliment me, I would say, “Thanks. And it’s got pockets.” One of our writers wrote something about that and then, later, I was out shopping with Aurora and I actually said the line. She was like, “You know you just did a sketch about that.”

Have you always been funny? Did you grow up making everyone around you laugh?

At home, yes, but I was very shy at school. I was never the class clown. I was the kid who sat next to that kid and got them to say something that would get them a big laugh and then get them in trouble and moved to another seat. I used a rotating cast of kids so my teachers never realized it was me. (Wish you could master the art of telling a joke? Check out these tips on how to be a funnier person.)

The last couple of years have been doozies in terms of depressing headlines. Does something like a Trump presidency or all the #MeToo stories make it easier or harder to be funny?

I would say that it just informs what we talk about—because of a movement like #MeToo, we can touch on difficult things. In Season 3, we had a sketch that Meredith wrote about the backlog of untested rape kits, which was an issue written about in The Globe and Mail. That’s a tricky topic to make funny, but because we’re all having those conversations, it gives us permission to go there.

Vogue called the Baronesses the “best thing to come out of Canada since Ryan Gosling.” How did that feel?

That was pretty exciting. Ryan, if you’re reading this, come and do the show. We have this sketch called “Middle-Aged Lady Make-Out Pile.” How can you say no?

The Baroness von Sketch Show airs on CBC.

Can’t get enough Canadian humour? Don’t miss our chats with Dan Levy, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Rick Mercer.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada