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'Pause with Sam Jay' Is Thankfully Unlike Anything Else On TV

The late-night HBO show uses deep discussions, unconventional interviews and wildly entertaining sketches to help people come together.

Sam Jay at brunch talking with friends
On HBO's Pause with Sam Jay, the writer and standup comic explores divisive topics in the hopes of understanding people better.
HBO

This story is part of I'm So Obsessed (subscribe here), our podcast featuring interviews with actors, artists, celebrities and creative types about their work, career and current obsessions.

Standup comic and Emmy-nominated Saturday Night Live writer Sam Jay is gifted with the ability to speak to nearly anyone about anything, a talent that's on full display in her variety talk show Pause with Sam Jay on HBO. But you won't find Jay sitting behind a desk, performing a monologue of jokes or interviewing celebrity guests. Instead she hosts a house party full of friends and family members, and over the course of a few drinks and a lot of laughter, a playful and passionate discussion emerges on a cultural topic that's usually divisive.

But Pause with Sam Jay isn't simply a house party with someone else's friends. Instead, Jay and Pause's co-creator Prentice Penny, the showrunner for Insecure, takes those intimate discussions and blows them up into sketches and interviews with people, many of whom don't see eye-to-eye with her. Each episode is based on a single topic. For example, in the premiere episode of season 2, Jay explores the issue of homosexuality and how to make it more intersectional.

On CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast, Jay explains how the point of the show isn't to solve the world's problems or even the issues that she raises. It's all about finding a deeper understanding for other people.

"When we were building the show, and thinking about a show philosophy, that was one of the philosophies of the show," said Jay. "We're not here to shame you for your opinion or tell you your opinion is incorrect. We're just out here to see what opinions are out there and try to start the conversation, not finish it."

The show can swing between being provocative, hysterical and wildly entertaining. It's amazing to watch Jay balance being sincere and genuine while being absolutely funny. She's also able to be compassionate, like when she interviewed a young conservative Black Republican who publicly comes out to her. The moment is surprising and touching. Jay breaks the formality of the interview to stand up and hug her. 

"I just felt like, 'Oh my god, she's so young. And this is probably so scary," said Jay. "It seemed like the first time she was really saying it. So I was shocked. But also being a woman, and I know how scary it probably was for her. And I just didn't want her to feel alone in that moment. Or on the spot."

Listen to my full conversation with Jay in the podcast player above. During our conversation, Jay shares what it was like coaching a naked basketball game, how she's excited about doing more standup and Lord of the Rings.

"I just watched Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring. My girl had never seen any of them. We watched the whole thing, but she was very stressed out about the Hobbit feet. It was a big concern for her mid-movie. She was like, Are they ever going to get shoes?' And I was like, 'No,'" said Jay.  "She couldn't handle it. The lack of shoes really bothered her."

New episodes of Pause with Sam Jay air Fridays on HBO and HBO Max. Subscribe to I'm So Obsessed on your favorite podcast app. In each episode, Connie Guglielmo or I catch up with an artist, actor or creator to learn about their work, career and current obsessions.