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  • Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTVthe place to be to create a business

  • and life you love.

  • And I have to say, today you are in for such a treat because my guest is truly a creative

  • genius.

  •   Sarah Jones is a Tony and Obie award winning

  • playwright and performer, best known for her multi character, one-woman shows.

  • Called a “master of the genreby the New York Times, Sarah’s work is celebrated

  • for its humanitarian approach to character and story through the lens of multiculturalism.

  •   The daughter of two physicians and the product

  • of a multiracial, multi-ethnic family and community, she was interested from an early

  • age in both the welfare and cultural backgrounds of her diverse relatives, neighbors, and friends.

  • She’s a regular guest on public radio and has appeared on Charlie Rose, the Today Show,

  • CBS Sunday Morning, and Sesame Street, as well as in her own special, the Sarah Jones

  • Show on Bravo.

  • Her three multi-character TED talks have received millions of views and she’s currently developing

  • new multimedia projects based on her characters.

  •   Sarah, I’m so excited to have you here!

  •   Yay!

  •   I can’t take it.

  • I know we were just talking off camera, this is like the most exciting thing.

  • I’ve admired you for so long.

  • I told everyone like you are about to witness a creative genius and I am just thrilled that

  • you took the time to be here with us today.

  •   I’m so happy to be here, and the feeling

  • is mutual.

  • The admiration is mutually long.

  • It’s good.

  • I’m so happy to be here.

  •   So let’s take it back to the cornerstone

  • of your work, which is really –  a piece of it is about being culturally inquisitive.

  • And through your wide array of characters you morph across gender and age and ethnic

  • barriers.

  • Can you share how this all began?

  •   Well, it’s funny.

  • I sort of had no choice in the matter.

  • I was born to a multicultural family.

  • And, you know, on my father’s side theyre African American, a mix of people from the

  • south, there’s some Caribbean roots back there.

  • And then on my mom’s side, my grandmother is Irish American and German American.

  • And we have both Christians and Jews on that side of the family.

  • Yes, we like to say it’s a long story filled with intrigue and interfaith guilt.

  •   And then we had more relatives from the Caribbean

  • from my grandfather.

  • So it’s just this sort ofmy Thanksgiving table growing up looked like, you know, the

  • delegates dining room at the United Nations.

  • It was justin fact, I brought one of the inspiration for my characters is, you

  • know, theyre loosely based on people I really know.

  • But I do change the names to protect the innocent and especially the guilty.

  • But so, you know, picture little me.

  •   And here I would be.

  • Hi, sweetheart.

  • Marie, wonderful to meet you and your friends.

  • Hi, there.

  • And Sarah puts me in her shows, what she calls her one-woman shows.

  • And you know what that means.

  • That means she takes the credit and makes us come out and do all the work.

  • I know you wouldn’t approve of that.

  •   Anyway, so I know you know these relatives

  • of mine, I was sort of marinating in this stew pot of different cultures.

  • And for me it was very normal to identify with somebody who didn't look anything like

  • me.

  • You know, it could be my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, West Indian relatives who talk

  • like this and they're all literally sitting around the same table.

  • So one is saying, “Can you pass the Gefilte?

  • You know, what’s wrong with Thanksgiving Gefilte fish?

  • People are looking at me.”

  •   And the other one, “I don't have a problem

  • with white people in principle, but your food, it is so bland.

  • Youre killing me right now.

  • Youre actually attacking my mouth with this food.”

  • So, you know, it was like this … I don't know.

  • I just was born into like a dialect, you know, palooza.

  • And, again, because for me the family members getting along sort of ran counter to the story

  • I was seeing outside my home.

  • On the news it was race riots and, you know, these people don't get along with these people

  • and they're others and were different.

  • And my experience was the opposite.

  • I mean, we were literally all, you know, had the same blood.

  • So I think I wanted to bridge that gap for myself.

  •   Did you always know that youlike, did

  • you perform as a kid?

  •   You know, I really didn't in a formal way.

  • And I was actually a shy kid.

  • I had a pretty – I’ll call my childhood colorful.

  • It’s a little double meaning there.

  • Bad joke.

  • You know, we had the multi-culti colorful thing on the one side but it was alsoboth

  • my parents were doctors.

  • They were very young when they met.

  • And so it was sort of like being raised by two kids, like kids in lab coats.

  • And we had babysitters, but I had this experience of feeling like I had to be an adult too.

  • Like they weren't home a lot and so I think the characters became sort of like my babysitters.

  • They were a way for me to entertain my sisters at the time.

  •   And I was actually just talking about this

  • with Lily Tomlin, who we both love.

  • She’s a hero of mine and she’s on my new podcast, which well get to talk about later.

  • But we both came by our character performance very similarly, as little kids watching the

  • people around us and wanting to have a place to entertain ourselves.

  • And the characters kind of made me feel safe.

  •   Did you always have such an ability and a

  • skill around the voices?

  • I mean, when I watch you it is miraculous what youre able to do.

  •   Thank you for that question.

  • I feel like with anyone, you know, youve practiced your craft, the ways that youre

  • able to think about, you know, kind of life and business and, you know, connect dots.

  • For me I guess my brain was firing on the sound of my relatives all my life, so my ear

  • was being trained.

  • I’ve heard that it’s akin to music.

  • So it’s sort of like if you grew up in a musical family and youre always hearing

  • a tune and you know how to carry one in perfect pitch.

  • But for me it was always being able to hear the melodies of these different voices, always

  • having the awareness that no matter what the outside world said, we did belong together.

  •   Because I got a lot of, you know, this was

  • before Obama.

  • This was a time of, you know, people seeing me and my mom and they would assume who is

  • this weird white lady with this little black kid?

  • Is she adopted?

  • What’s going on?

  • So my mom jokes that we should write a book calledWere Together.”

  • Like, because people would always say, “Are you together?

  • Are you together?

  • Are you together?”

  • Like they couldn’t put us together.

  • And so I think growing up with that desire to connect, that’s what really fueled the

  • trainingthe unwitting training.

  • It was like I was unwittingly sitting in, you know, hours and hours of repetition of

  • hearing other people’s accents, hearing their stories, and the cultural specificity.

  • And for me, I was just soaking in it and, you know, kind of on record all the time without

  • realizing it.

  •   Yeah.

  • And so what was the first time for you that you did like a public performance withand

  • how many characters happened to…?

  •   There were just a few.

  • We may not have space on the couches between you and me.

  • Were gonna be like a 50 person panel with two chairs.

  •   I love it.

  •   It’s gonna be fine.

  • But I would say the very first one I did in public, like I was doing the thing where I

  • would tell my sisters stories at night and I would be English, I’d play the witch and,

  • What do you think my pretty?

  • I’ll tell you.”

  • And they were like, “Wow.

  • This is really intense.

  • Were just trying to go to bed.”

  • You know.

  •   But then later on in terms of actual public

  • performance, the first time I kind of branched out I was doing something that felt safe.

  • I was doing like a spoken word hip-hop.

  • You know, you talk like this at the mic so that your words have a certain rhythm.

  • You know, like that type of thing.

  • And that was popular in the 90’s.

  •   And then I realized I had these other voices

  • that really wanted to come forth.

  • And I was I afraid.

  • I thought I would look crazy.

  • Again, you know, race stuff is tricky and people would be like, “Why are you talking

  • like a white girl or what’s wrong with you?

  • Youre not Latina.

  • Are you Latina?”

  • And I was like, “Well I’m everything.”

  •   And so I decided to let it be okay to take

  • the risk and experiment with these characters.

  • And the first one I did was a woman who was homeless.

  • Actually, I had seen her, I was going back and forth on the subway, I saw this woman,

  • and I thought, “what would I hear if she could actually share something about herself

  • instead of being this, you know, ignoredthisthingon the side that nobody was paying

  • attention to?”

  • And so I remember kind of watching her and studying her.

  •    

  • And I was doing a performance one night and this, I said, “I’m gonna do this.

  • I’m just gonna see what happens.”

  • She didn't have no teeth on the top and her face all messed up.

  • And the vain part of me, I said, “what if you wanna date somebody who is in this audience?

  • You never gonna get a date again looking like this.”

  • But that’s when I realized if I want to embody these people I have to forget myself

  • and try to give them some space.

  • And that means I might not look pretty for a minute, but I wanted to just imagine what

  • would it look like if she had some time to share who she is?

  •   So that’s what I did.

  • And I imagined she would probably yell at people and say, you know, “you ignore me

  • and I belong here too.”

  • And that’s – I started building this character who gets the ear of a well heeled theater

  • audience who would normally walk past her, you know, as though she’s just a piece of

  • debris on the sidewalk.

  • What would she say to them if she could?

  •   And so that character, and then did you start

  • to just likewas it this creative process of almost seeing someone either out in real

  • life or almost hearing them from within?

  • Or a combination.

  •   Both.

  • You know, Marie, and I think when I talk to people about the process, I love being able

  • to feel that they get it.

  • Even if you don't do this yourself, like were all creative.

  • Right?

  • Everybody watching, you, me, were all born with this innate creativity.

  • And in my case it does happen to come out in the form of feeling into people’s energy.

  •   I remember my sister was dating a guywere

  • from Queens.

  • So, you know.

  • And when I dosometimes I’m English.

  • You know, like there’s a character in my – I have a show calledSell By Date

  • and this character is the lead.

  • I’m the star.

  • Even though as an English person youre not really meant to admit that youre the

  • center of attention.

  • Youre supposed to shrink.

  • But I am the star.

  •   But the thought about that is that, you know,

  • English people, wherever were from, whatever our background, I joke that, you know, I do

  • speak the Queen’s English because I’m from Queens, New York.

  • But we had – I had relatives who talk like this.

  • You know, and like you had to have your nails done, you had your hairbig hair meant

  • something not this, but like something else.

  • And, anyway.

  • And so, you know, Sa.

  • They would call me Sa.

  • Sa, what are you doing?

  • What’s happening?”

  • And my sister was dating this guy who was an electrician who is, you know, kind of a

  • Queens guy, gotta spread my legs out like this.

  • And eventually I start, you know, I would just cobble together like these different

  • guys, these different people.

  •   Sounds like somebody I dated, actually.

  •   You know what?

  • I wasn’t there.

  • So but these guys, you know, it’s easy to stereotype them or to think you know who they

  • are, but I thought these are really multidimensional people and theyre not always the ones who

  • are the stars of our films or who we focus on in the culture.

  • And so I liked the idea of bringing the marginalized voices more to the center and not just as

  • caricatures.

  • We all knowhey, hey, that guy.

  • Yeah, my cousin Vinny.”

  • Nothing wrong with that movie, but the point is, you know, this guy my sister was dating,

  • he was a fully fleshed out human being with thoughts and dreams.

  • And I just thought, especially for me as an obviouslyblack from a distanceappearing

  • woman, what could be more of an interesting exploration than to take his life and see

  • if I could step into his shoes and, you know, maybe paint a more complex portrait of him?

  •   Did you ever in your own experience thinking

  • like, “what am I going to be when I grow up?”

  • Let’s say in that period in our early 20’s when we're all trying to figure out who we

  • are and like how were going to take care of ourselves and where are we going to live?

  • Did you ever struggle inside going like, “Oh, my goodness.

  • I have these incredible gifts.

  • Theyre amazing.

  • I don't really fully understand like how the hell am I gonna make a living doing this?”