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Meet Trailblazer Jeneta St. Clair

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeneta St. Clair.

Jeneta, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
At age seven, I left a note in my parent’s bathroom. “I want to be a SINGER, ACTOR, DANCER.”

I grew up in a funny family. The 6 of us were always cracking jokes at dinner and teasing my parents. My dad was the theater director at the Lutheran High School in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and I grew up around entertainers. I’m the youngest of 4 kids and his rehearsals were our “after school program.”

These weren’t your average little theater productions, they were an event, built from the ground up, and I lived for every moment. From the makeup to the stunts, the set design and the rehearsals. I knew this is where I belonged.

My dad would cast all four of us kids as different parts in his plays. My first “gig” was at age 2. I was in ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ {an LHS production} and crushed the role. Everyone said, “Jeneta’s a star!” – “It looked like she was really crying!”

I was. I was 2. I was method.

My sister was the oldest and my idol. She is a well-rounded creative; a talented actor, visual artist, and she writes such imaginative, beautiful stories. I would sit and watch her in awe, follow her around the house, and beg to hang out with her friends. She had such eccentric style and I would always steal her clothes. To this day, my style is where I feel most free and confident and I attribute that to her. When I would watch her perform in these plays that my dad put on, it solidified my dreams of being an actor.

I was 12 when we left Wisconsin and moved to Indiana. Being in the plays at school wasn’t as “cool,” and I fell into that bubble of wanting to fit in. I did a few parts here and there, got into the JOHN ROBERT POWERS trap and did some “mannequin modeling” in the shopping mall display window. #hardbrag Eventually, I got to a point where I was more focused on boys, friends, partying and sports.

This is the part in my story where things started to get dark and cloudy. At 14, I overdosed and was on suicide watch for four days. By 15, I was being slut-shamed in school, false pregnancy rumors started and was pushed out of our Lutheran Church where I had gone for 7th & 8th grade. We never really talked about these traumas in my family and things quickly got swept under the rug. I continued to rebel and party, but I also started to find joy in cracking jokes and playing characters in front of class, which eventually led me back to the theater.

My senior year, I got cast as the lead, ‘Lizzie Borden,’ in the school play. This role gave me the confidence to know I could really do this acting thing… until the spring musical came around and I didn’t get cast (still a major mistake on casting’s part). I was heartbroken and angry. I was 17, had not applied to any colleges because all I wanted was to move out to California and pursue acting. I went to California to look at schools and nothing really resonated. Coming back to Indiana, discouraged, my dad suggested my sister and I go with him to New Orleans to help clean up after Hurricane Katrina. My sister and I went to Goodwill, bought some silly construction outfits (high-waisted “mom jeans” that I now wish I had held on to) and we headed South. This trip partly attributed to the kind of woman I would turn into. I am so grateful for this experience because it got me out of self and showed me that not getting cast in “GODSPELL” was not the end of the world (even if the world was still robbed of the performance I could have given as Peggy). When we got back, I got a letter in the mail about a conservatory program in LA called AMDA. I worked my ass off, audition in Chicago and got in!

In 2007, I moved to Los Angeles to go to the American Musical & Dramatic Academy. I can’t begin to describe how incredible this moment was for me. This was a HUGE dream come true.

After finishing my first semester, I moved back to Indiana for a year. *Side note story that I am not gonna get into too much: I was in a toxic, abusive and gas-lighting relationship with a sociopath con-artist. I don’t use those words flippantly* 2008 was a very dark year for me that changed the whole trajectory of who I am as a person.

When I got out of that relationship, I was able to re-enroll at AMDA and continue to pursue my dreams in Los Angeles. My favorite classes were film and production, and improv comedy. I loved being on set; I loved being funny.

I did a lot of independent films shortly after graduating. On the set of one of my first movies, a fellow actor said to me, “You’re really funny – you should join my friends sketch comedy group.” I auditioned and got into Straitjacket Society and was part of another funny family. My foundation was building in this town and I was more at home in that theater on Santa Monica Blvd. than I ever was in Indiana.

We put on weekly shows with original material. I learned how to write jokes, create story-lines and characters. I grew in this group as a comedian, performer, actor, writer, producer and director. I served as the Artistic Director of the company for its final two years. I found my team in this group and we started a web series, won festivals, went on general meetings with executives and traveled to San Francisco for SketchFest two years in a row. I look back at this time as what really shaped me into the performer I am today.

A little over two years ago, my final bottom happened. A series of unfortunate events led me to a real personal and spiritual awakening. I got clean and sober, I started trauma therapy and finally did the self-work that I had needed to do for decades. From this new self-worth came the courage and strength to finally start stand up comedy. I always wanted to try it but thought I wasn’t funny enough or a strong enough writer to make people laugh. I was wrong.

Back in December of 2018, still sober and working a bartending gig, I said in a women’s entrepreneurial group [Hollywood Women’s Collective], “I want to find a way to combine my love of humanitarian work and comedy.” While I continue to grow both personally and professionally, I got hired at an amazing company called Laughter On Call bringing laughter to those who need it most. I am the Director of Operations, Producer and Comedian for this incredible company and couldn’t ask for a better gig.

I am following my dreams, working a dream job and continuing to heal and help others. Not bad for 30.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The road to get where I am today has been far from smooth. I’ve had to get brutally honest with myself and ask for help. Two things that didn’t come naturally to me. I had to take responsibility for my actions and really figure out what this “self-love” bullshit was all about. I say bullshit because I didn’t believe that taking care of myself held any value. I come from a world of giving back to others first before even thinking about your own needs. Helping others is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give, but I’ve learned that I need to fill up my own well before being able to help someone else.

“You can’t give what you haven’t got” – someone said that.

I was told (as I am sure many women in this town have been) that if I lost 10lbs then I would be more likely to “get the lead role” (I was about 115lbs at 5’7″). I lost a part because of a “flipped coin.” I’ve been told I was a drama queen on set and hard to work with because I told the producers that I wasn’t going to do excessive nudity outside of my contract. I have been sexually assaulted by a director in a casting office in his back house… and worked for him for a year after that. I was in a horribly abusive relationship that almost killed me. I suffer from PTSD and night terrors. I was told that I need to look less pretty in order to be funny and taken seriously.

I learned from every moment and used my story to help others through my comedy and my work. I am empowered, strong, empathetic, loyal, gracious, kind, charming and funnier because of all of this. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without these experiences. I don’t regret the past and I won’t shut the door on it.

I won’t give advice, but I’ll make a few suggestions…

– Ask for help from someone you trust.
– Check in with yourself before making any decisions. The answer is in your body.
– Be patient. There is plenty of time.
– If you’re confused, you don’t have the answer yet.
– No. Is a complete sentence.
– There is no ‘perfect’ and no ‘forever’.
– You are enough.

“Dreams can come true, you know!” – Mary Katherine Gallagher (aka Molly Shannon ‘Superstar’)

Please tell us more about your work. What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of as a company? What sets you apart from others?
I perform stand-up comedy in clubs and shows all across Los Angeles. I recently got back from SF SketchFest 2020 and am currently producing/performing in a monthly show at Bar Lubitsch in West Hollywood called “The Out Crowd” (first Monday of every month @ 8pm). *hold for COVID’s ass* I’m prepping to hit the road this year and am in the early stages of creating a project based on my own story and experiences and other female and non-binary people’s experiences working in comedy.

While I continue to grow in my own comedy career, I am also the Director of Operations, Producer and Comedian for an inspiring company called Laughter On Call: We bring comedians and comedians tools to those who need to laugh most. From Alzheimer’s to depression to Parkinson’s, our compassionate comedians create shared laughter, connection and relief to those suffering and their caregivers. I couldn’t ask for a better “day job”. My boss is an incredible, inspiring mentor to me. She endlessly supports and encourages me to fulfill my dreams and ambitions.

I’m most proud of my resilience and drive to continue growing and learning in this industry. I’ve been in LA for almost 13 years, and I still love acting, producing, writing, and performing comedy.

What sets me apart is that I don’t want to be apart. I love collaborating with driven, talented, funny, and kind people. It’s actually a rule I have for our comedy show…”They have to be hard working, funny, and kind people.” I have been in LA long enough and have built a strong foundation of compassionate peers/friends around me that I’m able to choose to only work with like-minded people. I am very grateful for all the bozos in my life.

I tattooed “humanity” on my arm during my first year of sobriety and “fuck that noise” in my second. I think those two tattoos about sum me up.

Finding a mentor and building a network are often cited in studies as a major factor impacting one’s success. Do you have any advice or lessons to share regarding finding a mentor or networking in general?
Working on myself has attracted beautiful people into my life. I would say to trust your gut. I believe in kinetic energy and can feel from an email or quick interaction, who someone is and if we will work well together. For me, I only want to surround myself with driven people looking for solution. I do my best to be hard-working, kind, gracious, and make people laugh. If I come from that place of being grounded and confident in who I am and what I stand for, people will notice. I refuse to believe that everything and everyone sucks and that there are only bad people in this tough entertainment industry. Reach out, smile at people, compliment their work, be kind, be on time, be a professional, be grateful, show up, and do the work. Give yourself a break…that is one I need to figure out how to be better about. I pride myself in how hard I work but need to calm down sometimes. You can only do your best and that’s the best you can do!

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. — Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou

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Image Credit:
Logan Fahey, Josh Fingerhut, Noah Eberhart, Matty Sims, Linse Studios – MK McG

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