“Every Laugh Is Earned” Jann Arden Talks ‘Jann’
Canadian TV comedy is having a moment in the sun. Hopefully, an extended moment with hit TV shows like Letterkenny, Schitt’s Creek, and now, Jann gracing screens outside their homeland. We spoke to Jann Arden, the Canadian country singer turned showrunner about creating a TV about a fictionalized television version of herself – and how different the two Janns on either side of the screen really are.
“For one thing, I’m a real singer/song-writer,” explained Jann (the real one). “I’m using a catalog of my own music. I have a mother with dementia, like my TV character,” she continued. TV Jann, the highly narcissistic, eponymous character is the antithesis of the real Jann Arden. “Jann (the TV character) is oblivious to the realities of life and lost in her own world. Her dating is all over the place. And it’s difficult to watch her constantly let down so many people,” continued Arden. The tightrope of creating such an engaging flawed character puts a refreshing and entertaining spin on Jann.
A flawed character can only appeal to audiences if she’s vulnerable, relatable, and (occasionally) seeks redemption while trying to stage a career comeback. The show is also filled with many musical interludes which adds a a new dimension to Jann by allowing Arden to do what she loves best – singing on stage while she’s acting.
As the creator of the TV series, Jann Arden isn’t keen on putting her style of comedy in a box. “It’s a physical and character comedy,” she quipped. More importantly, “Any successful kind of comedy has to be driven by pathos.” Arden paused for a moment and reconsidered whether Jann is actually a TV comedy in the traditional sense. “Jann is actually quite dark and shot more like a drama than a comedy using a single camera technique.”
“Jann doesn’t have a laugh track. Every laugh on the show is earned. Some moments are gut-wrenching and sad. They are earned as well.” The audience has to invest in these characters rather than simply laugh at a gag. Sometimes the laughs come at Jann’s expense because she’s failing so miserably. “We find a balance where the viewer is somehow cheering for Jann to find redemption and a way out of the conundrums she has created for herself.”
In every episode there’s a “hint of a moment” where Jann understands there’s a lesson to be learned after causing somebody else pain. Much of Jann’s redemption hinges off her mother, Nora (Deborah Grover). Nora is in the early stages of memory loss (possibly dementia) and she’s being punted between Jann and her sister Max (Zoe Palmer). “Within that setup, the audience feels bad for what Jann’s family is going through, even though she doesn’t really know what to do.” TV Jann isn’t completely unaware of the situation, but she chooses to avoid it.
Jann also has a string of failed romances – mainly through her own fault. “The writers on the show have done a great job of making the audience cheer for me after I’ve been dumped despite my narcissism.”
Despite the TV series tracking a fictional representation of Jann, the real Jann Arden is adamant that “TV Jann” is “nothing like her,” in real life. The actual singer/actress finds portraying an alternate TV version of herself very interesting, despite the abundant cringe-worthy moments. “I’m constantly shaking my head at the what the TV version of me does. I’m not a daredevil in real life. I’m cautious in my personal dating life and I’m very private.” This is in sharp contrast to TV Jann who is gregarious, far too open, and crashes into every room she enters without caring what people think. The real Jann Arden confessed that she’s slightly envious of some of these ostentatious traits.
“In some respects, I find my altar ego very liberating. I never want to be contentious. I don’t want to fight with people. TV Jann is ready fight all the time on her terms whether she’s right or wrong. She’s cavalier and intrepid.” Despite the litany of TV Jann’s dubious traits, she’s still a fun person to be around. “TV Jann doesn’t mean to be a bad person. She’s just naïve and immature. Despite her glaring faults, she’s generous and lovable.” TV Jann would rather throw money at a problem than solve it. “She plows though life which is both endearing and inspiring. Beneath her bluster, she can still can be hurt.”
The real Jann Arden still maintains that her and TV Jann are nothing alike. “I draw on my director, Ron Murphy to guide me through the acting process so I can be convincing and finding that tenderness because I don’t have an acting background.”
The TV Writers’ Room
Despite not being a profesionally trained actor or TV writer, Arden’s house doubles as the show’s TV writers’ room which is more like a live-in retreat than an office. “Everybody sleeps here and I cook food.” Although, she’s involved in breaking the episodes and the seasons of Jann with her team, she doesn’t actually write any scripts.
Jann is broken into eight large bricks (episodes) per season. “We lay those bricks in a row and decide where and how they will drop into the overall season story.” As an example, she cites the end of season two where Jann’s marriage proposal was declined. What’s happening now? “We walk through the big moving parts. Who’s entering the scene and what are they doing?”
In another episode, there were dream sequences, so scenes alternated between Jann’s sleep and wakefulness. “Jann nodded off and entered an alternate reality.”
The “bricks” are then broken into acts and individual scenes. “All those motions are assigned to the five TV writers on the show. The main writers (and co-creators) are Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier.” The team is rounded out with three other writers – Jason Filiatrault, Nelu Handa, and Mike McPhaden.
The team reconvenes around ten days later to read through each script and critiques them. After they collectively decide what changes are required, they go away again to rewrite them. Arden also noted the numerous notes, particularly legal clearances from the network.
The key to creating a successful TV comedy series is for the TV writers to really understand Jann’s character as well as the rhythm and the beats of the show. There aren’t too many outlandish ideas in the writers’ room because the head writers have already done the heavy lifting and decided on the big motions and storylines of the show. “The other writers simply do the detailing and flesh out the story.”
Arden makes no claim to being a TV writer. “I’m not a screenwriter, I have no concept of it, but I know what I want.“
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