“We decided to do a play – first we were gonna do a Frank Sinatra/Sammy Davis, Jr. type thing and have Frank Sinatra as Hitler, because we all watched the Rat Pack special and we were like, ‘Jeez, he’s like Hitler. He yells at everybody,’ but we changed our minds and wound up doing a show where we were playing Aryans who rewrote the story of Christmas. Three of us are Jews, so it’s kinda funny that we did that.
“But it was about two Nazis who got lost in the middle of nowhere and they see a light and so they bomb it. And it’s Santa’s workshop. So they’re freaking out because they realize who’s gonna bring all the toys to the good Aryan kids. And the toys are destroyed. At the same time my husband and I were Jews and we were in a concentration camp. I couldn’t talk because I’d had shock treatment, and he didn’t have arms. The Nazis make us make the toys. Then they shoot me. Mrs. Claus was on mushrooms, and they made my husband snort the cocaine that made the reindeer fly. They made him snort it so he could fly and give all the toys out. And that’s the story of Christmas.”
Actually that is the plot of the “National Socialist Cocktail Hour Christmas Pageant,” written by Andy Fisher and performed by the “Only Ninety Percent Effective” theater troupe, of which Jessica Schwartz was a part before it disbanded in 1999. The weirdness that most of us only experience in dreams after we’ve had chili for supper is commonplace in Jessy’s daily and artistic life. As an actress and comic, she surrounds herself with creative people who realize that the antidote to the suffocating political correctness that hangs foul in the air is laughter. And if that laughter is earned at the price of violating a few taboos, well, so much the
Schwartz, who grew up in Round Rock, took to performing early, appearing on “Romper Room” and acting in school plays, but things really came together when she was in college. She and a friend attended an audition for extras for the John Travolta movie, “Michael.” During the wait they decided to play improv games and the friend was impressed enough to invite Schwartz to audition for her improv troupe, Only Ninety Percent Effective. Two days after that Schwartz was put in the show.
“We [Only Ninety Percent Effective] were very offensive. We tried to offend everyone we could. In ‘A Family For Ray-Ray,’ the premise was that we bought a baby on the Drag because we thought the troupe was gonna break up and we wanted to keep the troupe together. It was our very first sketch show.The baby was the thing that held the sketches together. And eventually we had to let him go. ‘Fly, Little Ray-Ray, Fly’— that was our last song. He was on a fishing line. Our stagehand had a cigarette in his hand. Audiences need to be ready for anything and if they’re not, then they walk out. And if they’re not and they realize that they are, then it’s good, because they’re like, ‘Oh, wow!’
“Andy Fisher and Leon Mandel do this thing called ‘Delirium,’ and they stay up 24 hours and they do an improv show and they get ideas to do a short. So they show the short before the show and then they do the show and get more ideas for the next one. They also do a show called ‘Poon.’I was in the last one, ‘Poon 3-D.’ My father will not be happy to know this, but I roller-skated without my top on, as a favor — I stress that — as a favor.They put me on roller-skates because they knew I did not feel comfortable trying to be sexy, because all the other girls were once strippers in their lifetime, and I’m not, so I get up there, and the whole time I’m just worried about staying up.
“The last play that I did was called ‘The Eight Reindeer Monologues’ [as Vixen the reindeer]. The reindeer had monologues about what happened. Vixen was raped by Santa. Vixen was a kind of serious, dark part, but there were comedic times.
“Donner is Rudolph’s dad. The reason why he and Rudolph were involved with the Christmas run was because Santa had a thing for Rudolph. And being part of The Eight is a big deal, and Rudolph is basically a deformed, retarded reindeer, so Donner wanted the best for his kid and so he let Santa do whatever he wanted.
“Prancer, otherwise known as ‘Hollywood,’ wrote a movie – ‘Prancer’ – they changed it completely. He was really pissed off about that. He wanted to get into the film industry. And he thought that the Rudolph movie was just awful, the Claymation sucked, all the reindeer looked like Donner because Donner is Rudolph’s dad. The whole play was really funny. I actually had to be very sexy, so I got over my whole sexy thing. It was a real change.”
Currently she’s working with feminist theater troupe Viva La Vulva on a murder mystery called “Sometimes Dead Truckers Are Naked.”
Jessy Schwartz has the tiny frame of a child, the riveting presence of a born monologist and the social skills of an old-time ward boss. Indeed, during a recent two-and-a-half hour conversation at Spider House, it seemed as if no more than ten minutes would pass before she’d be greeted by yet another of her friends and colleagues.
In 1997 Schwartz landed the role of stalker Becki Rae in MTV’s “Austin Stories.” “I called Laura [House] a bitch and a whore, sent her black roses and roll-papered her house and put ‘Satin 666’ instead of ‘Satan’ on her car. See, I thought my boyfriend was cheating on me with her.”
She has also appeared in independent films, including “Wrong Numbers,” which was an entry at the 2001 Austin Film Festival. In “Radio Free Steve,” which also made the festival circuit, she played Sheena, the main character’s girlfriend. “He kidnaps me and makes me go on this road trip and the whole time I’m bitching at him, miserable. We go from Austin to Los Angeles. We went to White Sands.I had a crossbow in my hand and the sheriff lady came out and she said that if I’d picked up the crossbow she would’ve shot me. It was really dangerous. We weren’t supposed to be filming there.”
In “Death For Sale” she played another stalker, a groupie obsessed with a rock star. In “Balloon Fish” she played Aunt Mida, whose nephew hangs out with a girl who has special powers. “It was the most obnoxious part. I was complete white trash, laying up on a roof, sun tanning in a tube top. It was just so nasty. And the whole time I was in character because the kids would not listen and I would yell at them.
“I did this thing called ‘I – Witness’ and it’s this murder-type thing on the Internet. You get to watch these episodes and I played this Russian prostitute, where there are three Russian prostitutes in Russia and one of us killed somebody, and you can watch and try and play along. It was done with a 360 camera. It can zoom in and move around so that you’re watching whatever one character is doing.”
Her most recent film role was as Kendra in “Insignificant Other.”
“It was originally a ‘Sex in the City’ spec script, but then the writer took it and changed it to a feature length.”
Currently she’s helping develop the film “Waiting for Superman.”
“Heather Kafka wrote it and she’s going to direct it. Really great script. We’re still looking for investors. We’ve got enough money to make the trailer, but we want Vincent Gallo and Tom Waits and Lukas Haas in it. The premise is there’s three friends and one of them tells the other two that he heard that Vincent Gallo is a superhero, so Vincent got sent this superhero costume and he puts it on and he can’t get it off. Vincent Gallo hasn’t committed yet.”
Schwartz has also done extensive voice-over work, most notably in Japanese Anime.
“Most of my voices are little girl voices, although as Canal in ‘Lost Universe’ I am a computer, I am a hologram, so I had a lot of voices. I did a chicken voice, a Glenda the Good Witch-type voice, an old lady, a French man. Apparently there’s a large fan base for my voice in Syracuse, New York, because every time I go [to the studio] they’re like, ‘Oh, we’ve got e-mails from New York!’
“It’s hard work, because you have to get it in at the right time, you have to pause at the right time. Whoever writes it, it might be 26 flaps [movements of the animated character’s mouth] for one thing and they write it for like 17. And you’ve got nine extra flaps where you’ve got to figure out what to say, and so we rewrite. The Japanese don’t care, but people here wanna make it look good, so they’ll get good reviews so that people will buy them.
“I think I’m trying to do things that I’m not comfortable with so I can get over it. When I was doing improv I thought I could never do stand-up. I did stand-up, so I got over that.
“In my stand-up I do a character. Her name is Tassy Madison; she’s a six-year-old beauty pageant contestant. It’s really creepy. She’s from East Texas and her dad’s real into it and she talks about the good and bad things about being in beauty pageants. She does the talent competition – I do a tap dance to ‘Spinal Meningitis’ by Ween, which is just creepy to begin with. I haven’t done just straight up stand-up. It’s always much easier to be someone else when you’re up there because if you’re bombing you don’t care.”
So the big question has got to be, are either of the coasts beckoning to Jessy Schwartz?
“I keep on saying that I’m gonna move, but I don’t know where. I went to LA for a week and realized how awful it was. They want you to change. There’s so many people out there and they’re all beautiful, and I don’t know how well I’d fit in New York. Here I think my chances of getting cast in something are a lot better than if I moved because the casting directors know me or recognize me.
“I realize I fall into the character actress category, which is fine. I don’t really care about people knowing my name, I just want to be able to work and do good stuff and not be stuck in the same character. It’s tough to get out there. There’s so many good actors out there. I think a lot of it depends on being at the right place at the right time.”
Jessy squints her eyes closed, then opens them widely and slowly.
“I’m exhausted, because I just got out of an audition for a beer commercial. I had to country-western dance. My agent called me and said, ‘Can you country-western dance?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, of course,’ because that’s what you tell your agent.
“So I went to the Broken Spoke on Saturday to learn, and I guess this is my second day of dancing, and for some reason they considered me a strong dancer and people were throwing me in the air and catching me. It was a lot of fun, but I probably won’t get the part. I thought when you think of Texas and beer you don’t think of a tiny redhead. You think of blonde hair, big boobs…. So we’ll see. Maybe they’ll want variety, someone they can throw in the air.”