Jenna Kim Jones' first attempt at stand-up comedy was at a Mormon young single adults activity.
A comedy writer living in New York City, Jones had been "itching" to get on stage — any stage — and try out the jokes she'd been writing. Known at church as "kind of a ham," Jones was asked to emcee an activity for her local congregation and set aside 10 minutes to try out her fledgling act.
She "totally bombed."
"It was so painful," Jones said. "It was so bad."
And she couldn't wait to try it again.
"I don't think anybody starts out good at stand-up," said Jones, who grew up in Utah before attending NYU. "But there is some drive that gets in you."
These days, Jones performs a couple of times a week at New York clubs. She's been the opening act for well-known comic Jim Gaffigan. And this week, she returns to Utah to headline four shows at Wiseguys at Trolley Square on Dec. 30-31.
Clearly, she's found some jokes that work.
Stand-up comedy was never on Jones' radar as a realistic option — not when she was performing at Lagoon amusement park one summer; not when she pursued a self-created television/comedy writing major at NYU; and not while working as an intern at the "Late Show with David Letterman."
But after joining Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," where she currently works, Jones went to see some of her colleagues perform stand-up. As she watched the show, she thought, "I think I can do this."
What followed was the disaster at the singles ward activity — and several bombs after that, she says — but eventually, things clicked.
"It all just kind of worked out into what I wanted to do," Jones said. "My brain just did this switch on stage one day."
Confidence came when Jones realized she was in control of what she was saying on stage.
She acknowledges that not all her jokes work, but she loves what she's doing.
"Now I bomb and I don't care," she said.
What she chooses to talk about on stage isn't conventional comedic fare these days. If nothing else, Jones stands apart because she keeps her act clean. She describes her jokes as lighthearted, silly and observational. Jones talks about food, dating, and her nieces and nephews, which she says number about a billion.
Jones, who is LDS, says Mormon and Utah humor is easier to perform in her home state, for obvious reasons. When New York audiences find out she's a Mormon, that's often all they want to hear about. At those times, she'll say something like, "I have a couple of friends that I can call."
"There comes a point where I don't want to be a Mormon comic, but a comic who is Mormon," she said.
Jones is sometimes taken aback when she's asked questions like, "When did you get funny?" Or when people want her to tell jokes on the spot. It's like asking an accountant to "do some math," she says.
"Stand-up is quite calculated," Jones said. "When I'm on stage, I'm an exaggerated version of myself."
Many stand-up comedians are actually quite introverted, Jones says. That doesn't necessarily describe her, but while she loves being on stage, she also loves being alone.
"I'm not in performance mode all of the time," she said. "I (also) like to be at home in my sweats eating chips."
If you go ...
What: Jenna Kim Jones
When: Dec. 30-31
Where: Wiseguys Trolley Square, 505 S. 600 East