As I Used to Be Funny is released, Rachel Sennott discusses playing a ‘traumatized but incredibly funny’ stand-up comedian struggling with PTSD, and the role of humor in it. dark times

For all the convenience that technology promises, all too often the intended benefit fails and becomes an interference. As comedian cum au pair Sam in I used to be funnythe feature debut of Canadian filmmaker Ally Pankiw, Rachel Sennott is asked to navigate such an episode when Brooke, the recently grieving teenager she cares for, complains about her phone: every time she goes to take a photo, it pulls up a photo montage that compounds her grief. “The feature is terrible and adds numbers. It’s not good,” Sam agrees, quickly shifting the conversation to Brooke’s selfie game. Tender and familiar, the scene deftly encapsulates the film’s idiosyncratic charms, combining deep psychological trauma with sharp, Gen-Z-coded sarcasm.

Of course, sharp, Gen Z-coded sarcasm is what Sennott is naturally. “This is the Verizon commercial,” she types over the text as a series of technical glitches invades our Zoom call, her pained sentiment punctuated by a semi-ironic crying emoji. It’s just after 10am in her LA office and she’s just returned from the East Coast, having been up since 5am, enthusiastically announcing that she’s ‘ready to go’ before an unreliable connection interrupts us. When the conversation resumes, the actress, via FaceTime, has traded in her standing desk for a treadmill that will look familiar to her fans. TikTok. “I can’t sit for long, I get really nervous,” she offers.

Away from social media—where her Twitter posts marked her as a distinctive new voice in American comedy—Sennott’s standout performances include a rich array of feature pictures, such as Shiva baby, Bodies Bodies Bodies And Bottomswith whom she wrote together Shiva baby director Emma Seligman, and who coincidentally debuted together with I used to be funny at SXSW in 2023. She developed two series, Ayo and Rachel are single And Enter the stageof The bear star Ayo Edebiri for Comedy Central, and more recently the actress played the leader of Charli XCX’s “new hot internet girl” group in the iconic 360 video. Within hours of our call, casting for her upcoming HBO pilot came online, with Jordan Firstman and Odessa A’Zion both starring.

As in Sam I used to be funny, Sennott is “traumatized but wildly funny” and plays Brooke’s au pair of two years and an up-and-coming name on Toronto’s comedy scene. Or she was: the film zigzags between the past and the present, with present-day Sam barely able to get out of bed due to a completely disturbing event revealed in the film’s third act. “Ally sent me the script, I read it and loved it,” the actress recalls. “It was really beautiful, capturing the messy and nuanced way trauma and PTSD manifest. When she spoke to Ally, her take was, “I don’t want to make it black and white, because it’s so much more complicated than that.” I had never seen that before, so I really wanted to be there.”

Through its time-hopping structure, the film focuses on the very real idea that “healing” is rarely, if ever, linear. Sharply rejecting the revenge trope, Sam – along with her comedian housemates, played by Caleb Hearon and Sabrina Jalees – finds herself in this complex emotional state, cracking somber one-liners about ACAB, SEO and, when Brooke disappears, her missing poster. “It’s a fine line, you don’t want to go too much in one direction,” she notes about finding this balance. “Ally was my guiding light, but for me a lot of humor also comes from dark moments in my life – then you have to be very funny and make yourself laugh. And then (on set) Caleb and Sabrina brought so much joy and cracked me up. There’s a really funny picture somewhere, where I’m crying in the corner and they’re standing out front laughing. It’s hilarious.”

On screen, Sam can just make it into the green room of their local comedy club, while clips of her old self performing are interspersed throughout the film. “We made it so that it felt personal to me and I could get into the groove of it,” explains Sennott, who put the material to the test IRL and signed up for shows in the role of Sam. “I was still doing stand-up at the time, so it was cool to write these jokes that were close to my material in some ways, but not at all in other ways, and then go to Comedy Bar and call myself a different name . Someone came up to me afterwards and said, ‘You’re not Sam, you’re Rachel,’ and I said, ‘No, I know, we’re doing meta stand-up.’ It was really exciting.”

Music was another helpful tool, she notes, explaining that “Sam listened to sad indie girl music – especially Muna and Phoebe Bridgers.” Furthermore, with a tight 18-day shooting schedule, a tight rehearsal period allowed her to comfortably immerse herself in the character, especially for the scenes with Olga Pesta, who plays Brooke. “The relationship between Sam and Brooke is so important, and it was great to build that bond with Olga, who is so sweet and super talented, before we jumped in,” says the actress. “It takes your nerves out and you can try things, and on the day you’re so flexible and free, but you have a plan.”

Reflecting on her own personal highlights from the making of the film, Sennott cites a few scenes that highlight where Sam is through the end credits: “The bit where I talk about how I don’t feel funny anymore and my life sucks. up – that was such an expression of what Sam has been keeping bottled up all movie, you know? So that felt cathartic. And then going to Niagara Falls, that was beautiful! We shot that after the movie, we were talking about the ending like, “We need a moment, a release,” and Ally said, “We need to go to Niagara Falls.” When you finish a film, the ending is always hectic, so when you go back and shoot the film it feels like a celebration of the project. I love that it’s in the movie.”

I used to be funny is now showing in UK cinemas.