In the Fall of 2015, we introduced Andrea Jones-Rooy as one of our Women To Watch. A Frederick native, Andrea is a circus performer, comedian, professor and writer. The last time we spoke, Andrea was splitting her time between Shanghai and New York. Over two years later, Andrea is back in the States. She is still amazing her crowds with her show. We caught up with Andrea recently after having just returned from a tour in Asia. As always, she’s full of amazing stories and inspiring energy.
Sass Talks With Andrea
What have you been up to since you last spoke with Sass?
Oh my— lots! After lots of soul-searching I quit my job as a professor and moved to New York from Shanghai, where I was living when I last spoke with you guys. I loved Shanghai, but my dream was to live in New York. I always suspected, but didn’t finally admit to myself and act on, that academia wasn’t right for me. It was a really hard decision because I love much of academia, too. The research and discovery process, being able to luxuriate in interesting, abstract concepts, and the opportunity to be around smart, curious, and creative faculty and students every day.
But I was always frustrated by two things— academia is a bit slow-paced and isolating. Plus, there’s not much encouragement to connect your work to the “real world”. It was tough, especially as a political scientist, watching all kinds of stuff unfold and feel like I wasn’t actually doing anything to help, or at least help a broader audience understand new ways of thinking about it. I really liked my students, and I actually now really miss the can-do energy of 18-year-olds, but I wanted to connect to broader audiences.
You just came back from a tour in Asia. How did that go? What was a memorable moment from the tour?
I had the great honor of being invited back to Shanghai to perform at the comedy club where I got my start in standup— the marvelous Kung Fu Comedy club. It was such a treat to be able to perform alongside my old friends. Some of my former students even came, which meant a lot to me. It was wonderful to be reminded that no matter what you do or where you go, human connections remain. Plus, Shanghai audiences are fantastic.
How does being on stage make you feel?
Amazing. Powerful. Invincible. This sounds cheesy, but it really feels like the minutes I’m on stage I’m living life a little bit more intensely than the rest of my life. I remember being on stage so much more than I remember most of the rest of my life (which is largely spent in front of a computer, so maybe that’s why). It’s weird— being on stage, whether for circus or comedy (or teaching, back in the day)— is in so many ways a selfish act. It’s just me, demanding people’s valuable time and attention. But it helps me feel like I’m part of the world, just for a moment. Maybe that is selfish! Ha.
What inspired you to share your story with crowds full of strangers?
I think part of it is therapy. Talking it through helps me process why I made the life choices I did, and what it means for me now. I can sort of tell what’s on my mind when I’m on stage and, even if I planned to talk about something different, I go into material about, say, money concerns, or what it’s like to look for a job in your mid-thirties with no experience besides the ivory tower! I also think I like attention, if I’m being honest.
And if I’m really getting on my high horse, I would even confess I hope I inspire people to live the life they really want to live. I make way less money than I did in Shanghai. My life is a lot more uncertain, but my heavens, I’m actually really happy with how I’m spending my time these days. I think if people can make that work for themselves, they should go for it.
Of course I recognize there’s a lot of privilege in this— I was able to quit my job because I was fortunate to make enough to have some savings so I could get by. I had friends and mentors back in the U.S. who helped me find freelance work before I finally got my current job doing research for FiveThirtyEight, which is a dream come true. Not everyone is so lucky, I know, but I think we all deserve to be happy and fulfilled. If that’s an entitled belief, then so be it! I struggled a lot with that guilt when I was a professor, thinking — who am I to demand satisfaction? Why can’t I be grateful for what I have? But, I don’t know. YOLO. Right?
How do you unwind after a show?
Super lamely! I usually drink kombucha on the couch and then fall asleep watching Twin Peaks with my boyfriend.
What advice do you have for other women who want to go public with their story and/or talents?
Your story is interesting and important and people want to know about it. It took me a long time to learn that.
Is there something you know now that you wish you’d known two years ago?
Oh, heavens. Tons! I think one big one is that there are lots of super smart, interested, and curious people outside of the academic world. We are taught in that world that it’s the only place where people are seeking Truth and all that, and that’s a big part of what kept me there for so long— that I wouldn’t be able to use my brain if I left. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I think the other thing, and I say this a lot, is to trust yourself. It’ll work out. And if it doesn’t, you’ll figure something else out.
Is there anything you’d do differently (regarding your career) if you could? If so, what would it be and why?
I go back and forth on this a lot. On good days, I feel very much of the mindset that every career choice I made— going to grad school, moving to China, leaving China— got me to where I am today, where I finally feel like I’m doing what I always wanted to do. On less good days I think, my goodness, I wasted ten years of my life in a field I ended up leaving! What was it all for?
But the real answer is somewhere in the middle. I learned a ton in academia and that’s prepared me for what I’m doing now, from research to comedy. I talk about it a lot up there! So I think what I would say is that I would have spent less time hating myself for not feeling like I was fitting into the academic world, and instead embraced the instinct that was in there that this wasn’t quite right for me. That said, I also think I quit when I was ready— any sooner and I might still be wondering “what if?”.
I wish I’d stopped hating myself for not feeling like I was in the right place, and trusted that just because I didn’t fit in perfectly didn’t make me a bad person. Maybe I was just trying to fit in the wrong place.
What do you like most about the woman you are today?
Oh my, this is a hard question. I think I’m excited about life and energetic. For a long time I apologized for that, too— I think I can be too intense sometimes — but you know what, I have a lot of energy. Let’s f*cking do this! I think also I’m more brave and confident than I was before. That’s a real game-changer, to take a break from doubting your every move. And don’t worry, there’s still more work to be done on this front.