Jillian Bell is an American comedian, actress and screenwriter. She starred in the 2019 film Brittany Runs a Marathon, as Jillian Belk on Workaholics, and had a recurring role as Dixie on the final season of Eastbound & Down. She’s also appeared in 22 Jump Street, Fist Fight and Godmothered. Since 2019, Bell has voiced the role of Violet Hart in Bless the Harts, and she is currently starring alongside Steve Zahn and newcomer Sasha Knight in Samuel Goldwyn’s Cowboys.
Three Great Things is Talkhouse’s series in which artists tell us about three things they absolutely love. To celebrate the current release of the poignant drama Cowboys, starring Steve Zahn, Jillian Bell, Sasha Knight and Ann Dowd, the comedian and actress shared some of the things that make her life better. — N.D.
I’m going to start with Dateline on NBC, as it’s my favorite show of all time. I am so weirdly comforted by the sounds of Keith Morrison’s voice, explaining to us how someone was murdered – and I feel awful about it. I don’t want anybody to be murdered! But there’s something about the storytelling that is very soothing. For me, Dateline is not only a source of calming relaxation, but also joy. It’s just great television. My favorite movie of all time is Clue, and when I was really young I started learning about murder mysteries and getting pleasure from seeing if I could figure out who the killer was.
I find a lot of women watch these murder shows, and I feel like it all comes back to someone with a gentle voice telling us a story that has some resolution. By the end of it, they’ve caught the charming doctor that was poisoning his wife. And by the way, anytime they say that the husband is charming, he’s the murderer. So if you know anyone dating somebody whose primary characteristic is that he’s charming, look out. And if he’s a doctor on top of it, really look out!
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I’ve been watching Dateline for about the past 10 years, and with increasing regularity in the past six years. The PopSocket on my iPhone is of Josh Mankiewicz from Dateline, who I had the pleasure of meeting through a mutual friend. Before the pandemic, we would go for Dateline drinks, where we’d catch up about our lives, and then Josh would be kind enough to share a story of a case he was covering and see if we could guess who the killer was. The best part about those drinks was that I was sitting across from this icon. When he would say, “You want to hear a story?” I would be like, “Yes!” And so I’d put down my drink, and then he’d start: “Austin, 1993, the middle of summer…” It was like I was there watching him do the show right in front of me. I had to keep telling myself, “Play it cool, play it cool …”
In and Of Itself
I just watched Derek DelGaudio’s In and Of Itself, which is a one-man show with elements of magic in it. Twice within a matter of two days, I had people reach out to me and say, “Watch this, but first put your phone down and don’t Google anything about it.” I always think that’s the best way to watch something, without spoiling anything. If you haven’t seen it, don’t read anything about it, just watch it and follow the rules.
I was so intrigued by In and Of Itself. I found myself leaning forward the whole time, just trying to figure out what it was about. Why were two of my friends texting me about this man I didn’t know!? A big part of the experience is to not be distracted by your phone, and the audience of the show were also told to put their phones away so they could focus. It’s sad and beautiful to be so amazed by an audience giving someone all their attention; they’re all looking at him, and not a single person is yawning or looking down or checking the time or saying “Oh, I got a text from the babysitter …” Everyone is so engaged in what they’re seeing.
There’s a couple of moments in it that are extremely emotional, and the whole show is super compelling. I spent a lot of time questioning how much of what we see is true, and how much is false. At the end of the day, though, you have no other choice than to believe it’s magic, because how else would any of these things happen? My rational brain – my Dateline brain – wants to figure it out so badly, though!
The whole time, I was thinking, “How is everything connected and how is he doing it?” The show hooked me in a way where I couldn’t look away, and that’s a good thing because I’m constantly looking away to find something else to distract me from this crazy time. In that sense, Derek DelGaudio truly achieves something remarkable.
Taming Your Gremlin
This is a book by Rick Carson that my sister shared with me, and I would highly recommend the audiobook version. First of all, Carson has such a sweet Southern accent that sounds like something you would hear at the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean, and I love it.
He talks in very simple terms about how we all have a gremlin that lives in us, that awful voice that tells us we’re not good enough or we didn’t work out enough or we didn’t lose weight enough, or whatever it is that’s making our lives miserable. He talks about the dynamic of giving that gremlin so much of your attention, and then tells you to name it and to draw what it looks like, because everyone’s is different: some are loud and obnoxious, some are crying like a little baby and some are beautiful princesses that look perfect and have their act together.
I thought it was a really cool thing to name your gremlin, because then it makes it not you. When I first heard someone say, “You are not your thoughts,” I couldn’t wrap my head around that. I understood it, but I also didn’t understand it. By naming my gremlin, though, that helps me realize the voice in my head is not my own. It’s something else pushing me, sometimes to great things and sometimes to just feeling really sad about myself.
I listened to the audiobook during the pandemic, which has been a time when my gremlin has gotten louder and louder. Sometimes I’ll be on a long walk, wearing my mask and thinking good things, and then suddenly that negative voice will come through. But after listening to Taming Your Gremlin, I can quickly realize, “That’s not me, that’s a fucking gremlin!” And on other days, when the gremlin wins, I can look back in hindsight and say, “Oh, the gremlin really won today …” I know talking about gremlins living inside me makes me sound like a crazy person, but it really does help me not beat up on myself so hard.