- Adriana Catanzarite
By Adriana Catanzarite, Contributing Reporter
Jessie Kahnweiler has some serious chutzpah. Or, as the goyim might call it: guts.
It’s hard to find any other description for a woman who demonstrates the existence of white privilege by trying to get arrested—walking up to two cops, offering to sell them her antidepressants and walking away undetained. On another occasion, Kahnweiler crossed the Green Line in Israel simply to ask border guards if they were circumcised.
The Los Angeles-based 30-year-old writes, directs and acts in Web shorts and series. She has been making a name for herself the past few years with her special brand of comedy.
In 2013, she created a webseries on YouTube called Dude, Where’s My Chutzpah?, where she tries to discover her Jewish identity through a series of hilarious trials and errors. Her short video, Meet My Rapist, went viral that same year. The film is about a fictionalized Kahnweiler running into her rapist at a farmer’s market. Kahnweiler explained that it was a response to her own feelings after she was raped 10 years ago while studying abroad in Vietnam. While the subject matter may seem somber, the end result is a genuinely touching and surprisingly funny look at something that far-too many women have to cope with.
Paul Young, the co-founder of Principato-Young Entertainment, said that this was what drew him to start working with Kahnweiler as her manager.
“I initially became aware of Jessie because I saw her short film, Meet My Rapist,” Young said. “It was such a courageous, funny and meaningful short film that represented a rare talent in Jessie.”
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, the first documentary Kahnweiler created and directed was Little America, which she made during her senior year at the University of Redlands. Kahnweiler and a friend hitchhiked across the country with truck drivers, interviewing the various people they met at truck stops. Kahnweiler admits that this was reckless, but she relished the opportunity to meet new people, especially those that society has cast off or ignored. She found it to be a spiritual experience, and said that was when she found her purpose. The comedy came later.
“I never really set out specifically to do comedy,” Kahnweiler said. “I started making documentaries, so I was always behind the camera. Everything that I worked on always felt very personal, but it wasn’t until I started really taking on the issues of pain in my own life that I really developed my style.”
When Kahnweiler went through a particularly bad breakup, she decided to write a comedy about it. The experience helped her process her pain, but ultimately she found that it resonated it with other people, who shared their breakup stories with her.
“I come from a family [that] always laughs at the hardest things,” Kahnweiler said. “That’s how we cope with this stuff. So just being able to laugh about it, it felt very natural.”
Since then, Kahnweiler’s projects have only gotten funnier, not to mention, more personal. Her newest web series, The Skinny, delves into the life of a young woman navigating her increasing Internet fame, while also dealing with bulimia. Kahnweiler struggled with her own bulimia for 10 years, using some of her own experiences as fodder for the show’s comedy. The series, produced by Refinery29 and Jill Solloway’s Wifey.tv, debuted at Sundance earlier this year. It also won a Webby—the Oscars for online content—for best dramatic series. That award doesn’t quite do The Skinny justice; the series is more than just a drama. It’s not just “that show about bulimia.”
Throughout the six 10-minute episodes, the main character Jessie, played by Kahnweiler, navigates her turbulent personal life when her ex, Cole, a recovering junkie, moves in with her mom, played by the fabulous Illeana Douglas.
There are a myriad of entertaining moments, like when Jessie rips into the media executives who say she’s just another pair of tits.
“I am so sick of asking men with man buns and tuna breath for permission to be myself!” she yells. “There is more pussy fear in this room than the Republican National Convention!”
Yes, she does eat cake out of the trash, stuff prosciutto, sushi and God knows what else into her bra and she steals a box of chocolate laxatives while wearing a diaper. But the series shows that bulimia is not the cause of Jessie’s problems, it’s her very misguided attempt at bringing some sort of control to the chaos converging around her. It doesn’t overtake her life, but it’s always there in the background waiting for things to go wrong.
Kahnweiler said she was trying to subvert expectations of what someone with an eating disorder looks like. A person doesn’t have to be uber thin to suffer from an eating disorder. It can happen to anyone, even someone as boisterous and outgoing as Jessie.
Kahnweiler maintains that talking about her problems openly has been the best medicine. But when she tried to get The Skinny produced, she found that not a lot of people were willing to go down that path with her, saying it wasn’t “sexy.”
Her manager, Paul Young, and her mentor, Jill Solloway, the creator of Transparent, encouraged her to keep moving pushing forward.
“They said it was too risky it wasn’t commercial enough,” Young said. “I happen to believe that when you tell the truth like that in stories, audiences feel it and want to watch it. It’s that simple. When a storyteller is being authentic, that’s when they tell stories that are emotionally resonant.… She’s just able to go there. She wants to tell the most honest story she can and she’s willing to go through the pain that requires.”
Kahnweiler and Young are working on several different projects, including a new Web- series about a surrogate mother, and trying turn The Skinny into a traditional half-hour long program for television. One thing’s for certain: Kahnweiler is not going to stop delivering her brash style of comedy.
“I really don’t know what I would do without having art to express myself,” Kahnweiler said. “It’s like air.”