Before Janelle Draper ’11 left Massachusetts to participate in the fall 2010 session of Stonehill’s Los Angeles Internship Program, her grandfather jokingly told her to say hello to comedian Jay Leno on his behalf. Draper played along with the gag, but never actually expected to meet the famed funny man.

“Lo and behold, I saw him right outside my apartment soon after I landed in LA. He was filming a ‘Jay Walking’ segment for The Tonight Show,” said Draper, who majored in mediated communication

The Chelmsford, Massachusetts, native approached Leno during a break in filming. When she told the talk show host about her grandfather’s joke, he offered to call her grandparents. The comedian chatted with them for a few minutes, assuring them that their granddaughter would love living in the City of Angels.  

Draper has crossed paths with Leno a few times since then. After graduating from Stonehill, she assisted with audience coordination for The Tonight Show as part of NBC’s Page Program. More recently, Draper, now a stand-up comedian herself, shared the stage with Leno at Flappers Comedy Club after being selected as the winner of the Burbank Comedy Festival.  

“Opening for him was very exciting,” she said. “That night, I reminded Jay of the time he called my grandparents. He then offered to film a short video to say hello again.” 

Though Draper will not be working with Leno during her next big stand-up gig, she has plenty of reason to be excited. She will open for headliner Brian Glowacki and emcee Alex Giampapa during a landmark show scheduled to take place on June 4 at Boston’s Wilbur Theater. 

“The Wilbur historically only books national headliners who typically come from New York or LA,” Draper said. “Brian will be the first unsigned, independent, local comedian to headline this epic venue. I’m so excited he selected me to open for him.” 

Below, Draper chats with us about her history with stand-up, mining her personal life for material and her upcoming performance at The Wilbur.  

Janelle Draper and Jay Leno snap a pic backstage at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, California.

Janelle Draper (left) and a fellow NBC page (right) walk the red carpet at an event for the TV network.

Did you do stand-up comedy while attending Stonehill? What led you to this career path?  

I didn’t do stand-up while attending Stonehill, but I always knew I wanted to be in the limelight. I’m kind of a goofy ham. I enjoy making people laugh. I remember walking back to O’Hara Hall from the Dining Commons one time. I tried balancing a cup of water on my head the whole way back to my room. I was always doing wacky things like that in college. It wasn’t until I came out to LA for the NBC Page Program right after graduating from Stonehill that I gave stand-up a try. My dad suggested I take a class because I was always making him laugh. I thought he was crazy, but I decided to go for it because I was in the entertainment capital of the world. I knew this was my calling when I heard people laughing during my first show.  

Nora Ephron, the mastermind behind many great comedic films, famously said, “Everything is copy.” She was known for mining material from her own life and the lives of loved ones. What aspects of your own life do you use in your stand-up sets? 

I take a lot from my interactions with my parents, particularly my mom. She has this funny way about her where she doesn’t even know she’s being funny. My dad is also hilarious, but he knows he is. I also take from my own life, especially when it comes to dating. If a date goes badly, you can bet I’m going to write about it.  

What’s your favorite thing about performing?  

I enjoy seeing someone doubled over because they’re laughing so hard. I also enjoy seeing my material and my presence resonate with someone, especially when I’m talking about things like a bad break-up or the struggle to fit in. All I want to do is bring people joy and make them feel less alone.  

Do you have any advice for Stonehill students who are interested in trying stand-up comedy? 

Anyone who wants to pursue a career in comedy needs to build up their resilience. You need to get on stage as many times as humanly possible because it’s truly a numbers game. Everyone’s going to bomb initially, but eventually you get past that stage. Whenever someone complimented me when I was starting out, I wrote it down in a Word document. So, when I had moments of self-doubt, I’d have something to remind myself not to quit. I don’t have to do that anymore because it’s been a long time and I’ve built up enough confidence that I don’t need to seek external validation. 

What can audiences expect when they attend your show at The Wilbur on Saturday, June 4? 

It’s going to be a fun gig. I’m excited to perform with my friends Alex Giampapa and Brian Glowacki. We all have distinct points of view and senses of humor, so there’s something for everyone in the show. For instance, Brian is like your favorite neighbor, Alex is a smooth social commentator and my style is irreverent and edgy. We’re all unique and bring something interesting to the table.