Chris Fleming on Sick Jan and Jamie Lee Curtis’ New Role

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A multiversal divergence.
Pictures: A24; Chris Fleming

Jamie Lee Curtis’ Comedic Performance All On The Table As Deidre The IRS Minion In Everything everywhere all at once gets good reviews. The Guardian calls Curtis’ performance “tough and human”. IndieWire praises “how fearlessly” Curtis approaches the amazingly layered character. Notes from RogerEbert.com that Curtis is clearly “having the time of his life” in the role. None of them mention that she’s just doing Sick Jan.

If you haven’t had the pleasure (?) of meeting Sick Jan yet, he’s a character imagined by comedian Chris Fleming, whose videos often feature him playing (Amy Klobuchar) or meet (From Piglio) a disturbing character with a strange worldview. But Sick Jan, who did its Internet debut in July 2020, is an instant classic, a comedy character as lived as an old pair of orthopedists. She’s a surprisingly intense H&R Block tax preparer with “enough turquoise to get into Stevie Nicks’ house” who’s determined to go to jail for petty tax evasion. She treats her job like a heist scene and approaches her only client (Chris) from across her desk with a heady brew of exhaustion, defiance, annoyance and a persistent cough. Fleming’s video has racked up hundreds of thousands of views since its debut two years ago, and if you search ‘Sick Jan’ on Twitter, you’ll find it – after scouring COVID tweets about sick people in ‘jan 2020’ – dozens of people tweeting about doing their taxes and rewatching the clip.

Like Jan, Everything everywhere all at onceDeidre is a stern woman who works in the wacky world of taxes, but for the opposing team. Both have chunky collars, gray-white wigs, and focus on home business write-offs. Both take perverse pride in their status in the office; Jan does her job well — her sneezes are triumphs — while Deidre’s office displays IRS awards that look like butt plugs. At one point in the film, Deidre pins a paper to her desk and says, “That doesn’t look good.” At one point in Fleming’s video, Jan sings, “It’s not okay, Christopher.” Was it just a case of parallel thinking, à la Antz and The life of an insect? Or was it more than a coincidence? I called Fleming for his take on confluence, and our conversation quickly degenerated into a feverish dissection of Sick Jan: the woman, the character, the myth, the tax preparer.

So I went to see Everything everywhere all at once Last week. In the film, Jamie Lee Curtis does this great comedic trick playing a character named Deirdre Beaubirdra, who is remarkably similar to Sick Jan.
When the trailer came out I kind of put it away in my stress room because if you’re on Twitter you’re just volunteering to SNL or other shows like that. So I was like, Oh no, I hope Sick Jan isn’t the prey right now. At the same time, if it’s going to get that archetype… although Jan isn’t an archetype, Jan is such a specific woman. But also, if Jamie Lee Curtis had seen “Sick Jan,” that would be such a good thing.

But the story of Sick Jan, the character himself, is so dense – maybe it’s just that all tax preparers have a vibe of anarchy and Southwestern flair. With Jan, of course, it was a song, so I could only focus on the fact that she had been chronically ill for three years and never talked about it. And also his desire to go to prison – his irresistible desire. People talk a lot about sexual tension in the video, but that’s just between Jan and the prison system. But she also adopted a bunch of adult children, which I found in my notes, and she had a catchphrase that I couldn’t remember. I remember putting her on speakerphone so my friends could hear her as she used that catchphrase while coughing. She was just too good to be true. When I see Jamie Lee Curtis in this outfit, it’s like, yeah, if I had a good wardrobe, it’s kinda close.

Well, that’s the thing. He is not a stock character. Often there is a sketch on SNL, and a comedian points out that they did something similar, but it’s really a recurring idea. But Sick Jan is such a specific character, as is Deirdre Beaubeirdra: she’s a tax lady, albeit on the IRS side. She has the big pearl necklace and the very intense and severe energy.
Just from the trailer I saw how she was the king of her castle, which is very much the vibe of Jan. When I brought her into the office after she was fired, it made everyone smile, but she ruled with an iron fist and through bullying tactics and was so intimidating, not only to me but for his colleagues. Curtis also embodies that. What’s your theory on all of this? You’ve seen the movie – how close is it?

I mean, I thought it was close enough that I needed to call Chris Fleming. So there is something. At the screening I attended, one of the directors mentioned being very into Tim and Eric, so it’s not inconceivable that they saw your stuff as well. On the other hand, I can’t imagine Jamie Lee Curtis relating to comedy on the tax return at H&R Block.
You know, I also thought of Susan Sarandon, but she became aware of my shit somehow. Also, I wonder if the directors or the wardrobe department filed their taxes in Pasadena between the years 2012 and 2015. Jan ruled that area, so they might have had it. But I like that you think it’s going higher, like there’s a Sick Jan plot there.

And the movie is about a multiverse. It’s a scary thought, and I’m sorry to say it out loud, but there could be endless Jans out there.
So you think maybe it’s actually going bigger, towards a collective consciousness type thing, where we’re all conjuring up the same images.

Like Bob from twin peaks.
Is Deirdre sick? She doesn’t cough, does she?

She’s not coughing, but she has an unexplained injury.
Oh wow. Agreed. You see, it’s the shit that chills me to my core. It keeps me up. Because there are a lot of scary coincidences when you tap into the creative flow. But if I could just see her on the beach…that’s it. I was looking for Jan. I think it was my Hail Mary that I threw out, hoping she would contact me. But nothing.

We have Christmas carols. We have a Halloween song in the books. How does it feel to have written the only Christmas carol of tax season?
Somebody said today it’s their treat for after they file their taxes. I hope in about 100 years it will be listened to without a trace of humor – for example, tax season is a big vacation time and they sit around the fire and listen to it.

Earlier you said Jan isn’t an archetype, but there’s something about the way through your videos you capture these things around us – the tics, the weird behaviors, the weird references, the most obscure dialogue possible – and codify them into archetypes where there were none before.
It’s awesome. It’s an honor. I’m making clip art for 2022. If only you could see how much turquoise Jan was wearing – encased in turquoise, like a turquoise sarcophagus. And she also had glasses on, and that was the only thing I had to omit from the costume because I had to tell her apart from me. I also think that a main difference [between Jan and Deirdre], something I don’t know if I was able to capture is that Jan was incredibly physically strong – able to do some serious damage. Jamie Lee Curtis character looks a little slouched, bad posture. No no no no no. Jan was on full alert and ready for a cage fight.

Dude, I hate to tell you this, but Jamie Lee Curtis has fight scenes.
Oh my God! Okay, okay, game over. And Deirdre Beaubeirdra is a very good name. Sounds like something Story Pirates would come up with.

What have you been working on lately?
For the past three years I’ve been working on this wonderful pilot titled “I am the Mayor of Bimmi Gardens”. And we weren’t picked up by the network we created it for, so we’re trying to push it elsewhere. We did it with Victoria Pedretti, Perfume Genius – it was stacked. Heartbreak! Bimmi is off the coast of Florida, but technically it’s still Maine territory. I play the mayor there. That’s what’s bugging me right now.

Last question then I let you go: Did you follow Amy Klobuchar? Can we expect any updates from him?
Oh my God, she is such an inspiration. Last I saw she was in Ukraine, so I didn’t want to go near her. I follow her on every social media she’s on, which is a lot, and I really hope she’s the next president. I can’t get enough of her. The last really good thing I saw – and I make a video, like, 20 minutes after – did she grab some protesters and run away from them or something. She is the better!

I wrote a whole Amy Klobuchar script the first time I saw her in the primaries. I stayed up until 4am writing, writing, writing, writing, writing. It was about her in a beach chair. I started doing a monologue as her in Washington DC [does the Klob voice] “I was overserved at a climate function. I hung around Greta Thunberg, thinking it was funny. Next thing I know Greta punched me and I flew over a railing. It was the last time I really put pen to paper with Amy, but the sky’s the limit.

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