Toronto comedian Sabrina Jalees is playing matchmaker for farmers

For most millennials who grew up in Canada, comedian, writer and actor Sabrina Jalees is a household name. 

Since her early days as a TV regular on MuchMusic, Roast Battle Canada and more, Jalees has become an accomplished triple threat. She was a writer on clever comedies Search Party, Big Mouth, Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock and Baroness Von Sketch Show. She has also had a few notable acting and hosting stints, including on the 2019 CBS sitcom Carol’s Second Act.

And now she’s taken on her favourite hosting job yet, as the face of CTV reality dating show Farming for Love (the second season premiered May 29).

Busy focusing on writing, acting, and standup in L.A., Jalees wasn’t exactly keen when she was first approached to take on hosting duties. But the series team was persistent, and came back to Jalees with the facts: the reality show is based on the international Farmer Wants a Wife franchise, whose origins date back to a 1983 Swiss version. Since, it’s been adapted in Australia, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Ireland, Serbia, the U.S. — you name it, they’ve got farmers who want wives. 

The franchise, allegedly, is the most successful dating series in the world, and has resulted in over 180 marriages and over 400 children. And by the way, many of those marriages have stuck over the years. Needless to say, Jalees was sold. 

 

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“The proof is in the pudding,” says Jalees. “And the pudding is made of children! If I can be a part of really connecting people and setting them up for the next chapter of their lives — because marrying my wife and having our kids has truly been a mind-blowing experience — and rest on the laurels of great casting and a great production team and take credit for having people falling in love? I love that.”

The Canadian version has also been relatively inclusive, featuring people of colour, male and female farmers and, this season, a gay farmer looking for love.

“Oh my god, I am so excited about that,” she says. “I was glued to the monitors as his storyline was unfolding and he was going on his dates. If something like that was on TV when I was younger, I would certainly have felt more comfortable to say, ‘I’m in love with Jennifer Love Hewitt.”

Her love for the show is also rooted in how it has brought her back home, and it being “the perfect blend” of where she is today, with a set structure, room for improv, and the feeling of being “very alive” in terms of the way she can directly engage with cast members.

That, and, she adds, “In my real life, I’ve set people up; I’ve been a bit of a matchmaker, which feels like a natural place to be, except this time I had a whole production team doing all the work.”

In so many ways, it does feel as if Jalees’s career choices have paralleled the milestones in her life; Farming for Life’s second season wrapped just as she and her wife, Shauna McCann, welcomed their second son. Meanwhile, her podcast Benefits with Friends, which she co-hosts with fellow Toronto comic and childhood friend Mae Martin, chronicles all the topics you’re scared to dive into (e.g. money, gender, shame) with the friend you’ve had forever. And she’s busy shopping her own new show with Ally Pankiw, the writer and director of the film I Used to Be Funny, in which Sabrina Jalees co-stars. These two, as well, have been friends for years.

 

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“In my late 30s, as the stakes heightened with where I put my time now that I have this family, rather than wondering who wants me like I did in the beginning, now I get to say, ‘Where do I want to put my energy?’,” says Jalees. “The intention is always that I want to put my energy into things that feel good with people that make me feel good. Life is too short to just say yes and spin around the world trying to get attention. Although there’s always the drive of, ‘I love a camera pointed at my face!’”

That, in fact, is how Jalees and Martin decided to finally work together on something official after being friends for 20 years. Fun fact: Jalees paid Martin $20 to tattoo her name on their ankle when they were 15. Yes, they were stoned, and yes, it took three tattoo shop visits until someone finally agreed to ink up a kid.

“In the beginning, I was trying to get laughs. Now it’s evolved into wanting to talk about things that I care about on stage,” she says. “And ultimately, those are where the biggest laughs come from, because of my passion.”

Moving forward, the goal, too, remains being able to work at her first home, Toronto, and her second, in L.A. The differences, though, remain stark.

“Comedy, oftentimes, comes from this fish out of water viewpoint,” says Jalees. “Growing up half-brown and half-white gave me that, as did growing up in Canada. We are this fanny pack on top of this machine that’s making strange decisions and going into weird wars. We get to talk like no one’s listening. That sharpens a comedic viewpoint.”

“Sure, you can count on the budget being super inflated in the U.S., and that will give American shows the advantage, but I will never not want to work on Canadian projects. I still view myself as Canadian first, and I’m super proud to be from Toronto and have grown up in North York,” she says. “As [we’re] talking about the evolution of me, that was the nucleus.”


FAST FACTS

High school:

Earl Haig Secondary School

Fave venue to play:

Comedy Bar

Fave family spot:

Good Neighbour (owned by Sabrina Jalees’ brother and uncle). As she shares, “It’s sort of like a neighbourhood department store; you can go there for a candle or a coffee.”

Top Toronto memory:

Taking her son up the CN Tower to the glass floor. She shares: “My son is with me every time I come to town, always looking at the CN Tower and asking what it is, but we never found the time to go up there. We finally recently did, and he was posturing like he was brave. … But then, as soon as we got on the elevator and it started going up, he was like, ‘I don’t think I really want to go to the very top,’ so I pretended we were going halfway up but it only goes all the way. Once we got there, he tiptoed on the glass floor, but before we left, he was jumping and rolling on it, and thrilled to be at the top of this tower that is such an iconic symbol for my hometown. It was really beautiful.”

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO