After quarantine, Jolie Dudley empathized with the separation anxiety her dog was experiencing, since during the COVID pandemic, she did everything with her pup. She also had friends who adopted dogs during that time who faced the same plight. “So they’d say, ‘Hey, we want to meet up and see you, we haven’t seen you in so long, but we literally cannot leave our apartment unless we bring our dog with us,’” she explained.
The Waynesboro, Virginia native-turned-Williamsburg resident thought of a solution — to enable comics to just bring their four-legged friends along to shows with them — and that is how Must Love Dogs and Comedy was born.
With her romantic and now-business partner Nicolas Polanco, whom she met on the dating app Hinge four years ago, they launched in October 2021 and because of its popularity, decided to turn it into a small business. The atmosphere at the shows is “chaotic, but joyful” and mishaps like bathroom accidents and barking during sets is par for the course.
The shows began at Boris and Horton, a dog-friendly café in the East Village, and have since expanded to include venues like the AKC Museum of the Dog in Murray Hill, Black Lab Cafe on the Upper West Side and Chateau Le Woof in Astoria. Tickets are usually sold on a pay-want-you-can basis, with a suggested donation of $20, and a portion of the proceeds go to animal rescue and wellness initiatives. As for the performers, their mission is to welcome individuals of varying identities and talents who are underrepresented in the comedy world.
Dudley, who is aspiring to be a full-time comedian, also runs “Funny B***h,” free weekly open mic nights on Zoom for women, LGBTQIA+ and ally performers. She also wrote a TV comedy pilot called “The Pet Parents of New York,” which was chosen as a semi-finalist in the NYC International Screenplay Awards.
Her future plans are to expand Must Love Dogs and Comedy to more cities in New York and nationwide and continue to provide “joy and laughter to people and to pups.”
When did you know you were funny?
I’ve always gotten responses from people that I’m funny. And I’ve always enjoyed comedy as just a viewer. Growing up, watching “Saturday Night Live,” going to bigger name standup shows when they were in our area, watching everything on standup specials and funny TV shows on Netflix, so that’s always been a huge part of my upbringing. And then when I came to New York, I was in a position where I could try an improv class and my company at the time would pay for personal development. So they paid for me to take an improv class at the Upright Citizens Brigade.
How can you describe your comedy?
I think my comedy is rooted in my own personal experiences and my viewpoint of myself and the outside world. I talk about myself a lot, not so self-deprecating, I think it’s more upbeat than that. I talk about things that people have said to me or things that I’ve experienced. I talk about, right now, in my set, just my body and being comfortable in my body and how I view the world as somebody who is plus-sized in the entertainment industry.
How did the idea for Must Love Dogs and Comedy come about?
When places started opening back up in New York after quarantine, so it was like April-ish 2021, I would leave my apartment a lot to go to open mics to practice and go to different shows, and after sitting for like a year, year and a half-ish at home with my dog Knope. She’s named after Leslie Knope from “Parks and Rec;” she’s a Blue Heeler cattle dog mix. We did one of the DNA tests and she’s mixed with a lot of different breeds. When I used to live in Louisiana, I got her from an animal shelter there. I had had her before quarantine, and we lived in Louisiana and then she moved up to New York with me. But we had our schedules drastically changed like everybody else, like I’m sitting at home with her every single day, now she’s doing everything with us for the last year and a half.
So now I’m leaving the apartment to go to open mics and shows and she’s sitting at home and every time I leave is very confused and sad. And it was hard navigating that separation anxiety when things started opening up after quarantine. And we had a lot of friends who adopted during the pandemic and they had pups who had such severe separation anxiety that they would leave the apartment and the dog would just go crazy and tear up things and was just so anxious without them there. Some comics, if they have a small dog, would come and tote them around in little bags wherever they would go, but our dog is 45 pounds. So we were like, “Man, it would be so cool if there was a space where comics and audience members and all these people could reconnect after quarantine ... but still be able to bring our dogs with us.”
As far as the performers at your shows, you try to focus on underrepresented people, right?
Yeah, so the mission of Must Love Dogs and Comedy is to support animal rescue and to create space for underrepresented performers, so we have the intention of booking lineups that showcase a wide variety of identities and talents, so we really focus on creating space for individuals in the Manhattan comedy scene who might not have as much access or equitable performance time as their peers. We have a lot of individuals who will perform in the shows of varying identities and varying talents too, so it’s not always just standup. It might be musical comedy, character comedy, storytelling.
What are some funny stories or mishaps from your shows?
Mishaps are constant with doggy bathroom accidents. We’re always cleaning some pee and some poop at the shows. [Laughs] The other week we had a dog poop literally right in front of a performer during his set. It was very, very funny. We have a clip of it on our Instagram page. But the comedian was like, in a joking way, “How dare you poop during my set? This is art.” He was like, “Hey, can anybody give me a bag?” And none of the audience members moved very quickly. And he was like, “None of you have a bag? What kind of pup parents are you?” Another time a comedian was singing an original song that they wrote about being high at a museum and they sang a note and then there was a brief pause before their next note. And so they sang it and then during the pause, a dog howled as if they were singing along with it. It was perfect timing.
What is some memorable feedback you’ve received?
Somebody put on their Instagram story, “If you haven’t been to Must Love Dogs and Comedy, you have to go. It’s like a therapy session because there’s the laughter from the comedians, there’s laughter from the dogs running around.” In one of the press that we’ve received in the last year or so, they called us “The happiest place in New York City.” And then on the comedian side, a comment that we get is how professionally put together the show is. And that’s really important for my partner Nick and I. We put a lot of intentionality behind putting together the show because we want the audience members to have a good time, the dogs to have a good time, but the comedians to have a good time too.