Rothaniel Audience Interview: Jessica Mihalik
Updated: May 26
Jessica is a student who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She attended the second taping and, more importantly, got to hang out with Bo, Lorene, AND Jerrod after the show!
Here is her story, edited and condensed for clarity purposes.
Bo Burnham Historian: Hi, Jessica! My name is also Jessica, so this could get confusing.
Jessica Mihalik: Hey! It's no problem at all.
BBH: Great! Let's get started.
How did you hear about the taping?
JM: I actually heard about the taping on the Bo Burnham subreddit. Obviously we didn’t know it would be called Rothaniel at the time, it just said Jerrod was taping a special for HBO.
I wasn’t too familiar with Jerrod. I knew of his show and I had watched the special Bo directed, 8, but besides that I just knew he was a good friend of Bo’s. Honestly, looking back, I feel a bit guilty about seeing him only through that "Bo lens," but I’m grateful that I did see the show because it truly was life-changing.
BBH: It was a life-changing night for me as well!
When did you find out you had won tickets to attend?
JM: I honestly just signed up for the tickets on a whim! I entered my real zip code, which is near Pittsburgh, knowing the show would be in NYC, so I never really believed they’d choose me to be in the audience. Best surprise of my life!
I only found out I had been selected for tickets about a day and a half before my showing. My selected show was late Wednesday evening, and I received my confirmation about noon on that Monday.
BBH: Yes, we all had to scramble to figure out how to travel to New York in 24 hours. Did you have any struggles getting to the Blue Note?
JM: I DEFINITELY had struggles getting there, haha. Honestly, I don’t know how I would have done all the research and organizing if it hadn’t been for my bestie, Hallie, u/herbalgrl6 on the Bo sub. Also, my family really came through for me in a pinch, helping me financially so that I could make the trip happen. I currently don’t have a vehicle of my own, so my first problem was transportation. I couldn’t borrow any of my family’s cars because they were needed for work/kids/etc., so I had to rent a car.
I had driven across PA on my own before, so that didn’t worry me. But early Wednesday morning, right as I was leaving with my dad to pick up the rental, the agency called me and told me that they didn’t actually have a vehicle for me. My dad had to drive me around to four different agencies before I found a really sweet old couple that were willing to give me a deal and rented me one of their higher tier vehicles at a lower rate. I actually cried in happiness thanking them. But it all worked out in the end.
BBH: Certainly did!
Before the taping, either in the announcement you heard about it from or some sort of pre-show email, did they explain how to dress? How to behave?
JM: The email said that we could arrive between 8:15-8:45pm for the night’s second showing. The only dress requirements I remember were to not wear white or any sort of branded clothing. I think they may have said something about club wear? I ended up wearing something a little more librarian than club, lol, but I ended up not being on camera so it was all good lol. They also did mention that seating was first come, first serve.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Mihalik
BBH: You look fantastic! I had on polka dots as well.
When you got there, were there any instructions? (Like did they say, "Please feel free to ask Jerrod questions?")
JM: I was so nervous, I ended up getting there waaay early. I was actually first in line, which is why I was able to get all the photos of Bo when he came out to plan out Jerrod’s entrance and exit. The people working the event were super nice to me and were just pleasant to chat with in general.
The lady who was organizing the event did seem to be a bit upset because apparently people at the first show had unfortunately snuck more people into the line than they had reserved, so some people had to be turned away from that first showing. I felt bad for her because it obviously wasn’t her fault, but a bunch of angry people were kind of yelling at her for it.
After getting in line, they handed out wristbands for us to put on. I think they were different colors, to indicate how far we were in line? I think about 100-150 people ended up in line, but I’m not sure how many made it in to the show.
I don’t recall any of the staff telling us to “converse” with Jerrod during the show. It’s possible they did, I just don’t remember that. For me, it was when Jerrod himself kinda opened up the floor and said it was like a discussion with family that I understood this show was going to be different.
BBH: Absolutely! Jerrod saying that let the audience know what kind of experience we were going to have.
Have you watched the special? Do you think it captured the atmosphere of the live performance?
JM: Yes! I’ve watched it multiple times now! I showed it to all my family members. I definitely believe it really reflected the sense of intimacy and openness in that room that night.
It had that air of a confessional, but the audience acted as an accepting friend ready to be there for Jerrod, while also being willing to push him and have him open up and explore his feelings more.
It was really a special atmosphere that I had never experienced in a public performance before, and I think Bo captured that beautifully.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Mihalik
BBH: Agreed. During the end part, when things got more serious, did it play like that in the room?
JM: Yeah, that was the reality of it. But there was never any sense of discomfort or unease in the audience. It was a familiar sense of quiet, just waiting for Jerrod to express himself on his own terms without any sort of prodding.
Those long pauses in the special felt just like they did in the taping. Just a sense of gentle curiosity and patience.
BBH: Absolutely love your use of "gentle curiosity"—that is the perfect term for Jerrod's comedy style!
What was the Q&A like? Did they give you any direction? Did any of the Q&A questions at your taping go into the special?
JM: I LOVED the Q&A! I wish more would have made it into the special, because there were some genuinely good ones. And Jerrod and “Bobby” were the only ones who gave any sort of direction, really.
Bo seemed to give the idea to Jerrod to be open with the audience and have that kind of rapport with us, and then Jerrod went with it. It was almost more like a discussion than a formal Q&A, really.
I actually got to ask a question! Even though it didn’t make it in.
BBH: Wow, I didn't even realize that you had been part of the Q&A, Jessica! That's so cool. What did you ask?
JM: I asked Jerrod when he had first realized he was gay. He said he was always a little gay, like as a kid he messed around with his friends pretty early on, so it was kinda just second nature for him.
BBH: I think I remember that question, but it's a blur now.
Any other thoughts about the vibe in the room? Any fond memories?
JM: It sounds so lame to say this, but the vibe was just COOL. The room was so small and intimate. I was seated at the table with two really nice guys, and one of them actually recognized me from the Bo sub because I had posted that I was coming from Pittsburgh. Like, what kind of freaky coincidence is that?!
I was seated directly next to the principal camera on Jerrod, and about 15 feet or so from where he was seated. At the beginning of the night, before the show started, Bo was walking all around, talking with crew to set up shots, and going back up and down the stairs, since I assume that’s where the monitors were. I unabashedly followed his every movement with my eyes haha. At one point, he came to talk with the camerawoman by me and stood RIGHT NEXT TO ME for about five minutes. His hand actually almost touched me, and I’m kind of glad it didn’t because I would have thought of nothing else for the next hour lol.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Mihalik
Oh! And the smoke! There were smoke machines [Editor's note: Actually fog machines, like the one Bo has in Inside] to help contribute to that old school intimate jazz club vibe, without the actual cigarettes lol, but at one point one of the machines went a little overboard and the smoke alarms went off. No one freaked out or anything because the reason was obvious, but Bo came over the speakers and said something like, “Sorry about that, everyone. Don’t worry, he’s gonna be worth it.” And he was right!
Like I said, I was RIGHT next to the principal camera. That made the moment that Jerrod stares into the camera after talking about his mom hit so much more because it was like he looking straight at ME. It was amazing. I literally got goosebumps from it.
BBH: That must have been incredible! I did not have that great of a view of Jerrod (I could only glimpse his torso and head from my seat), but seeing him stare into the camera would have given me goosebumps too.
You met the trifecta of talent at the taping: Jerrod, Bo, and Bo's girlfriend Lorene Scafaria. What was that like?
JM: I hit the jackpot, baby!
So, because I had asked a question at the Q&A, they asked me to stay behind and sign a waiver. Obviously, I didn’t mind that.
I went up to use the restroom, and by the time I came down the audience had cleared out and it was just crew. As I was leaving, they started having a wrap-up pizza party, and I saw Bo walk over. I was reeeeally tempted to go say something, but he was still in a professional space and I didn’t want to be disrespectful at all.
So I went outside and stared through the window like a crazy person lol. Not really. Kinda. [Editor's note: I was the same way. Kinja had to drag me away from the window! haha]
Part of me thought I should just go back to my hotel and enjoy the night I had. The other, more stubborn part of me argued that I’d already come all this way, I should do everything I could (within reason!) to meet Bo if possible. I went back and forth on this A LOT. Many many texts with Hallie about if I was being a psycho lol.
Finally, I had been out there for about a half hour, I was just about ready to give up. Then, like magic, I see Bo, Lorene, and Jerrod make for the front door. I think I texted Hallie something like, “It’s happening.” Lol.
They all came out at the same time, but honestly I wanted to talk to Jerrod first because he WAS the star of the night, and I wanted to let him know how much his show meant to me.
I approached him and said, "Jerrod, hi, I just wanted to thank you for the show tonight. I came all the way from Pittsburgh to see it, and it was completely worth it. It was so hilarious and touching, and your bravery is really inspiring."
He looked at me like he was sincerely so touched and said, “Thank you, that means so much to me! I really appreciate that.” I told him how the part where he talked about his nieces and their unconditional acceptance of him was so meaningful to me because that’s the same exact way I feel about mine.
I asked if I could give him a hug and he smiled and said, “Yeah, of course!” And he gave me such a warm hug. Then an older comedian walked across the street to talk to him and I didn’t want to take up too much of his time, so I said goodbye without asking for his autograph. But, what he said about not actually being nice and it all being an act? BALD-FACED LIE. Man can’t fool me. He is nice, through and through.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Mihalik
By the time I had finished talking to Jerrod, Bo was over in the street kind of on his own, so I went over to say hi. I had come prepared, lol.
I had actually brought my hardcover copy of Egghead in the inner pocket of my winter coat (and had even folded the corner on my favorite poem, "Magic," just in case!) on the very slightest chance that I’d have this opportunity. I pulled the book out and walked up to him and said, “Excuse me, Bo?” He turned around to look at me, and he still had his mask up. I got flustered and started to put up mine and said, “Oh! Sorry, sorry” and then he pulled his down and smiled and said, “No, no, you’re fine.” I pulled my mask back down and asked, “Would I be able to get a picture with you?” He said, “Of course, no problem!” He took my phone from my hands to take a few selfies, which was a good call because his arms have much better reach than mine, and I’m pretty sure he had his arm around me for the pics but I had basically dissociated by that point so I’m not sure. I truly HATE that I cannot remember that lol.
Then I told him that I absolutely loved his poetry, and he seemed really happy about that. I had already opened Egghead up to the page, and as he took it out of my hands I told him that "Magic" had actually been my favorite poem for a long time, before I had even known he was the one who wrote it. He smiled at that and said, “Oh, thank you so much.” He asked me my name to make it out to me, and even did a silly little face doodle over the signature. It is now my most prized possession lol.
Jessica's copy of Egghead with Bo's signature and doodle. Photo courtesy of Jessica Mihalik
After he finished signing, it was late and I could see that he was tired, so I didn’t want to take up anymore of his time. But I thanked him again and told him the show was amazing and that I had come all the way from Pittsburgh to see it, and he said, “Oh, wow, thank you so much for coming out. I’m really glad you enjoyed it.” Honestly, just the sweetest, sweetest man.
After I stepped aside from Bo, I saw Lorene a couple feet away on her phone. I didn’t want to bother her too much, either, but I wanted to make sure I told her how much I admired her as well. I said, “Excuse me, Lorene?” She looked up at me and smiled and said, “Hi.” I told her how much I loved her movies and that I was so happy that I got the chance to meet them all. She was soooo sweet and said, “Thank you very much,” and that she was happy to meet me too.
BBH: Oh man, that is SUCH a lovely story! And I'm glad you talked to Jerrod and Lorene as well. I feel like Bo fans sometimes forget that other people exist when he's in the room! Haha
Also, can I pretend the page that says Jessica is actually mine? Kidding!
Do you remember any jokes that were cut from the final special? Any specific questions during the Q&A?
JM: The only joke/question that I distinctly remember not making into the special was a response to coming out as a gay black man to certain “other comedians” and he smiled and was like “You mean Chris Rock?” I can’t remember exactly what else he said after, but I do remember that it was very funny and wishing it would have made the cut.
BBH: I do remember that one! That would have been funny to include since besides the incident at the Academy Awards later in the year, Bo knows Chris well and had directed Tamborine.
Final question: Can you see or hear yourself in the final version of the special?
JM: I wasn’t able to see myself in the special, unfortunately, but I can definitely hear myself laughing at a couple parts!
BBH: I bet since you were so close to the principal camera your laugh got picked up a lot. Thanks for participating in this interview, Jessica!
JM: My pleasure!
For more interviews from Rothaniel audience members, please see the aggregate post here.