Rachel Sennott's Rise in Hollywood Has Come via Canada

'I Used to Be Funny' is the latest time that the American actor has had prominent roles in Canadian films

Photo: Janick Laurent

BY Rachel HoPublished Jun 5, 2024

Where Timothée Chalamet represents the de facto face of New Hollywood in the dramatic space, the same can be said of Rachel Sennott in the comedy space. Both are just young enough that internet culture played a role in their upbringing, and old enough to have been exposed to "Old" Hollywood in an organic, analogue way — a sense of Golden Age nostalgia that they carry into their work and performances.

Although Sennott's big break came from 2020's Shiva Baby, the comedian began developing a following two years earlier with wisecracks on the website then known as Twitter and posting quirky videos on Instagram satirizing millennial culture, including this classic from 2019: "If you don't have an eating disorder get one bitch." Sennott was one of the first talents in an era where online success truly meant something and could be parlayed into "traditional" success in the entertainment industry.

Along Sennott's journey to stardom in Hollywood, Canada has played a rather significant role. Her latest film, I Used to Be Funny (in theatres June 7 through levelFILM - you can win tickets here), is just the latest Canadian project in Sennott's portfolio. (Not to mention she'll be playing Rosie Shuster, Canadian comedian, former SNL writer and ex-wife of Lorne Michaels, in the upcoming SNL 1975 directed by Jason Reitman.)

As she continues to build her career, Exclaim! takes a look back at how Canada and Canadian talent has factored into Sennott's success.

Shiva Baby

The one that started it all. Written and directed by Toronto-born filmmaker Emma Seligman, Shiva Baby introduced a larger audience to the awkward comedy stylings of Sennott. Playing a scattered 20-something attending a shiva, Sennott perfectly embodies the claustrophobia of being trapped with the horrific realization that her sugar daddy is actually a husband and father, and at the very same shiva she's attending.

Adapted from Seligman's short film of the same name, Shiva Baby became a smash indie hit (and appeared prominently on Exclaim!'s list of the best films of 2021), with both Seligman and Sennott receiving praise for their work, including numerous award nominations and wins.

Speaking to Exclaim! ahead of the film's theatrical release, Seligman spoke highly of Sennott as the two began a fruitful partnership together: "I don't know what I would have done if I didn't meet Rachel on the short film. She related to the story on an anxiety level and an emotional level, and that felt really important to me."


Seligman and Sennott teamed up again for Bottoms, a film Seligman had previewed to Exclaim! as being "a queer girl's Wet Hot American Summer in a high school setting." The high school film followed two students (played by Sennott and The Bear's Ayo Edebiri, who is another one of Sennott's frequent collaborators) starting an underground fight club in order to attract the attention of cheerleaders.

In an interview with IndieWire, Seligman credited Sennott (who served as co-writer on the film) with helping her put together the authentic American high school experience, "Coming in and making a satirical American comedy from my Canadian point of view was fun, but Rachel has her own version of this experience. She would educate me on things, because I just sort of understood the romanticized version of high school in America from Friday Night Lights."

Similar to Shiva Baby, Bottoms found its audience and became a hit with indie audiences and mainstream ones as well. A future joint project between the two hasn't been announced yet, but hopefully this is a partnership that continues on for a long while.

The Idol

Truth be told, the less said about The Idol the better — which we should all scrub from our collective memories — but we'd be remiss to ignore the very Canadian connections from the controversial HBO series that Sennott co-starred in.

Co-created by Toronto born and raised Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye, who also stars alongside Lily-Rose Depp and of course, contributed to the series' soundtrack, The Idol was a 5-episode series that followed pop idol Jocelyn (Depp), and her relationship with a smarmy cult leader (Tesfaye). Sennott played Jocelyn's bestie and assistant Leia — and, for all the nonsense of the show, she managed to be a silver lining in an otherwise questionable cloud.

Bonus Canadian points here for Dan Levy's guest appearance on the series as Jocelyn's publicist.

I Used to Be Funny

Sennott's latest film is her most Canadian. The directorial debut of Ally Pankiw — a Torontonian and previous collaborator of Mae Martin, Dan Levy and Annie Murphy — I Used to Be Funny refreshingly is a Toronto-filmed movie actually set in the city.

Sennott stars as Sam, a stand-up trying to make it in Toronto's comedy scene, who is slowly rising out of the tangled web of depression. Through flashbacks, we understand how Sam came to this point, and viewers join her in the journey to manage her trauma and illness. Although many of Sennott's previous performances can be categorized as "dramedic," her turn in I Used to Be Funny shows a push into a different direction for the actor. The comedy elements are substantially pared down, and in one particularly difficult scene to witness, Sennott delivers a truly authentic reaction to a harrowing situation.

Moving, and at times hilarious, I Used to Be Funny shows off Toronto mainstays like the Comedy Bar, as well as the reality of shared living accommodations in the city. More importantly, the film feels like the jumping off point for Pankiw, and perhaps signals the beginning of yet another Canadian partnership for Sennott.

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