Female comedian brings safe holiday joy to children

By Bridgette M. Redman

Hailey Jones is the creator of The Elf Experience, a series of interactive and family-friendly holiday shows and activities.
Photo courtesy The Elf Experience

It takes a lot of energy to be an elf. If you’re Santa, you get to sit all day with countless children in your lap. This year, such activity is considered a dangerous undertaking during COVID-19.

If you’re an elf, especially A. Jolly Elf, you spend most of your time cavorting and can socially distance when you interact with children. Hailey Jones had been honing her elf act for the past few years and has now adapted it for the pandemic.

“I created a 35 to 40-minute variety elf show that gets the kids up and dancing,” Jones says. “I would call it a vaudeville type thing. It’s about an elf trying to find how she can express herself the best and where she belongs. Ultimately, it’s a story of believing in yourself. That is where the love and kindness comes in.”

An Elf Experience includes several different types of personalized shows available for anyone who wants an interactive experience for their children. It can include such things as storytelling, jokes, sing-alongs and craft time. Customers can either purchase the online version or rent a visit. Regardless of which one they choose, Jones will ensure that the child receives a highly interactive experience with her trademark physical comedy and a fun story that is designed to entertain.

“I change the story to fit in with why I am where I am now,” Jones says. “I was raised by reindeer. I do all these physical comedy bits—trying to fly and falling out of a tree.”

That’s where her story begins: she ran off in the woods as a little elf and got lost. Some reindeer found her and raised her as their own. When Santa finds her, he tells her she looks like a jolly elf and she responds by saying that is who she is: A. Jolly Elf. To learn what the “A” stands for, you have to see the show.

From there, she tries to find herself and a career that fits. She recounts getting an entry-level position of an Elf on a Shelf, but she got too big and broke the shelf. She tries to host a talk show like “Elfen Degeneres.” She invites the children to join her in a Christmas production of “The Nutcracker,” but they find they can’t dance fast enough together.

“I have a Christmas rapping bit,” Jones says. “I’ll do a little rap and have the kids getting boxes of presents. I end the show with that sense of coming home and practicing patience looking forward to Christmas and an elf blessing—basically a parody of the Irish blessing, but in elf language.”

Another thing she enjoys doing is to relate how she
was an extra in Hollywood Christmas movies. She’ll ask the children to give her the name of a Hollywood
Christmas movie and she’ll re-enact the movie as a one-elf version. Usually she’ll just get one of the big three Christmas movies, but sometimes she’ll get something off the wall like “Gremlins.” She says she always rolls with it, even if it means making the family-friendly Christmas version of “Die Hard.”

Christmas has always been a big deal to Jones, and she recounts that one of the worst childhood heartbreaks she had was learning the “truth” about Santa.

“It was really hard for me,” Jones says. “I think I was 10 or 11, and in that moment I was like, ‘What is Christmas without this magic and joy which I associated with Santa Claus? What is Christmas?”

Fast-forward a dozen years, Jones was working as a waitress and whenever she worked on Christmas Eve, she would give out a jingle bell to kids and whisper to them, “I’m an elf in disguise” and watch as their eyes would light up.

When she moved to California after theater school, she was living in a school bus in Lake Arrowhead and trying to decide what to do. A friend suggested that she go and work for Santa’s Village as an elf.

“I was like, ‘Someone will pay me to be an elf?’” Jones says. “All of my dreams came true in that one sentence.”

It was there she developed her elf act—a year after being told she was too funny to be a princess.

“I think that is a compliment,” Jones says. “I got demoted and promoted at the same time. They suggested I create my own character.”

So she did. Last year after moving to Los Angeles, Jones brought her act to the local community. She worked with a family who had just bought an old church in Silver Lake. She decorated the building and created her own version of Santa’s Village for two weeks. She offered a maker’s fair, her show, reindeer games and crafts.

This year, the pandemic made such an offering impossible. Jones has switched the program into virtual experiences or small live outdoor performances where everyone is distanced and there are a limited number of people.

“I still continue the heartbeat of these really personal moments,” she says.

The response from children often impresses Jones and she lives for the moments when she can see the light go on in their eyes. She tells a story about how at Santa’s Village she’d carry around a snowman that she’d introduce as her friend “Achoo.” Later in the day, she can’t find him.

“I asked one kid if he’d seen Achoo because he said he would be back,” Jones says. “I look down and there is just a puddle. The kid said, ‘Friends change.’”

Here in Southern California where there is no snow, she puts up posters of him saying he is “missing.”

“One little girl said to me, ‘I see that your snowman is missing,’” Jones says. “She asked me, ‘When did you last see him? Have you gone back there? A lot of times where we lose something is where it still is.’ Wow—she was my therapist that day.”

An elf, Jones says, is just a child with refined skills, which is why children are really able to connect to that magic and belief, and why she is able to provide those moments where their eyes light up. Back when people could still touch, Jones would give special elf handshakes. They’d reach out to do a fist bump and she would put her fist on top of theirs and call out, “Snowman!”

“It was always this moment of surprise and pure joy I could see in their eyes,” Jones says. “I wish I had a picture of that moment. It happens a lot. I do have such a genuine childlike way of engaging. My normal comedy is like this. Kids just get it. It is pure of heart and it really is about just celebrating.”

She says kids leave their comfort zones all the time with her. She told another story of a child who was on the spectrum, but he just waltzed onto the stage to be with her and said, “I’m an elf, too,” so they did an improv together.

“It is elf magic,” Jones says. “You create a safe space even on stage in front of people. It’s pretty cool. It’s all about expressing yourself.”

She makes a game out of social distancing, using her physical style of acting to create space boundaries. For any indoor performance she wears a mask and when outdoors she maintains social distancing. It is something that requires constant creativity to interact with and draw children in while no longer giving hugs or making any physical contact. Sometimes she even performs in front of a window or an open house door.

“I’m a very adaptable performer,” Jones says. “Some kids are really shy and just kind of slowly easing into it, while some are ready to meet you at 150%. I’m always ready to adapt. For the past three years, I’ve had these different environments which have allowed me even more so to gauge the kids, as well as what bits work for each age.”

Jones also adapts to each child’s emotional needs. One parent said that her child had been traumatized by Santa asking if he was naughty or nice. He had accidentally broken an elf toy and was convinced Santa knew he was “an elf murderer.”

While Jones has been bringing her A. Jolly Elf to local families, she still gets 5 to 10 requests a day for Santa Claus. It’s much harder to find Santa this year because he is all about having people in his lap, which isn’t very COVID-conscious.

“I tried to be magical about it—he’s very busy and has to play it extra safe, so why not an elf instead?” Jones says. “Santa is iconic, but I’m entertaining. I don’t want to take the man down, but I do want to be equal to him, and I think it is time. I think our society is ready for an elf to be equal to Santa Claus.”

What:The Elf Experience: Be your best sELF

Elf options include:

• (safe) sELFies: Silly and self photos with or without an elf

• ‘Rocks Around: Distanced physical comedy around a Christmas tree that includes no-contact, inclusive reindeer games

• Live show: A vaudeville-inspired comedy show about an elf who keeps failing and keeps trying

Price: $24 for a 20-minute virtual visit one-on-one or with a family, $10 for 20 minutes for group classes of six or less kids

Website: elfexperiencela.com