“People Assumed All Black Women Comedians Were All Alike” How Sisters Of Comedy Is Breaking Boundaries And Stereotypes

April 13, 2018  |  

Agunda Okeyo

Knock, Knock.

Who’s there?

Black women in comedy. That’s who.

For years Black women have been knocking on the door to make major strides in comedy, now they are knocking that door down. As the Los Angeles Times recently declared, “Black women are breaking out of their dramatic safe spaces and shaking up the comedy world.”

And in New York City, writer, producer, filmmaker, and activist Agunda Okeyo has been giving these women a forum for the last four years through her “Sisters of Comedy” series.

It is in fact, the longest-running, Black women-centered, comedy showcase in NYC, and Kenyan-born Okeyo is the only African woman with such a comedy series in the Big Apple. The “Sisters of Comedy” showcase has a home at one of the top comedy clubs in the city, Carolines on Broadway. And the next show on April 18 has a lineup that includes MC Gina Yashere (Netflix’s “Standups”), Dulce Sloan (“The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”), and Sasheer Zamata (SNL). As a twist, a few men have been added, including Jon Laster (BET’s “Comic View”) and Nore Davis (“Inside Amy Schumer”). The theme for the showcase: The Wakanda (BLK AF) Edition.

Okeyo, who was born in Nairobi and raised between the Bronx and the Kenyan capital, has called New York City home for more than 20 years. This proud Pan-African New Yorker has always been looking for ways to get the Black female voice and experience heard, and she found this through comedy. She herself is a performer, but she has also produced comedy shows at various NYC venues. Her efforts have earned her many accolades, including being named a Progressive Women’s Voices fellow with the Women’s Media Center in 2016 and joining the NYC board of Women, Action and the Media.

Okeyo spoke to MadameNoire about the upcoming showcase and the power of comedy.

MadameNoire (MN): How did you come up with the idea of “Sisters of Comedy”?

Agunda Okeyo (AO):  I was working a comedy club at the time while in my 20s and I would only see lineups of all-white dudes. So I wondered why there were no Black-centered lineups, no Black-centered female lineups. Of course, I got pushback when I told people about the idea. People would question if it would last, and if it would be good. But also people assumed that all Black women comedians were all alike, so why would you need more than one in a lineup. But the more pushback I got the more I was determined to create a showcase with Black women as the center, and I wanted to showcase all levels–from newcomers, to women in their mid-career, to veterans in the business.

MN: How long did it take to get up and running?

AO: The show is now officially four years old, but I had the idea maybe six or seven years ago.

MN: Why comedy?

AO: Growing up, I thought I’d be an activist or someone like Thurgood Marshall, but I am much more of a creative and innovative type of person. I got a part-time job in a comedy club and I sort of fell into it. Although I consider myself more of a public thinker than a stand-up comedian, I am more about talking about issues and getting people up to the mic and telling their stories.

MN: Some are declaring this is the era for Black female comedians. Should we celebrate now?

AO: Listen, “Girls Trip” was an excellent film and it made a lot of money. Black women had been getting short shifted in the area of comedy so now that some are getting noticed and recognized it is all exciting. Yet, I am short of saying this is some sort of Renaissance. I think it is presumptuous; there’s so much more work to be done. And I am excited as a producer to be able to have a creative space for Black women to excel and to be showcased.

MN: What’s new for this latest “Sisters of Comedy”?

AO: Well, I am in looove with “Black Panther.” I think I am going to live off that high for the rest of my life (laugh). So this showcase will be the Wakanda (BLK AF) Edition year. And for this, we have invited a few men to join the lineup. We always have special guests and this time we have opened it up to men. Our special guest will be Black Thought from the Roots.

MN: What’s next for the showcase?

AO: We have had a good run these past few years. And this year we will be part of the Tribeca Film Festival events. We will also be at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture this summer. And course, at Carolines every month.

We also hope to create other media of the show. We want more people to become aware of “Sisters of Comedy,” who we are and what we are about. Even though we are about humor, sometimes there is a social justice bent to the show. In the past we have had as invited guests such as Michaela Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem. So there’s a lot going on with “Sisters of Comedy.”

For tickets to Wednesday’s show, click here.

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