For five years “Sisters of Comedy” creator Agunda Okeyo has made Black women’s voices in comedic performance her focus. On August 25, the showcase is teaming up with Afropunk at the Knitting Factory in New York City as part of its “Afropunk After Dark” series.
“What I have worked tirelessly to do for years is create an environment where black women, regardless of age, sexuality, upbringing or ethnicity feel validated and heard for their unique views in a space that celebrates black womanhood,” Okeyo said in an interview with MadameNoire.
This isn’t the first time the comedic showcase has centered on a specific message. Previous showcases have often partnered with social movements like Black Lives Matter NYC, along with leaders from the Women’s March.
Several past shows were hosted in conjunction with Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March. On Saturday, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza will attend as a special guest.
“When the show is over, I hope the audience is able to see how joy is an intricate part of our struggle to build a free and fair world for everyone,” Garza said.
“Sisters of Comedy” is the longest running series of its kind in over 25 years in New York City, a predecessor to shows like HBO’s Two Dope Queens. The showcase at Knitting Factory features several notable comedians who have used their voices to centralize the Black experience. Performers include, Chanel Ali (MTV’s Girl Code) Sam Jay (Netflix’s The Comedy Lineup), Sasheer Zamata (Saturday Night Live), Vladimir Caamano (NBC’s Superstore), Wyatt Cenac (HBO’s Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas) and Janelle James (HBO’s Crashing).
Both “Sisters of Comedy” and Afropunk redefined and centered the voice of Black people in historically white spaces, and arenas that sometimes mute voices of color who don’t fit into the archetype of what it means to be “respectably Black.”
“I remember the first time Afropunk showed up in NYC, as a DIY documentary on black folks in the punk scene. Within just a few years it became a festival and after that it became a phenomenon. So Afropunk has been on my radar for a while, as a Kenyan in New York,” she said.
As Afropunk’s brand includes a music festival, content and curated experiences, Sisters of Comedy is a perfect expansion of its collective experience.
“I think it is important for black people and black women, in particular, to be in spaces that affirm our culture, values, and collective consciousness. As the saying goes: being pro-black does not make you anti-white,” Okeyo continued.
Although the series is for and by women of color, Okeyo, a producer and writer also wants to ensure that there’s diversity and inclusion.
“I often have people on the lineup and in the audience who are not women or of African descent, but I think it’s beautiful to know what when you come to Sisters you will experience something unique and empowering no matter where you come from.”
In the days of post-Trump America, the show will serve as a pill to help reduce the pain of divisiveness and polarization, but most importantly, serves as an outlet for release.
“Comedy is about speaking truth to power or at least upending notions of power by making fun or perhaps offering a critique of the powerful, said Okeyo. “In this challenging moment for American democracy, I find that humor helps us find relief under enormous pressure and anxiety whether we’re at a comedy club or watching late night. Personally comedy is my source sanity in an insane world and thankfully it also makes me smile.”