Black women in comedy are finally having the coming out party they deserve as the last few years have brought forth several Black women who made major strides in the comedy arena, as well as breaking barriers set in place for decades.
Sure, you know about funny ladies like Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae and Tiffany Haddish, but there are lots of funny melinanted ladies out there and one local New York City showcase has welcomed them to the stage for the past four years. Sisters of Comedy is a comedy showcase created by Agunda Okeyo, who started the series after noticing the lack of amazing showrooms for Black women in stand-up. As a Native New Yorker, writer and activist, Sisters of Comedy has been a creative labor of love for Okeyo. From its inception, the showcase aspired to change the comedy landscape for Black women and has done so locally, with plans to make a shift towards the national arena.
The January 17 showcase which starts at 7:30 p.m., marks the series’ 4th anniversary and boasts talent such as Michelle Buteau (“2 Dope Queens”), Chanel Ali, Joyelle Johnson (“Funny or Die”), Chloe Hilliard, (NBC’s “Last Comic Standing”) and Janelle James (HBO’s “Crashing”).
HB caught up with Okeyo to talk about the show, her inspirations and the future of the showcase that has become the hottest ticket in town.
Hello Beautiful: Why do you think it’s so important that black women have a voice in comedy?
Agunda Okeyo: I think it’s critical to have spaces for uncompromising voices. Stand up, at its best, supports freedom of expression with a mic, a stand and hopefully an audience to hear it.
HB: Was there a specific moment or incident that propelled you to create Sisters of Comedy?
Okeyo: I worked in a club for a few years and noticed I never saw an all-black female comedy show. When I pitched to people that I thought there should be one, most dismissed it as a real possibility. That’s when I knew I had to do it.
HB: Who are some of your female comedic influences?
Okeyo: I like Moms Mabley, Whoopie Goldberg and Tina Fey among others.
HB: Would you ever be open to the possibility of taking Sisters of Comedy on the road or do you think it plays best in a local format?
Okeyo: I’m super excited about taking Sisters of Comedy on the road. In the near future I see Sisters as a televised program and on a tour. I hope I can count on the public to support us!
HB: How do you feel about this incredible moment that black women are having in entertainment? Do you think that more can be done, if so, what?
Okeyo: I think this is a great time for black people generally, because there is a lot of daylight coming through, revealing historical bias, but I do believe it is an excellent time for black women in entertainment. There are so many of black women winning from Shonda Rhimes to Issa Rae to Oprah who stays winning. Part of why I produce is because I think more can be done to make sure Black women are gatekeepers as much as access seekers. To be sure, the women I just mentioned are all in control, to a great degree, of the creative products they make which also allows us to lift each other up. We need successful black women in front and behind the scenes. And black women need all black people and true accomplices to step it up their support in 2018.
HB: You’ve had some great talent grace the Sisters of Comedy stage. If you could have anyone participate in future shows, who would it be?
Okeyo: I want Whoopi to come through, Wanda Sykes, Kim Coles, and Tiffany Haddish to join us sometime. I also would be excited to host cool women like Mindy Kaling and Tina Fey or men like Trevor Noah and Bill Murray to come through because we do invite folks of different cultures and genders on occasion.
HB: What are you hopes for Sisters of Comedy five years from now?
Okeyo: I hope it has been a successful TV show, toured the country and perhaps taking on the world.
HB: Aside from the show, what else do you have coming up that fans can look forward to?
Okeyo: I just completed an article for OkayAfrica detailing how Western nations and other foreign “aid’ providers perpetuate a culture of exploitation and corruption in Africa, so we understand that supremacist anti-black ideology is the “shithole,” not African nations or citizens. Folks can stay up on what I have next with Sisters, writing and my social justice work at http://www.agundaokeyo.com and @AgundaOkeyo on social.
HB: What are your Top 5 favorite female comedic film/TV performances?
Okeyo: Tiffany Haddish in “Girls Trip,” Elaine May in “A New Leaf,” Tina Fey in “30 Rock,” Kim Wayans on “In Living Color” and Tichina Arnold on “Martin.”