For the second year in a row, in honor of Black History Month, In The Know by Yahoo hosted a panel of talented individuals who discussed how they carved out space for themselves in a very competitive industry.
On Feb. 9, In The Know highlighted five comedians at Negril Village, an authentic Caribbean restaurant in Greenwich Village, for a sold-out event. The event’s theme was celebrating Black joy, feeling seen and envisioning what the future of comedy could look like.
The panel featured Saturday Night Live writer Alex English, stand-up comedian Aminah Imani, comedian and writer Brittany Carney, comedian and host Reg Thomas and the host of the popular pop-up comedy show Fools Circle, Teklai.
Since there was no moderator and the panelists had all known each other for years after crossing paths on the New York City comedy circuit, the group asked each other questions about their favorite jokes, how they got their start and, seriously, how did their parents feel about them going into comedy?
After growing up in a Caribbean household where, as Imani put it, her mom made a lot of the decisions for her, it was when she went to Howard University that she had a moment to really explore her newfound autonomy. That’s what led her to comedy. One open mic night in Washington, D.C., and Imani was sold.
“Comedy is what I wanted to do, it’s been what I wanted to do all along,” Imani explained.
“I’m not useful in any other way besides entertainment,” English joked. “Nothing else was going to work for me! I had to convince my mom that I’m not going back to school. Before SNL she was still asking me, ‘Well you live in New York now, NYU is right there.’ I’m like, ‘I’m not learning nothing else.'”
Thomas agreed, saying that signing up for a comedy show was the first time he ever felt like he had to work hard. He didn’t sleep for weeks leading up to his first set and admitted he bombed, but something just clicked into place for him that this was what he wanted to do.
“I had to tell my Haitian parents that I wanted to do comedy,” Thomas said, before pausing to see the audience’s reaction. “It did not go good.”
For Teklai, comedy was a defense mechanism while growing up in Oakland.
“I have these layers covering it up, but I am a skinny person,” Teklai said. “I grew up in the hyphy movement, if anyone’s familiar, which was a very violent time in the Bay Area. I had to defend myself somehow, so comedy was my tool.”
Teklai also notes that his style of comedy relates to how he grew up listening to his dad, a former freedom fighter from Eritrea, challenge political ideas with his friends. Fools Circle, Teklai’s comedy show, is described as “an experiment” in challenging the foundations of comedy.
“If any of you guys have been around East Africans, around a coffee shop, all they do is talk politics at Starbucks,” he said, to laughs from the audience. “That’s just something I was always raised around.”
Carney also said some of her favorite jokes stem from her unusual upbringing moving back and forth between the U.S. and Japan and, a lot of the time, being the only Black woman in a lot of academic settings.
“Growing up and even as an adult, I feel like I’ve been in all these different spaces where I don’t belong,” Carney answered when asked why she thought comedy was important. “You can build up a career off of your own observations and things that shape you. That’s so special.”
Watch footage from the event in the video above to learn more about the panel.
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