In the realm of comedy, Amanda Seales has solidified herself as one of the new shining stars of the art form. Her brand of comedy is a dope combination of Black femininity and Hip-Hop influenced observational humor that addresses all topics with fearlessness. But don’t get it twisted, she didn’t just appear out of nowhere. She’s been on the grind for years, cultivating her craft, and now she’s set to showcase her talent to the masses.
Since her beginnings as a child star on the Nickelodeon sitcom My Brother and Me, to her current role on the hit HBO dramedy Insecure, the “Smart, Black, and Funny” comic boasts an impressive resume as a multi-talented and versatile entertainer. As an actress, poet, singer, writer, producer, TV host, and much more, Seales is now preparing to take the comedy world by storm.
While preparing for the release of her HBO comedy special, I Be Knowin, I sat down with Amanda and we discussed her emergence as a comedian, the beauty and power of Blackness, the challenges of being a Black woman in the comedy game, and why we need these jokes.
The Source: Besides your forthcoming stand-up special dropping on HBO this Saturday (Jan 26), you’ve also been hitting the road with your successful Smart Funny & Black tour. When did it click that you could be unapologetically who you are, without compromise, and still obtain success in the entertainment industry?
Amanda Seales: I guess I would say making this special is an example of that, but I wouldn’t say that I came to the conclusion as proof, but I came to the decision as my personal ethos. If I was gonna get the success it had to be on those terms or nah. So, I was willing to shift my view of what success meant. But the reality is that I came to a very clear point in 2012 after seeing 12 Years A Slave and I was like, “Oh, you just gone be your whole Black self and it either works or it doesn’t but I’m not willing to forsake that.”
Can you tell me about your first experience on stage as a comic and what’s the difference being as stage as comic than as a musician or poet?
The thing about being a musician, a poet, and a comic is that they’re all about rhythm. But the difference with music and poetry is that they’re spectator sports. Comedy is not a spectator sport. It’s interactive. You don’t necessarily need the audience’s reactions as a barometer to know how well you’re doing in music or poetry whereas as a comic if they’re not laughing, you’re failing. That is a very different experience. I will say this; I was very fortunate that my very first stand up experience was a positive one and that’s why I’m here today. Had I bombed, I don’t know if I would have kept going because I was old enough at that point to know if I wasn’t good at something I’d be like, “OK, let’s figure out something else.” I’m not good at pottery so I don’t do pottery.
So, you don’t have the classic “I bombed” comedian story?
For my first time on stage? Nah. But for my first time on stage, I was what, 34? I wasn’t dumb enough to get on that stage without knowing I had something in my pocket. I was not flying blind by any means.
Now you have always been funny but what made you pursue comedy as a craft?
There were a couple of factors. One was when I felt like Hip-Hop was no longer my vehicle, it stalled out on me.
Please say more about the “stalling out” of your Hip-Hop experience?
I mean I can’t speak for everybody’s experience but my own, as someone birthed from the boom-bap, at a certain point that fell off. Considerably. And that was the language I spoke. It no longer felt like a natural space for me. Once that happened, I just started realizing that I needed to pivot to somewhere else that felt like a natural space.
I started doing one-woman shows, digital shows, characters, and stuff like that. I knew that the comedic space was a natural fit for me. And when I looked at people’s careers that mirrored what I wanted my career to be, people like Ellen DeGeneres, Chris Rock, and Chelsea Handler, who had these multi-media platforms based on their points of view, comedy was an integral part of all of them and I was lacking that. I came to the clarity of thought that I needed to do stand up comedy but how? Then in November of 2013, I got asked to do a show and I took that like it was a call to the altar.
You mentioned Rock, Ellen, and Chelsea, are they your comedic influences?
I would say that my biggest comedic influences are Chappelle, Rock, Seinfeld. I hate that I can only name men and it speaks to that fact that there have been so few opportunities for women to be presented on a big enough stage to where they can be role models to up and coming comics.
Comedy has always been a space where sexism is dominant. What are the challenges that you’ve been facing as Black woman in comedy?
Like with everything, people still underestimate your ability. You have to wear so many more hats because your course has not been charted. There’s no blueprint for the superstar Black woman comedian because there haven’t been enough of them for there to be a blueprint. If you are a straight white male, you can pretty much choose, “Alright, I’m a go this course.” It caused me to have to be a marketing exec, a manager, a life coach, as a comic, a writer, and a performer. It’s very taxing.
What’s your view on the current state of Black comedy specifically and comedy in general?
I think comedy is one of the art forms that has continued to thrive. You’ll see these think pieces that say, “Comedy is dead” and I’m like, “Where you at?” To me, comedy is reptilian in its ability to regenerate. As far as I’m concerned, I’m seeing spaces open up, new platforms for comics that have all different styles.
As far as Black comedy, I think once upon a time in the recent future, it was relegated to a very specific style and I know that I have actively worked and will continue to actively work to broaden that to be reflective of the many different Black voices and experiences.
With political correctness being a major part of the culture, does change your comedic approach?
I think that for some people, well from the audience’s perspective, I would say there is a difference between political correctness and offense. So, as a comic, I cannot account for what offends everybody. Just because I’m saying something that may offend you, it doesn’t mean that it’s politically incorrect. So, there’s that. The other part is that there are comics who sometimes default to being offensive for the joke versus being subversive. And it’s a very common thing that happens in the early stages of a comic.
When I did open mics, it was less of doing an open mic and more of a demonstration of New York’s best and broke misogynist, racist, anti-Semites comics on stage. And it really is because of the immature thinking that humor is found in being shocking. When it resurfaces for people, there’s an opportunity to speak to maturity, being misinformed, and I think there is in some cases, no limit to the amount of times that you can use that as a teaching moment for others.