I used to think that wanting to be a comedian was like wanting to be an astronaut. It's far fetched, like zip-lining from Mars on top of a Tesla.
As hard as this profession is, I knew a career was possible because other women before me did it. Women like Moms Mabley led the way, Ja’net Dubois did her thing on “Good Times” and Kim Coles inspired me while on “Living Single.” All these women made comedic careers for themselves and I loved watching them on TV. Leslie Jones was the first black woman I saw do stand-up comedy at the James L. Knight Center in Miami. She killed it. I knew I could do the same.
When I made the decision to move to LA, the first thing I did was enter into a stand-up comedy competition at the HAHA Café, one of LA’s most popular comedy clubs. That night, there were about eight comics on the line up and a few were women. I was nervous, but more than that I was excited to show my skills. I was voted “Class Clown” in high school and being silly was never something I had to think about. I was hard wired that way.
I did my best material on Snoop Dogg and a Tyra Banks impression. Hey, it was only my second time on stage, it was what I knew. Although I didn’t win, I met Kym Whitley, one of the contest judges. After the event, we chatted and both hopped in our cars and wound up driving the same direction. She thought I was following her, but we found out that I lived in the apartment directly behind her house. She took me under her wing and I was thrown into the Hollywood scene very quickly.
I was rubbing elbows with some of Black Hollywood’s funniest people in front of and behind the camera. I was in the right circles, but I wanted to connect specifically with other female comedians since we represented a small percentage of performers and because I knew sisterhood would be important to my growth. Instead of a sense of community and support, I found betrayal in what was supposed to be a safe space to cultivate comedy. I was disappointed, but learned to adapt.
Stand-up comedy is a cutthroat business, it just is. Male comics seem to stick together; they seem to have their cliques where they go to get confirmation on what’s trending and what’s funny; get tags to jokes and create better punchlines. For women, it wasn’t much like that at all. It seemed like every woman for herself. It's still a big mystery to me.
However, I found some great camaraderie in sketch comedy. It became my favorite second thing to do. I joined a sketch group called Cleo's Apartment and after a successful run, the incredibly talented women from that group later formed an all-black female sketch group called Elite Delta Force 3. We were unique, fresh and trailblazers. We not only became a recognized force in the comedy world, but friends. It was what I was searching for in the stand-up world. Just like any sisterhood, we had our ups and downs, but we proved to each other that we didn't need permission from the outside world to thrive. I don’t believe that I would have received that lesson without being in a sisterhood. I'll always love those women.
Another lesson I learned is that to be in a sisterhood, you have to be a sister first; I know firsthand, I have two. I see how our relationship has evolved in different ways and family or not, to be a sister, you have to show up, you must share resources, you must bring one another up. In our industry, there's usually only one spot allotted to a black or brown woman on any given night in a comedy club unless it's an All-Women show. That breeds a sense of scarcity and can skew our perception on what it takes to get to the top. I’ve seen comics make it and forget everyone around them who helped them get there or were a part of their journey. Men and women. As women of color, I think we can do better. We must. I’m still working to do my part; I try hard to be a sister to as many female comics I meet so that we can all grow and change the face of our industry so women can stop acting funny and own their funny.