It’s hard being a comedian. It’s even harder to be a woman in comedy. It’s even harder than that to be a black woman in comedy.
While mainstream television and movies are starting to give funny black women their due with shows like Insecure and black-ish, and movies like Girls Trip, it’s taken a lot of work and sacrifice and breaking down with the barriers of a white institution for our top black female comedians to get where they are.
Over at the LA Times is a series of interviews with 18 black comedic actresses who have played a role in this shift, from Tracee Ellis Ross to Aisha Tyler to Loretta Divine, discussing their experiences and opportunities in the industry as black women. So if you’re physically emotionally exhausted by that insane New York Times interview with the boy king, just take solace in these 18 interviews. We’ve listed a few highlights!
Tracee Ellis Ross (black-ish, Girlfriends) on talented black women finally getting the spotlight (and hair):
This may seem trivial, but just the difference in the choice in wearing my hair natural. It wasn’t even on the map when I started. I remember someone coming up to me when I was doing “Girlfriends,” saying, “Girl why don’t you do your hair?”
But now you see newscasters with natural hair. And it could be considered trivial, but if you compare the journey of black women being able to experience their natural and pure and gorgeous textures in all of its glory, I feel like black women in comedy are also experiencing that revolution of being able to be all of the different kinds of funny and looks we have.
If you think of how, in general in the industry, women are meant to be one thing and they’re not meant to be funny. Black women have had an even larger burden around that in terms of how we are defined and the real estate others give us. I think we have blown that open in a way. “I don’t care what real estate you’re giving me. This is what I’m capable of.”
Regina Hall (Scary Movie, About Last Night, Girls Trip) on why it has been difficult for black women to become comedic superstars:
It has to do with roles available and not having the opportunity. As long as you have a [film] academy that doesn’t have a category for comedy, it’s harder for the industry to have the same amount of respect [for comedy] that it does for drama because it’s not really recognized in our most coveted awards an actor can get. Even the Grammys eventually opened up to hip-hop.
I just got over the [expletive] [expletive]. I spent a long time trying to figure out how to get into the mainstream, be the “it girl” and get the whites to like you — to cross over. Then I went to see “12 Years a Slave,” left the theater, stood on the street at Lincoln Center and said, “That’s it. We’re done crossing over. We’re going to break through and do it by being as black as we want to be.” At that moment, I felt like if that wasn’t how [success for me] was going to happen, I wasn’t interested.
Retta (Parks and Recreation, Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce) on advice for black women pursuing comedy:
Don’t be scared. And because there is a diverse group of black women, we need a diverse group of characters portrayed by black women, so even if you don’t think you’re doing what everyone else is doing, that representation needs to be seen so people are aware that we all didn’t grow up on welfare or speaking a certain way or as criminals. I feel like now people are getting an idea of that, but now it’s time to give them the full spectrum. Do what you do.