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Representation Matters. The Black Women In Comedy Festival Is Coming To NYC

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In 2017 Amy Schumer became the first ever female comedian to make it onto Forbes list of highest paid comics. In 2018, she failed to make the list a second time. Women in comedy have had a notoriously difficult time breaking into the upper tiers. They make less than their male counterparts and sometimes they’ve had to watch Louis C.K. jerk off. It’s not easy being a female comedian and it’s a much bigger struggle being a female comedian of color. Joanna Briley has been a stand up comedian for 20 years and, having grown frustrated with the lack of equality and diversity in the stand up world, decided to do something about it. The upcoming Black Women In Comedy Festival is the result.    .

Besides Tiffany Haddish or Leslie Jones how many successful black female comedians can you name? The male counterpart list is filled with names like Kevin Hart, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, D.L. Hughley and goes all the way back to Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby. Comedy was, and still mostly is, a boys club. “It doesn’t matter your race,” Briley says, “It’s the guys that are at the helm. It’s a boys network. They have to make a concentrated effort to diversify, to open the doors for women. They have to be a crusader, they have to be an ally.” Briley isn’t waiting for the men to open the door so she’s making a door of her own.

Festival founder Joanna Briley.

From February 28th through March 3rd, The Black Women In Comedy Festival will take place in NYC. The reasoning behind the festival is simple says Briley, “I got into a discussion with a friend and I was like ‘Why don’t we create a festival for us, that will celebrate us and hopefully get industry people to come and take a look at us?’ There’s never been a centralized festival, or outreach, to meet black women in comedy.”

NYC isn’t lacking for comedy clubs or festivals. However, even with so many stages, the opportunities for black female comics pales in comparison to the men. Says Briley, “We just had the New York Comedy Festival and I would have liked to see more diversity. I didn’t see too many local black women. I’m not negating that festival but my goal is to get the Black Women In Comedy Festival to that level in years to come as a platform for the industry to come and make a concentrated effort on black women that they can cultivate.” Smaller local venues aren’t much better ,”Even in some urban rooms that have urban comedy you may not have a black woman on the line up.”

The festival will be spread across four venues in NYC. 35 comics have been chosen to perform over the four days. The festival’s focus on diversity goes beyond just skin color.  “We definitely have LGBT comics, we have some with disabilities, it’s a festival that’s inclusive. I’m all for everybody having a voice and speaking out on the issues that matter to them.” Says Briley, “It’s a spectrum of diverse energy, if you will, on stage.”

It’s hard to ignore the cultural shift we’re experiencing and that sisters, as the song says, are doing it for themselves. Briley recognizes the importance of this moment in our history. “The energy that I’m feeling is that this is the right time to do it. The eyes are all on women right now. Women are coming into their own. You really feel it from the momentum from the political atmosphere and even in Hollywood with the #metoo movement. I think women are now standing up and pushing themselves to the forefront.  We all have the same goal which is to be recognized and bring to the table all different aspects of life.” She adds, “We have to be at the forefront of our own destiny.”

For information and tickets click here.

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Joe DeLong - NYC Editor

Joe DeLong - NYC Editor

Former stand up comic, radio show host, mayoral candidate and fetish webcam model. Now I'm the male equivalent of a crazy cat lady.